A necessary evil: The case for cameras in class
No student likes being on camera. It’s safe to say most Cowboys would prefer to be laying in bed in their pajamas instead of staring into the webcam on their laptop. However, the use of cameras is a vital part of distance learning and should be required if it is not done voluntarily.
An optional camera policy enables students at home to get away with behaviors that would never be tolerated in the face-to-face classroom. When students keep their cameras off during their entire class period, teachers cannot tell they are paying attention, or if they are even there at all. Some students may take a nap, scroll on their phones or even leave the room while their teacher is talking.
“We enter the class, they download the attendance list and you could be sleeping the entire time,” junior Tamar Shani said. “You could be away from the computer the entire class and you’d still count as present.”
On the other hand, if all students are required to use cameras, they can be more engaged in the class and less tempted to get distracted or walk away. Being on camera encourages them to stay focused and pay attention while their teacher is lecturing.
“You could be away from the computer the entire class and you’d still count as present.”Junior Tamar Shani
When students choose not to turn on their cameras, they make it harder for the teacher. Teachers often like to use visual cues, such as a student’s facial expression or a nod, to determine if their class is understanding the material. In a class without cameras, teachers must find other ways to gauge the feelings of the students.
“I must constantly ask questions to check for engagement online, or ask the students to raise their hands or write in the chat if there are any questions,” math teacher Michelle Harding said. “I must monitor screen sharing, chat questions, hand raising, the lobby and teaching all at the same time, [which] is exhausting!”
The lack of camera use in a virtual classroom also leads to issues with communication, both for the teachers and the students. Teachers are often stranded staring at a screen full of initials, waiting for a student to answer their question. In breakout rooms and group projects, students are also finding it hard to collaborate without seeing each other.
“I was group leader for a project, and when I would ask a question [to the group] and no one responded, I would take [their silence] as a yes,” sophomore Jane Goldsmith said. “It’s hard to communicate with people [when cameras are off]. [Cameras] just make the conversation so much easier, and it makes you feel like you are actually engaging with one another.”
“[Cameras] just make the conversation so much easier, and it makes you feel like you are actually engaging with one another.”Sophomore Jane Goldsmith
Most importantly, the use of cameras gives a sense of normalcy to eLearning. When students can see and interact with each other and their teachers, it feels more normal, like as if they were back in school.
“When you see someone, you share an experience and develop a sense of belonging just like you would in a classroom,” Harding said.
By fostering this sense of normalcy, cameras can allow students and teachers to create connections, even if they have never met in person.
“I feel more connected to my students who talk and share their cameras daily,” Harding said. “I am making connections with some students right now that allow me to see their personalities just like we would in person.”
Cameras are a necessary evil in distance learning because they enrich the experience of both the student and the teacher, and it seems as though they will be a classroom requirement soon. Although being on camera can be awkward at moments, the benefits that cameras have are crucial to distance learning.
Requiring students to turn on their cameras is a major privacy violation
A recent survey has been noticed on many student’s Clever pages. It is a determiner as to whether or not students should be required to turn on their cameras for school, as it can be seen as an effective way to take attendance for teachers. Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) has recently made cameras mandatory for eLearning. However, this is a direct violation of a student’s privacy.
Cameras require seeing a student’s background and, due to at-home learning in this case, one’s living environment and home. It is clear why students would not want people to see their living conditions.
“I do believe that forcing students to turn on their cameras as an invasion of privacy if they are not warned in advance,” senior Donna Nesselroth said. “Many students can’t control what goes on in their background so to be forced to turn on their cameras on the spot is unfair. However, if they are warned in advance like for an exam in an attempt to limit cheating, I think it is appropriate to make students turn on their cameras.”
Other students or teachers may be able to deduce information about them from their home and working area. With that, people will naturally form ideas based on what they see in someone else’s background that a student may want to keep to themselves.
“I do think of it [requiring students to turn on their cameras] as an invasion of privacy because students are not just showing themselves, but their surroundings and their home environment that many may not be comfortable doing.”Sophomore Samuel Jacobs
“I do think of it [requiring students to turn on their cameras] as an invasion of privacy because students are not just showing themselves, but their surroundings and their home environment that many may not be comfortable doing,” sophomore Samuel Jacobs said.
Other students may be able to see how fortunate their families are based on their home, what religion they practice, how many siblings they have and other personal information. These are all fair things people would want to keep to themselves and not have displayed for their class to see. This invades the light that they would want to portray themselves in and disrupts how they do so.
However, it is important to note that students can choose to use virtual backgrounds in order to cover their scenery that they may not be able to control. Nonetheless, they cannot control their reactions if something is happening in their surroundings, thus disturbing the class.
“I [think] that it is an invasion of privacy because some children’s living situations aren’t the ideal ones to be turning on their camera during an online class,” senior Lauren Dupoux said. “And although having on your camera is much like being face-to-face in classrooms, I believe some kids also deal with anxiety and don’t want to be forced to turn on their cameras.”
“I [think] that it is an invasion of privacy because some children’s living situations aren’t the ideal ones to be turning on their camera during an online class.”Senior Lauren Dupoux
Students required to turn on their cameras may also become overwhelmed by their appearance on screen, since students need to show their face. Teens already face immense pressures to fit within societal norms of looks, and requiring this during quarantined school hours will promote great anxiety and lead them to focus on their image rather than their classes.
Students are entitled to this privacy as it is something that has been a protected right for decades in schools. This is a further invasion than that of checking a student’s backpack considering that someone could find very personal information about one of their classmates.
“It is definitely an invasion of privacy,” junior Paige Patterson said. “This is not an ideal situation for students or teachers; however, it must be considered that not everyone is comfortable with showing their faces and backgrounds.”
It is understandable if a student does not feel comfortable sharing personal things about themselves, some of these with no choice of their own, and forcing a student to turn on their camera forces information about them to be shared to a population where they may not want certain information about them to be shared.
Illustration by Sofie Kahlig