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What if people refuse to use video?

I was on a great chat today, the Instructional Designers In Offices Drinking Coffee webcast! The topic was starting with virtual classrooms, and Andrew Jacobs asked this question that we didn't get around to answering on the session:

What if 8/10 people are happy to use their camera but 2 refuse to 'join in'?

This was about suggesting attendees to join in on the session via webcam. It can be a good way to "see" people throughout all or most of a session, or just for an introduction. I had commented that it's important for attendees to know ahead of time if this was the case, to ensure that they are presented appropriately. 

So what if some refuse to join in - as opposed to a technical failure? As with all adult activities, I think there has to be a certain amount of trusting the people and their decisions. Either at the time, or probably more appropriately in private afterwards, you could ask why the reticence. This can uncover the fundamental issues that you can then try to deal with. 

I have found that in sessions where someone/people have not wanted to come on webcam, I've made it ok for them not to. If their colleagues have come on webcam, and it's been a positive experience, this can make them feel ok to do so within a few minutes, that session, or potentially the next session. 

If there's an activity that's reliant on the webcam, it's worth pointing this out to people. You could perhaps compromise and suggest they only come on camera for that part, and not the rest of the time. 

What does everyone else think?

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  • I'm rather late on this - agree completely with Jo's response and advice here. I've experienced people not fully joining in - even had an HR insisting everyone have their webcams on.  I also read (sorry, can't recall who/what) another take, something along the lines of 'if your webcam is off, it's like going to a F2F meeting and sitting under the table.'  Which jogged me to do some groundwork with stakeholders in advance about what's considered OK / not OK .

  • Hi,

    I agree with Jo that you should inform up front if, why and when webcam usage is mandatory and/or optional. Yes, we're working in adult education, and it's the participant's decision on whether just "hang in" or participating actively.

    Just last night, at the start of a vocational training class preparing for an upcoming exam, about half of the attendees told me that they would be "quiet" during the session. Most of them tried to attend while still at work, another informed me that he had to tend to his sick wife and kid, another cited technical problems. Interestingly enough, most of them participated one way or the other during the session because I was able to engage them with activities.

    In this class, webcam use is optional, and most of them prefer not to use it. That's okay with me, I have many activities to keep them "awake" through those evening sessions. However, what I'm wondering about is why most of them don't even use their webcam during breakout sessions. So far, the breakout results have always been great, they very actively discuss whatever topic I throw at them ;). Which makes me believe that webcam usage might be overrated in quite a number of occasions if the group is engaged.

    Yes, we have to trust those adult attendees with their decisions on how to attend. If you want to use activities that can't be run without webcam, let them know beforehand and have an alternative up your sleeve. Each group is different - what may work with one may not with another. When I intend to use a role-play in class, I always inform upfront, that it won't work without webcam. And I have an alternative at hand, if none of them would like to take part. One way or the other, they will have to get involved with the topic.

    Recently, I came across a situation I'd dub as the "worst way to enforce webcam usage" ever. When I got into the Zoom room, I was explicitly called upon to use my webcam, and complied with the request. Using a virtual camera, I was able to freeze the video pane and did so after some time. Just shortly after having done that, I was reminded via private chat to keep the camera on or leave the room. With the invite for the next session came the note, that you have to keep your webcam on so that "the organizer and the presenter can see you at all times and can thus create a nice atmosphere".  And after having informed them that I might be late, I was also told that "the organizer will not be able to let attendees in late". Well, I didn't attend that next session and will probably never attend any event by them again.



    • Wowser Susanne, I'm  not surprised that you won't be joining this 'bootcamp' of enforcing their rules no matter what. 'Keep the camera on or leave the room'? Wow, that's not exactly welcoming and I imagine remembered for all the wrong reasons. Thanks for sharing - and for giving me food for thought for next week's virtual workhsops :)

  • This thread has more research on it that I update:

    Does video increase trust and engagement?
    There are some great stats in this research from Zoom. According to their research of over 700 Zoom users, 91% say there is more engagement if they t…
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