I don’t require my students to turn on their cameras, but I thank the students who choose to turn on their camera, specifying that it really helps me when I can see people’s faces (nodding, looking confused, etc.). It’s disheartening to teach into a void of black screens. And it’s really nice when a class is lit up with faces.
There are some sound pedagogical reasons for turning cameras on. Thus, I suggest sharing those reasons with the students before giving them the choice of what to do about their cameras. Explain why you are making your request. For example, being able to see students’ faces gives instructors a quick and easy way to discern whether students are finding the material engaging, at least in smaller classes. One instructor told me that “I asked students to turn their cameras on to say hi to their classmates at the beginning and end of class, and those were the best moments of the class.”
A colleague who would like students to keep their cameras on described her contingency plan to me: “I will not create a hard and fast rule about keeping cameras on but I will try to set a norm about engagement. At the beginning of the semester I always create ground rules with the class (I set some and I ask the class to create some together). One of my rules is always that students should expect to contribute to the class for the good of the order. In other words, we are in a community and everyone should be prepared to do their part to foster our collective learning. I think that having cameras on would fall under this and I would explain the reasoning. Of course, some students will still have their cameras off, but I would rather err on the side of making the class accessible to all students.” Her comment reminds us that turning a camera on is an invitation into a student’s home environment and thus we need to explain to students why we are asking for that invitation.