<- Safety considerations

Cameras On or Off?

One of the most constant concerns in synchronous digital CSE environments is how to handle expectations about camera usage. There are safety and trauma reasons to require cameras to remain on and reasons to allow participants to turn cameras off.

Reasons to require cameras on

  • Allows participants to see who is in the learning space.
  • Allows educators to see participant reactions so they can be responsive.
  • Encourages group engagement and fruitful discussion.
  • Increases trust through visual connection.

Reasons to allow cameras off

  • Allows participants to have control over how much of their personal space they share with the group.
  • Allows participants to have privacy in their reactions to the content.
  • Encourages individual comfort and confidence.
  • Increases safety through visual distance.

Here are two facilitator perspectives with different ideas about the best approach:

“Teachers should insist on participants turning on their cameras as a ground rule, as participants often refuse to turn them on as a way of withdrawing. When cameras are off, it often results in an inactive and passive group, which directly affects the quality of the workshop. So for many reasons, educators need to insist that the cameras be turned on.” – CSE Educator

Learning to deal with a Zoom screen full of little black squares was an important part of facilitators letting go of their egos. For them, it was unnerving and they had all the worries you might expect, about not knowing who was in the room, feeling like they were talking to themselves and not enjoying the lack of instant feedback from smiling faces/puzzled looks etc. However, they had hard evidence that proved the participants were just fine, such as lively text chat, participation in whiteboard activities and positive feedback on questionnaires. So, they felt uneasy, but their participants were looking after themselves and getting what they needed from the session. However, putting participant needs above the facilitator’s habitual comfort zone (within safe boundaries) is important.” – CSE Educator

If participants are not engaging – if they are leaving their cameras off and are not participating in auxiliary activities – then it is worth considering whether a synchronous video platform is not serving the participants as well as another platform might. If this is the direction that you find, and you are able to determine your own platform method, consider the options described in the Digital Landscape section.

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