DISTANCE LEARNING: Should students be required to turn their cameras on in class?

November 2, 2020

DISTANCE LEARNING: PRO: Should students be required to turn their cameras on in class?

SCUSD mandated that all students have their cameras on during live instruction for distance learning during the 2020-2021 school year. This policy can benefit students and teachers while helping mimic a physical classroom setting. 

Cameras on during class is an imperative part of building a community while remote learning. In previous school years, many students have looked forward to making new friends or reconnecting with old ones in their new classes. Some students are not able to virtually communicate with their friends outside of class, leaving school as their only place of social interaction during the pandemic.

Furthermore, the ability to see students’ faces is beneficial for teachers. When school went virtual in March 2020, many teachers had already built relationships and communities within their classroom. However, a new school year brings new students and having cameras on can help teachers get to know them better.

While many teachers are adapting as best as they can to make distance learning as trouble-free as possible, it can be hard for them to gauge whether their students are present and comprehending the lessons when they are unable to see them. The ability to see the reactions of students can help teachers determine the best approach and pace when teaching. 

Some students may feel uncomfortable showing their background, or they have surroundings that are potentially distracting for others. Additionally, poor bandwidth and weak Wi-Fi connection often creates lag during live instruction, thus causing students to fall behind. However, the camera-on policy encourages accountability. Although school no longer takes place on campus, many of the typical classroom expectations, including academic integrity along with an appropriate and presentable appearance, should still apply during distance learning. 

Requiring students to have their camera on does not need to seem like a forceful approach but rather a positive and feasible way to engage and connect with other students and teachers in the midst of the coronavirus.

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DISTANCE LEARNING: CON: Should students be required to turn their cameras on in class?

When the turbulence of virtual learning first swept schools in the spring of 2020, there were few guidelines to follow in the online classroom. Now in fall, SCUSD has added new regulations, such as the expectation that students will have their web cameras on during instructional time. If a student does not turn on their camera, they run the risk of losing credit in some classes.

Credit should not be taken away because a student does not want to show their face. Credit is earned based on mastering skills and showing understanding of the material – as a reward for doing something that helps themselves or others – and not based on their face.

The default display for every school Google Meet or Zoom is a grid, showing classmates’ faces and their surroundings. This exposes their at-home learning environment to their peers, which can be both distracting and embarrassing.

For example, a family member could walk by, or a student could deliberately cause a disturbance on camera. Both of which would lead to a distracting spectacle and take away attention from the lesson.

Requiring students to turn on their cameras violates their privacy and exposes a piece of their personal lives. It exhibits many of a person’s hobbies and tastes, which they may not be comfortable sharing with their peers.

Additionally, not everyone wants to show off their home. Some are disorganized or not at their full potential, and they should have the option not to show it on camera.

Cameras are expected to be on to create an environment more akin to a classroom, but with the extra consequences that goal has been missed.

Virtual learning may not be ideal, but it is currently the best option that the district has for continuing the 2020-2021 school year. Setting the expectation, however, that cameras should be on during class time for all students is counterproductive and potentially detrimental to a student’s ability to learn.

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