Do I have to turn on my webcam?

This article covers some things you can do in online courses that will help you (a student!) improve your learning experience.

The topics discussed are :

Should students turn their microphone and webcams on?

In a classroom setting the fundamental form of student interaction is through audiovisual format (sight and speaking). Emulating this in an online environment requires a microphone and webcam.

If you have access to a Microphone and Webcam, it is heavily suggested that you are willing to make use of it. This might make you feel weird at first, or uncomfortable, but not only will it help your instructors get to know you, you'll get to know the other students in your virtual space. 

Why should you use your microphone?

From our student data collection, it seems students are split when it comes to being willing to participate using a microphone. By creating a quiet environment where you can use a microphone, you will in turn find an ideal study space. Think about it this way, if the location you are planning to use is not quiet, doesn’t that mean it is not the right place to study? Asking questions/participating is much simpler to do with a microphone. It is logically much quicker to vocally express something rather than to type it. If everyone would have to type their questions/comments in a chat, this could take up a lot of the limited synchronous activity time. Last, it helps ensure (if you raise your hand) that your questions are answered right when they come up, versus having to wait until a break. It's hard for the instructor to moderate the chat and lecture, so often chat questions get missed or left till later.

Why should you use your webcam?

It is clear that most students are very hesitant to use webcams to participate in a synchronous activity. Much like with the microphone, the challenge might be to find a quiet environment free of distractions or you might not want to show your environment to everyone in your class. However, similarly, if the area you found to study is not quiet and free of distractions, doesn’t it imply that area is not the right location? You might also try filtered camera feeds blurring tools like Snap Camera which will allow you to blur out your background (even on Bb Collaborate).

It might also improve your academic performace! By going on webcam, you'll be less likely to zone out, give in to distraction, or do other tasks given that people can see you on webcam. This hesitation to zone out will ensure you stay focused during the entire ynchronous session.

Webcams also help the teaching team to understand visual cues to let them know if the students are following a concept. You are also able to build a better connection with a professor by utilizing webcams which can add to your overall engagement and interest in the course.

Ok, but what are the alternatives? You could chat!

If there is no way to make a microphone or webcam work, there are still other methods of communication a student can utilize to get the most out of their learning experience.

You can communicate through the Bb Collaborate chat options in a synchronous lecture if you are unable to use an audiovisual format. While not as ideal as a microphone, chat still allows students to “voice” their opinions and questions.

While Bb Collaborate feedback status is a very limited form of communication, the feedback status provides a quick gateway into how the students are feelings about course material. You can provide a quick happy, sad, disagree emoticon. Using these emoticons is another way for students to actively participate in a synchronous activity. Encourage your professors and TAs to make use of this to ask the group for their feedback. Remember that they don't know if you are feeling lost or confused and most appreciate any interaction from students.

Do students have any minimum technology requirements for online courses?

Webcams and Microphones are just one aspect to technological requirements to enable a student to fully participate in an online setting.

The University of Toronto has identified minimum technology requirements for students to access remote/online learning. Meeting these recommendations allows you to get past most technological barriers involving online learning.

How should I ask questions during a live session?

In-person, asking questions can be done through a simple raise of the hand. In the online environment a physical hand raise is impossible to notice. Other than the chat, what is a solution? While professors will each run their sessions differently, most appreciate the "virtual hand raise." Usually this is both a visual and audio indicator that you have a question and it mimics what you would do in class. Some tools even queue the questions so that the professors can answer them in order.

While participating in synchronous lectures, you should use the Bb collaborate hand raise feature when you have questions. This allows a systematic approach to asking and answering questions and prevents people from talking over each other.

Participating in the online learning community

One of the main reasons for student engagement is to build a community. With in-class lectures, students are more likely to build a community with peer-to-peer connections. However, in an online setting this connection building is very difficult.Bb collaborate breakout groups is something you encounter in your courses.

Within Bb Collaborate breakout groups, small groups can share and discuss challenges, thoughts, and ideas about their relevant course topic. You can do so using microphone, webcam and/or chat. Only the people within the breakout room can listen/see the discussion. By actively participating in these breakout rooms, students gain the ability to make connections with peers and also makes for a memorable learning experience.

Article Category: Student Perspectives