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Zoom Camera Guidelines

​As an instructor, you can establish policies regarding the use of video cameras in Zoom class sessions based on the course learning outcomes and the best pedagogy for helping your students accomplish those outcomes. Since Zoom classes are still relatively new, best practices in this arena are evolving. 

Note: This guide focuses on the needs of sighted students and instructors. Please see Turner (2022) for a list of resources for supporting low-vision, vision-impaired, and blind students in online and remote settings.

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This guide provides an overview of factors to consider in crafting a camera policy:

Research Overview

Instructors and students may want people to use their cameras during Zoom class sessions for some of the following reasons:

  • Some students report turning on their cameras helps them feel a greater sense of accountability and reduces distractions (Lemelin, 2021; Schwenck & Pryor, 2001). 
  • Some students who consistently have their cameras on may feel disconnected from the students who consistently have theirs off (Schwenck & Pryor, 2001). 
  • Instructors and students may benefit from nonverbal feedback and cues (Mottet, 2020) as a way to build trust and community (Turner, 2022). 

At the same time, there are many legitimate reasons that students may not want to use their cameras when they’re on Zoom:

  • Students may be concerned about sharing their surroundings or themselves on camera (Castelli & Sarvary, 2021; Barret-Fox, 2020). Virtual backgrounds and filters may not be supported on their computer or device. 
  • Students may not have enough bandwidth to turn on their video during class or own a reliable webcam.
  • Students may be experiencing Zoom fatigue that is exasperated by viewing themselves on screen and considering their on-screen appearance (Ramachandran, 2021; Fosslien & Duffy, 2021).

Requiring cameras can also exacerbate existing issues of inequality (Finders & Muñoz, 2021; Jackson, 2020). Further, students being visible on camera is not necessarily an indication of active engagement.

While requiring cameras may be necessary in some instances, a better approach may be to encourage their use, incorporate other methods for gauging participation, attendance, and engagement into classroom practice, and help students understand the reasoning for whatever practices are in place. This guide will help you to create a mutually respectful and supportive environment that incorporates multiple methods for giving and receiving feedback.

Inviting Students to Participate and Engage Without Using their Cameras

Zoom Chat or Backchannel Chat

Prompt students to use Zoom chat or another backchannel chat space you’ve created for the class. You can ask students to respond to an ice-breaker, to chime in on discussion prompts, or to pose their questions in the chat.


Polling can be used to ask students to respond to a thought-provoking question, to check understanding of difficult concepts, or to turn part of your session into a fun quiz competition. Zoom polling allows you to create and launch multiple-choice questions during class meetings. Poll Everywhere is another polling tool with many more poll options, including word clouds and team-based game polls. Compare Zoom polls with Poll Everywhere to decide which tool to use.

Zoom Reactions

Ask students to use one of the Zoom reactions to let you know how they’re feeling, if they understand, or as a quick sort of poll (e.g., respond with a thumbs down if you disagree).

Collaborative Documents

Give students a link to a collaborative document, like a Google Doc or Padlet, where they can take notes while you lecture. You can also use collaborative documents for structured question and answer periods and to guide small-group work.

Small-Group Work

Put students in breakout rooms so they can have conversations with a small group of peers. You might provide them with a collaborative note-taking document so you can check on the groups.

Annotation Tools

Ask students to annotate the Zoom screen during specific moments of the class session.

Best Practices for Camera-Suggested Classroom Environments

  • Explain how seeing students on Zoom impacts your teaching practices. You might also have a whole-class discussion to set camera use expectations for the course. 
  • Build your camera expectations into your syllabus
  • Use icebreakers to build community at the start of your class and throughout the quarter. 
  • Provide camera breaks throughout class, such as when you’re screen sharing or when there is minimal interaction between students. 
  • Provide students with opportunities to seek accommodations if they are unable to use their camera (a first-day survey built into your course introduction works well). Avoid calling students out during class sessions. If you have concerns about a specific student, email them to talk about the way they’re engaging during class. 
  • Seek anonymous feedback throughout the course. 
  • Provide students with instructions for using Zoom virtual backgrounds. Virtual backgrounds will help students hide their physical surroundings, but note that not all computers and devices will support virtual background use.
  • Provide students with instructions for uploading a Zoom profile picture, and some options for types of images that would be representative and appropriate.
  • In Zoom-enabled classrooms, adjust the cameras so remote students do not see the Zoom participant screen on the monitors in the classroom.   
  • Don’t rely on cameras to take attendance. Instead, use one of the suggested engagement techniques to track and assess students' participation.

These tips are inspired by Brown University’s Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the suggestions provided by Turner in the Educause Review article “Revisiting Camera Use in Live Remote Teaching: Considerations for Learning and Equity,” and a guide shared by Lindsay Masland at the Appalachian State University’s Center for Academic Excellence.

