For some, the webcam is an integral part of a virtual classroom session. It’s comforting to know that even in a virtual session, you’re sitting in a (virtual) room with real people joining in. There’s a face to every name and you’re not the only person drinking a coffee or laughing at a joke the instructor just made.
On the other hand, others can find the webcam rather annoying. However, some sessions require having webcams switched on and make it a prerequisite for participation.
There are actually many good reasons why someone would rather not turn on their webcam. Some may simply not be comfortable in turning on their camera, due to their mood that day, or they are simply not comfortable in sharing their kids in the background or living space. Another reason could be that their internet connection is not strong enough to share the best quality of video and audio therefore impacting the transfer of important information and what one takes away from the call.
Rather than focusing on the physical presence of a particular participant in a session, it is more appropriate to turn focus to gain active participation and ultimately get the message you want across in the most effective way possible. In order to avoid stripping away the potential for more flexibility within a session, it is best to respect people’s choices involving their webcam presence.
Let the participants in your virtual classroom decide for themselves whether they want to take part in a session with or without their webcam. Most of the time, a turned-off camera has less to do with the participant’s motivation than with technical problems (Internet connection not being able to handle video support) or personal reasons (kids home from school, wreaking havoc in the background).
In virtual classrooms, the risk of one-sided communication is particularly high. Usually, the instructor doesn’t see the participants, which can then lead to a session that feels more like a one-sided lecture, with little to no participation from the participants. In order to avoid this, the instructor can rely on software tools that facilitate interaction with the participants within the session.
The use of the chat function within your video tool can be very helpful when looking to interact with your participants. Participants can easily exchange ideas and information without interrupting a session. Additionally, you can ask for people to put any questions throughout the session into the chat, that way you can smoothly move through your presentation and quickly answer any adjoining questions that appear in the chat, and participants don’t have to worry about being talked over one another.
Breakout sessions are another great way to get participants to discuss and interact with each other. Have material already prepared that they should collaborate on to complete in these breakout sessions and re-group to go over the results from the rest of the groups. These sessions are perfect to keep participants awake, agile and open to communicate with each other.
The more engaging these tools are, the more likely participants are to maintain focus, reap results from their learning and therefore stay motivated.
Jo Cook recommends preparing for a virtual classroom session the same way as you would for a traditional face-to-face class – but with digital tools instead of a whiteboard, book and projector. This way, you lay the foundation for an open, interactive session and avoid a boring, one-sided lecture or presentation.