#Take 5 #49: The best way to … engage online?

The week’s #Take5 blog is brought to you from Dr Carina Buckley Instructional Design Manager at Solent University and ALDinHE Co-chair. Recently Carina spoke in a webinar about how her institution, Solent, has approached online delivery whilst keeping students at the heart of their learning. It went very well – but for those who couldn’t make it, a written case study and the recording of the whole webinar is available here:


Photo: Dr Carina Buckley Instructional Design Manager at Solent University and ALDinHE Co-chair

Students these days… don’t turn their cameras on

Where once a common question from lecturers was ‘How do I get my students to read?’, these days we are more likely to hear ‘How do I get my students to turn their cameras on?’ For all the progress and innovations we have made in the switch to online learning and a summer of intense preparation, there is still plenty to learn and discover, both about students and their learning, and ourselves and our expectations.

One of those things, inevitably at the moment, is how do we get our students to turn their cameras on?

Learning Development is a values-driven profession, and one of ALDinHE’s values is to make HE inclusive through emancipatory practice, partnership working and collaboration. In practice, this means that we actively work to break down power relationships in the classroom and adopt a more democratic approach to teaching and learning. And in turn, that means creating inclusive learning environments built on community, belonging and mutual respect.

Those are some ambitious words and loaded phrases. And who wouldn’t want those things? Students learn better when they feel part of a community; retention is higher when they feel a sense of belonging. We know this. But still, our colleagues ask: how do I get my students to turn their cameras on?

Let’s flip that: why should they?

We’re all doing our best right now in putting our learning opportunities online as effectively and engagingly as possible, and surely that means there are other ways students are able to participate? Depending on the video conferencing platform you’re using they can add a photograph, put their virtual hand or thumb up, or they might even be able to wave. They can post a message in a chat window, either alongside a video call or through your VLE. They can answer a question through a polling platform or message each other in WhatsApp while you’re talking or after the class. They can submit questions and answers to a forum, and they can even ask them live.

None of these things need video. So why do we want to get them to turn their cameras on?

There are plenty of good reasons. Seeing someone’s face and reading their body language is vital for relationship-building, especially important for our new starters. It shows respect and attention, supports the development of interpersonal relationships, and it’s easier for us to talk to faces rather than a screen of profile pictures. And therein lies the issue. It’s not about us, or shouldn’t be.

Some students will feel anxious about being the object of a gaze. Some will feel stressed or embarrassed about other people – strangers, at this time of year – seeing their living space. Others will have children, pets, parents, noisy housemates around. Bandwidth and devices are not equal, and not everyone will have the choice. And these issues increase exponentially the longer the session. What’s possible for a 15-minute chat may not be for an hour-long class.

But we are more amazing

Asking how we get our students to turn their cameras on is the wrong question. Instead, we should be asking, how can our students participate? How can we make connections and engage with our students, and help them do the same with each other? How do we continue to promote emancipatory practice as part of a community?

Technology is an amazing enabler. But we are more amazing. And we are more than our webcams. So the next time you’re asked, ‘How do I get my students to turn on their cameras?’, the answer has to be, give the students a reason, and respect their choice.

Photos: A range of images taken from Zoom meetings


Dr Carina Buckley is the Instructional Design Manager at Solent University, where she is responsible for ensuring the VLE functions as an immersive and interactive learning space, and where she is therefore always occupied. She has worked in Learning Development since 2006 and been Co-Chair of ALDinHE since 2015, thanks to which she gained Principal Fellowship of the HEA earlier this year. She is also an ALDinHE-Certified Leading Practitioner, and keen to see more Learning Developers recognised with these two qualifications.


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