Use of Webcams

Fall 2021

This page contains guidance for webcam usage for instructors who have gone through the two-step Faculty Workload Adjustment Process, been approved for a work adjustment, and are teaching one or more courses using the web synchronous mode of instruction.

When considering the use of webcams in courses offered through remote learning technologies, there are four main factors to consider and balance:

To balance these factors, the following guidance has been developed.

Student Privacy and Equity

Instructors should adopt a camera-optional practice for teaching through Zoom. A camera-optional approach respects student issues such as access and equity (e.g., some may not have cameras on their devices), safety and security (e.g., some may be deployed military or in need of safety or privacy), and religious strictures. Instructors who previously did not take attendance in their in-person classrooms should continue to respect that their students will attend remotely. Instructors who took attendance previously should explore manual and automatic options for taking attendance through Zoom. Get help with these options.

If an instructor chooses to record a Zoom session, recorded student participation during the session should not be required. Other forms of participation, e.g., private chat, can be required and assessed. Students should be provided the choice to opt-out from identification in the recording by muting their audio, disabling video, and not typing public chats. See the Class Recording Guidelines page for more information.

Student Access to Technology/Resources

Students may not have the necessary equipment or meet the technology requirements to participate in class using a webcam. For students who are unable to secure the appropriate technology to support their course work, Penn State IT has a limited supply of loaner laptops, mobile hotspots, and webcams available to students actively enrolled in the current semester. Penn State IT can help provide connectivity and loaners to students.

Student Engagement

While webcams should not be required, using webcams can play an important part in student engagement. Showing our faces is a good way to connect, build community, and communicate understanding. However, when we express a “requirement” to turn on webcams, students who can’t comply can feel excluded or embarrassed.

Instead, consider communicating a goal of engagement. Turning on webcams certainly is one way of engaging. So, also, is being active in chat, speaking in breakout rooms, organizing a study group, and making thoughtful posts in discussion forums.

Expanding the list of acceptable ways to participate in class and framing use of cameras as a request, rather than a requirement, acknowledges that there are legitimate reasons for keeping a camera off and discourages everyone from inferring that students with legitimate reasons are disengaged. When we focus on engagement, even those who can’t share their video will feel invited and encouraged to connect. In addition, those who are able to turn on webcams may be more likely do so.

Sample Engagement Statements

Consider the following sample statements for inclusion on course syllabi and/or announcements. Keep in mind that statements may need to be repeated several times over the course of the semester, as student motivation wanes.

Example A (for beginning of semester)

“Students, our course will work best when we all do our part to create a sense of community by engaging with each other. One option for engaging with each other is to turn on your webcam. This will help people get to know names and faces and will also assist with reading nonverbal cues.

While this is one method of engaging, it is not the only way to engage in our course. Being active in chat, voicing your thoughts in breakout rooms, and commenting in online discussion activities are all good ways to connect. If you are not going to use your webcam on a regular basis, I advise that you update your profile in Canvas to add a photo, avatar, or some other graphic; and consider personalizing your Zoom presence in the course. If we all make an effort, we will get to know each other; your course experience will be better for it.”

Example B (for mid-semester)

“All, I have noticed that most students have not been turning the camera on during class, and participation through other channels is decreasing as well. While camera use is not required by Penn State — this is strictly up to each individual — I ask you to consider whether you might turn it on in some instances and/or how else you might engage.

Our course will work best if we can establish a sense of community and engage to the extent that we are able during COVID-19 physical separation. Turning on your webcam is one way to get to know one another. It also aids my ability to read nonverbal cues. I want to know if I am going too fast, if I have lit a spark of interest, or even if you have gotten my jokes. If I have slides up, there is no need to have the webcam on, but when we are in discussions, I would like to have all the communication methods available.

While the camera can be very helpful, I recognize that it is not the only way we are able to engage. Being active in chat, voicing your thoughts in breakout rooms, and commenting on online discussion activities are all good ways to connect. In addition, if you are not going to use your webcam on a regular basis, I recommend that you update your profile in Canvas to add a photo, avatar, or some other graphic; and consider personalizing your Zoom presence in the course.

Please take time to consider how you will engage in this course. Your active participation — in whatever form you choose — contributes to your learning and the learning of your peers.”

Exams and Assessments

To protect the integrity of exams and other assessments, instructors may require students to turn on their webcams in order to monitor the assessment. Students should find a location in which they can access a webcam. If that is not possible, students should request an adjustment within 48 hours of the change announced by the instructor to monitor assessment. Instructors should take into consideration the facts and circumstances surrounding a student’s request and determine whether it is appropriate to grant the request. In such cases, instructors should work with the student to provide an alternate assessment. Screen sharing can also be an option to monitor student work if students are in separate Zoom rooms.

If instructors are also recording the assessment, they must notify all students in the class of their intent via a written announcement at least 5 days in advance. Instructors must remind students that the assessment will be recorded before any recording takes place. See the Class Recording Guidelines page for more information.

Syllabus Statement for Courses Requiring Cameras for Assessment

This content can be copied into your syllabus for courses requiring cameras for assessment or for courses that require visual evidence of particular skills.

“This course may require you to have a webcam for class sessions and assessments. Classes and assessments may be conducted using Zoom or other technology selected by your instructor which may use your computer’s webcam or other technologies to communicate, monitor, and/or record classes, class activities, and assessments. Assessments may also be conducted using proctoring software, which may listen to you, monitor your computer screen, view you and your surroundings, and record (including visual and audio recordings) all activity during the proctoring process. Please contact your instructor if you are unable to comply or have any questions or concerns.”

Guiding References

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.