Should you turn your video cam on in online training?

The pandemic has turned everything into a video call — but could we be making smarter decisions about when to turn on the camera?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Like many people who deliver training, I've been doing so exclusively online for the past six months, and it's likely to be that way until next spring at the very earliest. That includes my lecuring at City's journalism department, which is all being delivered online this term, raising the rather sad prospect that I might never meet some of this year's Interhacktives in person.

Given that, I read this piece on making the most of your journalism course in these conditions with interest. There is one section that I disagreed with slightly:

Put your camera on

During face-to-face lectures, obviously no one is worried about showing their face but there is something about staring at a webcam that makes students want to run a mile. But putting your camera on means that the lecturer will be able to see that you are concentrating, which makes you more likely to get involved in discussions and avoid distractions.

For me, at least, it's not just about concentration. If I can see your face, I can see if you're puzzled, and so I can explain something more clearly. I can see if you're getting tired, which means I can change the tone of the teaching, or switch to a small group exercise. I can see if you're getting distracted, and change things up to draw you back in.

The feedback between tutor and tutee is vital to great training, of any kind. If you break that on the tutee end, you might as well just attend a webinar passively.  

I never insist people have the cameras on, but I do value it when they do. I think it makes the experience better for everyone.

Training is not the same as a meeting

That said, I do think part of the problem is that the pandemic has turned everything into a video call, when often a good, old fashioned audio call would do just as well.

As Holly Brockwell pointed out a few weeks ago, jumping routinely to video meetings puts an unfair burden on women in particular:

And yes, “Zoom fatigue” is a real phenomenon (I speak as someone who spent seven hours in Zoom yesterday). Let's use video calling when it adds vaue, and avoid it when it doesn't.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.