Classes that Require Some Camera Use

In some classes, you may need to see students to be able to provide them with feedback; f​or example, if you must be able to see student gestures, observe pronunciation, provide feedback on a physical technique, etc. (Masland, 2021). If you need to see students to be able to help them meet the course objectives, you can still make use of the suggestions for creating a welcoming environment for camera use in your classes.

Example Syllabus Statements for Camera Use

Camera Use Invited 

"I recognize that having cameras on during class may not be feasible, and I do not require that you turn your camera on during class. If you want to keep your camera on, you are invited to do so."

Camera Use Encouraged 

"I encourage camera use during specific course activities. We can discuss as a class which activities are best suited for having cameras on and which we can designate as camera-off activities. Throughout the quarter, we can revisit these conversations as necessary. If you have any concerns about using your camera during class, please share those in the survey distributed at the beginning of the quarter, contact me via email, and/or talk to me during office hours. We will work together to determine the best approach to addressing your concerns.

Camera Use Required During Specific Course Activities 

"I ask that you use your camera during the following activities because I need to see you in order to provide you with feedback and instruction: [describe activities]. I will not expect cameras to be on during these activities: [list activities]. If you have any concerns about using your camera during class, please share those in the survey distributed at the beginning of the quarter, contact me via email, and/or talk to me during office hours. We will work together to determine the best approach to addressing your concerns.

References and Additional Resources

Barrett-Fox, R. (2020). A reminder of who is hurt by insisting that students share images of their personal lives. Rebecca Barrett-Fox. Retrieved April 4, 2022, from https://anygoodthing.com/2020/04/06/a-reminder-of-who-is-hurt-by-insisting-that-students-share-images-of-their-personal-lives/  

Castelli, F. R., & Sarvary, M. A. (2021). Why students do not turn on their video cameras during online classes and an equitable and inclusive plan to encourage them to do so. Ecology and Evolution, 11(8), 3565–3576. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.7123  

Castro, C., & Salmon, N. (n.d.). Setting policies for camera use in Zoom class meetings. MTLE Resources. Retrieved April 4, 2022, from https://wisc.pb.unizin.org/mtle/chapter/zoom-cameras/  

Cornell University. (2020). Reducing zoom data and bandwidth use. IT@Cornell. Retrieved March 28, 2022, from https://it.cornell.edu/zoom-zoomforcourses/reducing-zoom-data-and-bandwidth-use   

Finders, M., & Muñoz, J. (2021). Inside higher ed. Why it's wrong to require students to keep their cameras on in online classes (opinion). Retrieved March 27, 2022, from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2021/03/03/why-its-wrong-require-students-keep-their-cameras-online-classes-opinion 

Fosslien, L., & Duffy, M. W. (2022). How to combat zoom fatigue. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved April 4, 2022, from https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-combat-zoom-fatigue   

The Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning. (2021). Inclusive Strategies for Student Camera Use During Zoom Class Sessions. Brown University. Retrieved March 27, 2022, from https://www.brown.edu/sheridan/inclusive-strategies-student-camera-use-during-zoom-class-sessions 

Jackson, T. (2021). Covid-19 and videoclassism: Implicit bias, videojudgment, and why I'm terrified to have you look over my shoulder. LinkedIn. Retrieved April 4, 2022, from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/covid-19-videoclassism-implicit-bias-videojudgment-why-jackson/  

Lemelin, C. (2021). Why we don't turn our web cameras on in zoom: The impact on teaching and learning. The Quad. Retrieved March 27, 2022, from https://www.ualberta.ca/the-quad/2021/10/why-we-dont-turn-our-web-cameras-on-in-zoom-the-impact-on-teaching-and-learning.html   

Masland, L. (2021). Camera Use In Zoom: Making the Right Choice for Your Class. Center for Academic Excellence. Retrieved March 27, 2022, from https://cae.appstate.edu/sites/default/files/camera_use_in_zoom2.pdf   

Mottet, T. P. (2020). Interactive television instructors' perceptions of students' nonverbal responsiveness and their influence on distance teaching. Communication Education, 49(2), 146–164. https://doi.org/10.1080/03634520009379202 

Schwenck, C. M., & Pryor, J. D. (2021). Student perspectives on camera usage to engage and connect in foundational education classes: It's time to turn your cameras on. International Journal of Educational Research Open, 2. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijedro.2021.100079   

Ramachandran, V. (2021). Four causes for 'zoom fatigue' and their solutions. Stanford News. Retrieved March 26, 2022, from https://news.stanford.edu/2021/02/23/four-causes-zoom-fatigue-solutions/   

Turner, P. (2022). Revisiting Camera Use in Live Remote Teaching: Considerations for Learning and Equity. Educause Review. Retrieved April 5, 2022, from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2022/3/revisiting-camera-use-in-live-remote-teaching-considera​tions-for-learning-and-equity