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How to encourage your students to turn their cameras on

How to encourage your students to turn their cameras on

In the online classroom where screens dominate, the question of camera use continues to spark debate. Why are my students not turning their cameras on? Should I require or just encourage them to? How can I do that? In this blog I’ll be answering these questions by looking at a recent study which can help you make an informed decision about how best to encourage camera use in your classroom.

In a study by Castelli and Sarvary (2020) at Cornell University, 273 undergraduate biology students were surveyed about their camera use. When asked why they left their camera off, they could choose up to 12 reasons or provide their own.

The results show that most students (90%) had their video cameras off at least some of the time during the lessons and here are the reasons that gave:

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These findings show that student camera use is multidimensional, complex and related to inclusion and diversity. So, based on this research I have compiled a list of the best suggestions I have come across to encourage camera use.


Consider a cameras-optional policy

Some teachers may feel a strong need to require students to turn on their cameras. However, explicitly encouraging – rather than requiring – camera use seems the more sensible approach, one that is inclusive and sensitive to the diverse needs and situations in which students learn online.


Quickly establish the norm

You should explicitly encourage camera use on the first day, explain why it is important, and quickly establish it as the norm. This can be done by projecting a slide stating what the policy is (see picture).

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Source: Trust and Goodman (2023)


Setting the norm early should also help address the main reason students gave for not turning on their cameras: concern about their personal appearance. If students anticipate being seen on camera, they are probably more likely to brush their hair and dress appropriately.


Brainstorm camera use expectations with your students

You can also use the beginning of the first class to develop camera and audio use policies with your students by asking them to discuss the following:

- When is it acceptable to have your camera on and off?

- When should the mute button be used?

- What is the best way to let others know you need to step away? (e.g. turn video off? post in the chat? direct message the teacher?)


Encourage virtual backgrounds

It could be that students are not turning on their cameras because they are worried about other people coming into view or their physical location being seen in the background, so you can encourage them to play around with virtual backgrounds.


Use icebreakers / visually vote

Use activities that inadvertently require cameras to be one for participation, such as pass the pen and visually voting with thumbs up or down, may engage reluctant students to turn on and then keep on their cameras.


Use Zoom features

You can use the “Ask to Start Video” option on Zoom. As the host, you can request participants to turn on their cameras. To do this, click on the participant’s black screen, then the horizontal “…”, and then “Ask to Start Video.” I think this is preferable to making an announcement, as the students will see others turn on their cameras willingly rather than as a requirement.



Navigating student camera use in online classrooms requires a delicate balance between encouragement and understanding. By establishing norms early, leveraging technology effectively, and actively engaging students in shaping expectations, we can promote camera use while cultivating an atmosphere that respect individual circumstances.



Castelli F. and Sarvary M. (2021). Why students do not turn on their video cameras during online classes and an equitable and inclusive plan to encourage them to do so. Ecology and Evolution. 11(8) pp. 3565–3576. Available here.

Trust, T., Goodman, L. (2023). Cameras Optional? Examining Student Camera Use from a Learner-Centered Perspective. TechTrends, May 3, pp.1-13. Available Available here.



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