Recommendations for Webcam Use in the Classroom

Executive Summary

In live online (synchronous) classes, there are sound pedagogical reasons to ask students to turn on web cameras during class. Webcams allow faculty to more easily engage with students, monitor their performance, and develop their communication skills. Students may object to webcam use for equally valid reasons, including privacy and limits on broadband access. For reasons of equity and respect for privacy, faculty should consider making exceptions for students who are unable to turn on their webcams during online classes.

Except during assessment activities that require a visual presence, students should be given the option of participating in the class without turning on a webcam. Certain learning goals, exercises, and instructional practices may also justify an instructor’s asking students to turn on their webcams and/or to use Respondus LockDown Browser or Monitor for assignments or exams. In these cases, faculty should provide an explanation to the students of why webcams are useful. Faculty should balance instructional need, academic integrity, and integrity of assessment with student privacy and access to technology. This guide provides guidance about the use of these tools, alternatives to consider, and suggested syllabus language.

Benefits and Limitations of Webcam Use


The use of webcams in live online class meetings or assessments can enhance the educational experience in many ways. Some of these include:

  • Students working in groups
  • Building community
  • Proof of attendance
  • Classes that focus on communication skills, performance, or physical movement
  • Online proctoring


Some students may not be able to use cameras or wish to not use them because:

  • Their internet connection cannot support the use of streaming video. Bandwidth problems are real for many students, regardless of their location.
  • Students may not have a webcam on their computer. The Division of Information Technology suggests minimum computer hardware and software for students, but is not a binding requirement. The Library offers short-term loaner laptops.
  • They may have privacy concerns (e.g. roommates, children, or other family members in the background).
  • Students may wish to keep their webcams off because leaving them on may reveal their exact geographical location or other unique identifying information.
  • They may have a visually busy environment or otherwise distracting background that could detract from others’ ability to attend to class content.
  • Students with concerns regarding disability access and webcam usage should contact the Disability Resource Center.

Recommended Practices

Recommendation: During any regular remote instruction, it is suggested that instructors adopt a “camera-optional” practice for teaching through Collaborate, Teams, Zoom or another video platform.

More Information: Not all students will be attending class from an environment conducive to webcam use. A camera-optional approach respects student challenges, such as equity, personal safety and security, and religious beliefs. Instructors should also remind students if they plan to record immediately before any recording takes place or in their syllabus policy, if all classes will be recorded.

Recommendation: To protect the integrity of exams and other assessments, instructors may require students to turn on their webcams in order to monitor and/or record the assessment.

More Information: Faculty must notify all students in the class of their intent to monitor and/or record the assessment (this may be contained in the syllabus or a written announcement at least 5 days in advance of the assessment). Instructors must remind students that the assessment will be recorded before any recording takes place. Students should find a location in which they can access a webcam. If a student is unable to or does not wish to be recorded or monitored through a webcam during the assessment, faculty should be prepared to offer appropriate alternatives. Students should request an alternative monitoring method prior to the scheduled assessment, giving sufficient time for the faculty to arrange alternate methods of monitoring. Instructors can take into account the facts and circumstances surrounding a student’s request and determine whether it is appropriate to grant the request. In such cases, instructors can work with the student to provide an alternate assessment. Screen sharing can also be an option to monitor student work if students are in separate virtual rooms.

Recommendation: Faculty members should be aware of the privacy, hardware, software, disability, and equity concerns and require the use of webcams or video feeds only when the educational value of requiring video supersedes those concerns.

More Information: Students with concerns regarding disability access and webcam usage should contact the Disability Resource Center.

Decisions to Make About Webcams

Instructional Considerations

  • There are instances where having the video on is unnecessary (e.g. while students listen to a lecture)
  • There are instances where having the video on is impractical (e.g. larger than 15-20 attendees, meaning it is necessary to scroll to view students)
  • Temporary, periodic, short-term use of the webcam can be much more appealing to students with privacy and technology concerns

Instructional practices can address some of the concerns that may make webcams seem mandatory.

  • Periodic live polls or checks for understanding can help ensure regular attendance and attentiveness throughout the class session
  • Community building can happen asynchronously using discussion tools like the Blackboard discussion boards, Yellowdig, and VoiceThread
  • Collaborative authoring using Microsoft Office 365 can foster collaboration in both synchronous and asynchronous environments, and give the instructor a view of students’ progress
  • Group (collaborative) work can happen in non-video environments such as Blackboard Groups, Teams, or a shared Office Doc
  • Recorded video can allow students to demonstrate competency in some performance and communication skills

Assessment Considerations

  • Yes, but it is recommended to inform students of this practice in writing as soon as possible before the assessment. Ideally, this should be in the syllabus so that students can make an informed decision about their ability to effectively participate in required academic exercises. Faculty should be prepared to provide alternative monitoring methods should a student be unable to comply with the webcam requirement.
  • No, unless departments or programs have an established policy of more stringent hardware requirements that students have been informed of, students are only expected to have the computers or devices required by the university and/or their specific program of study.

Syllabus Statements

If you plan to use Respondus LockDown Browser with Monitor for proctoring your exams and/or assessments, include a statement clarifying your expectations for use, such as:

Faculty use a number of strategies for ensuring academic integrity in courses, whether in-person or online, and a variety of technologies may be applied. This course may use LockDown Browser with Monitor for online exams and assessments. While there is no cost to you to use the software, you are required to have a webcam, which may be built into your computer or may be an external camera. Use a Mac or PC computer; Chromebooks are not compatible. Watch this short video to get a basic understanding of LockDown Browser and the Monitor webcam feature.

During remote course exams or assessments, your participation may be video-recorded with your webcam using Respondus Monitor. Respondus Monitor is a companion product for LockDown Browser that enables students to record themselves with a webcam and microphone during an online exam. These video recordings may be submitted to Student Conduct as evidence in suspected cases of violations of the Student Code of Conduct.

The Respondus system allows access to your webcam only while the exam/assessment is in progress. NIU and its faculty do not have access to your webcam at any point outside of the assessment setting. You are responsible for obtaining an external webcam with microphone if no functioning built-in camera is available on your device. Students may borrow laptops with webcams from Founders Library.

Download and install LockDown Browser to your Mac or PC computer.

For more information, see Taking a Test with the Respondus LockDown Browser

If you plan to require students to use a webcam for class sessions and/or assessments, include a statement that identifies what synchronous tool(s) you will be using and your expectations for participation, such as:

This course may require you to use a webcam for class sessions and/or assessments. Classes and assessments may be conducted using Collaborate, Teams, Zoom or other technology selected by your instructor which may use your computer’s webcam or other technologies to communicate, monitor, and/or record classes, class activities, and assessments. Assessments may also be conducted using proctoring software, which may listen to you, monitor your computer screen, view you and your surroundings, and record (including visual and audio recordings) all activity during the proctoring process. Please contact your instructor if you are unable to comply or have any questions or concerns.

Additional Resources

Recommendations from other Institutions


Research Studies

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