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Camera! Roll! Action! Why do students avoid turning on their cameras in online lessons?



The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a rapid transition to online learning at the onset of the second semester of the 2020 academic year, compelling students around the globe to adapt quickly to online teaching. This was accompanied by the requirement that students in synchronous classes adjust to using online platforms such as Zoom and Google Teams and turn on cameras as an indicator of this participation. The outcome was a noticeable phenomenon of students who refused to turn on their cameras during online distance-learning classes, a trend duly noted by their lecturers. 

But why do they do so? 

To answer this question, Dr. Hagit Meishar-Tal, a lecturer at HIT's Faculty of Instructional Technologies, established a collaboration with Prof. Alona Farkash Baruch from the Education Department, Academic College Levinsky-Wingate. Together, they examined three possible reasons. The first aspect studied had to do with issues of resistance, such as concerns about appearance. The second was learning environmental factors, such as the size of the virtual classroom. Lastly, personal factors were also addressed, such as self-image.

The study cohort comprised 205 students from higher education institutions in Israel who studied online during the COVID-19 pandemic period. Data was collected using an online questionnaire and analyzed using quantitative and qualitative methods. 

The scientists’ findings confirmed that, indeed, only a relatively low percentage of the students opened their camera function during academic classes, and those who did, did so only for part of the session. 


The study also revealed four factors that dissuaded students from turning on their camera or disclosing personal characteristics, such as gender and self-image. The scientists found that flexibility is the main reason for rejecting camera opening, which pertains to issues such as limiting the choice of the physical learning location, inability to conduct non-course assignments during class, and the requirement to get organized before class. The second most contributing factor was privacy invasion, i.e., too much exposure of the personal space. Another issue was that opening cameras affected the ability of students to pay attention to the class due to issues such as the way they appeared on the screen. Interestingly, the lowest rated reason was practical considerations such as lack of infrastructure and financial reasons.

It was determined, however, that the lecturer’s level of insistence on opening the cameras also played a key role. In fact, the more insistent the lecturer was, the higher the students’ responsiveness. Likewise, the smaller the classroom, the greater the willingness to turn on cameras. 

These findings may help lecturers better understand students’ perspectives on camera use in online classes and develop effective strategies to encourage them to turn their cameras on. Furthermore, these factors can serve as predictors of students’ rate of turning on their camera, and can be used to assess the suitability of online learning to target audiences based on varying factors. 

Link to the article in Interactive Learning Environments: