‘Camera off or on?’ Live student debate

screen with participants
Chris Montgomery@unsplash

By the Digital student assistants on the Students community in Teams.

Edited by Elisabetta Lando

Our live debate took place on Friday the 26th March in the student community channel Our topic was whether we should keep our Cameras  on or off during lectures The debate went very well, and we were happy to see people engaging with the community and sharing their ideas, experiences, and opinions. Amanda, Samantha, and ( the student digital assistantshad a great time talking with other students and listening to themIn this blog, we will sum up some of the key takeaways from the debate.  


We started with posing the question: In your school do people leave their cameras on or off? 

The consensus was that it was mostly optional in lectures for students to have their cameras on. Although, onstudent mentioned that the module that asked her to keep her camera onwas the one where she paid the most attention and was up to date with her work.  Some of us agreed that we do tend to be more attentive and more engaged when cameras are onSo, we then wondered does having our cameras off have a negative impact on our learning in the long run?  

On the other hand, there may be many reasons why students choose not to turn their cameras on such as anxietyparents that have their children in the background making noisedifferent time zones and routines, students of faith not wearing their headscarves while at home or some students being at work. 

Yeteven more worryinglysome spoke about the fact that when students had turned their camera on and were recorded, their video was then shared without their consent, while others photoshopped images of people in their lectures and sent them around. Individuals agreed that they did not feel safe enough to turn their cameras on. So, we wondered what can we do to create an environment where we can trust that we won’t be recorded or that people around us won’t have their privacy compromised?  ​ 

Suggestions included a university policy to show that this is a serious issue and that it will not be tolerated. Additionally, technical solutions such as uploading recordings after cropping the videos, if people don’t want their faces in,or blocking faces from popping up when speaking. 

 Engagement in lectures 

We also talked about lecturers and how they know if students are engaged when they have their cameras off. Some of us have heard lecturers say that it would be nice to see who they are teaching rather than just looking at a blank screen. Some have also told students that they want at least a picture up of them to know who they are speaking to.  

Yet, some of us felt that maybe there is an over-fixation with the idea of cameras and that there are other ways to build connections without turning the camera on. 

For example, there is the option to talk in the chat. This is mostly to ask questions and it can be awkward to interact with others this way. One student also suggested that it is hard to listen to the lecturer and write in chat at the same time. Although, we all agreed that students with their cameras off do tend to chat more. It was also added that ensuring participation with just audio can support engagement as well. 

This brought us to the important point of socialising. Some students felt that there was too little time to ask and encourage students to put their cameras on and that maybe the university should think of some strategies to encourage engagementsuch as icebreaking activities before the start of a class. In these challenging timeswith increased isolationconnecting with other students is so importantespecially for first years. Most of the participants felt that turning on cameras, even if only for 10- 15 minutes, would be good thing. 

Another point that came up in the debate was much broader one, concerning the use of WhatsApp groups that are set up as ‘uni study groups. Some students felt that these groups were being misused under the University‘s name. 

To sum upthese were some of the suggestions that came up during the debate: 

  • A clear University policy stating that students should not be allowed to record each other (See City UOL guidance on online behaviour
  • A clear University policy stating that it is not allowed to record or screenshot lecturers or use class material elsewhere 
  • Some form of monitoring of WhatsApp groups by the university
     (Editor’s note: Whatsapp is external and therefore can not supported by City, UoL)

    Turning cameras on can be a great way to avoid sense of isolation and support participation. ​There should be sessions before and after classes where students can interact, allowing them to build trust. And that 10-15 minutes should be allocated towards interacting with one another in each lecture. 

Listen to the podcast of the live debate to get a real sense of the conversation. The podcast is 38 minutes and there are 9 people speaking. Transcript of podcast 

If you are a student go to the Big Ideas platform on the student union site to vote for change! 


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