August 18, 2020 5:18 pm

Norman Eng

The big concern professors have about Zoom (or any web conference platform) is: Should we require students to turn on their webcam?

Or Why do so many students not want to show their faces? I addressed this in a previous post, Part 1. 

Part of the reason is that students—and people in general—are anxious about the way they look. When the webcam is on, they’re looking at themselves. A lot apparently. (Admit it, you do the same!)

Maybe we’re all a bit vain, narcissistic, or self-conscious, but it’s actually natural. With all that’s going on around us during a synchronous class session—the lecturing, the conversational delays, the tech glitches, and the chats, we gravitate to looking at ourselves online.

In a video chat, you can watch yourself vocalizing and reacting to what people say. In real life, we can’t—we don’t. But online, we start to think more about how others see us. In fact, fixating on oneself is one way we cope with the stimulus overload of video chatting.

Apparently, even staring at a mirror under low lighting for one minute is enough to make us feel self-conscious, according to one study.

So imagine what 45 minutes listening to a lecture—and looking at yourself—will do to your self-confidence!

Here’s one trick that might help students feel less anxious about showing their faces on Zoom: 

Hide the “self view.” 

Zoom has a function which allows you to hide your picture from yourself while still allowing others to see you. It’s the Hide Self View feature. When you can’t see yourself, it feels more like real life. You see others. Others see you. Nobody sees themselves. Win-win.

Here’s how to do this on Zoom: 

Right click on your video (the video that shows your face) or click on the 3 dots and go to “Hide Self View.” 

Now you can only see other people and not yourself. 

To undo this, click on upper right of any other person (the three dots) and click on “Show Self View.” You’ll also see it appear on the upper right of the person who is talking (see gray button above).

Now students can focus on the lecture and the work, not on themselves. Will this help them feel less anxious and self-conscious? Potentially. Will you join me and try it out? 

Of course, this trick won’t help those who have messy homes, loud siblings, privacy issues, low-bandwidth, and other external issues that prevent them from turning on the webcam. 

But “hiding the self-view” could be a game-changer. At the very least, it could improve the rate of cameras being turned on. 


  • How very closed-minded of you. Some students are not showing their faces not because of vanity but because of living conditions behind them, or they may not be at home but in a parking lot picking up free wifi, or maybe they just don’t want to because they’re zoomed out. Some students don’t have the internet bandwidth to have video streaming in and out . Students are not so shallow as we make them out to be. Why are you encouraging teachers to coerce their students to do what they are uncomfortable doing. Think about this some more.

    • Vanity is merely one factor I mentioned. I also mentioned anxiety, low-bandwidth, privacy issues and more. And I made my point clear in a linked previous post that I don’t require webcams turned on; nothing about coercing students. This post merely addresses one aspect of this ongoing issue.

  • My school requires the students to have the camera on. Thanks for the tip on How not to view yourself – I too will use it!

  • Hey Norman, great Zoom feature! I didn’t know about this.

    Do you have advice for faculty to engage students who will not be on video? For instance, with FERPA, some students will choose not not be recorded and therefore must have video off. And maybe they wont have mics on either. They have the legal right to do so. Would love to see advice for profs dealing with that since some unis are requiring this info be in the syllabi.

    • Hi Jennifer! FERPA can sometimes be ambiguous. From what I understand (correct me if I’m wrong), faculty can request students to turn on their webcam as long as it is related to class. Obviously some students can’t and won’t for a variety of reasons, but there isn’t much we cn do. I’d find ways to engage students in other ways–discussion boards, etc. I tend to use synchronous classes for class interaction, so as long as they can (via audio or simply chat), I’m ok with it. In my syllabus, I do mention to talk to me if they have difficulties with webcam. Basically, the purpose is to find ways to help if they need it. If they simply refuse, then that’s OK. Will put more thoughts into this. Thanks for bringing this up.

  • Hi, Norman. It’s a very useful tip Hide self view. In today’s online class session I feel somewhat confident in delivering my lecture. Thank you very much.

  • Yeas, indeed, I’ve been using Zoom soon almost a year, and didn’t realize one can use Hide Self View. It makes sense. To add to this, even my personal behavior (as an instructor) changes a lot when I turn webcam on or off. It’s like two different personalities. Thanks for the tip, will try it!

  • Thank you for opening up another great option, Norman! Like you, I don’t require students to turn video on. We should ask ourselves if having video on really helps students to be more engaged? Or, does having video on helps the speaker feel heard, and able to read their audience?

    As a student and a workshop participant, I prefer video off; this makes everything less distracting so I can focus on the content and process ideas being exchanged. As an instructor, my students have option to turn video on/off, whichever they are most comfortable with. I engage students through collaborative activities such as: guided discussions, break out sessions, poll, chat features, and using third party applications such as Kahoot!, Jamboard, Mural, etc.

  • Good afternoon. I just got your audiobook and completed it today. I am now trying to use the resources that you provide. I am not sure if you are aware, but the virtual background helps with some people who may not want to share their own background. Zoom has filters available also.

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