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Cameras in the Classroom: What to Do Instead

cameras in the classroom
(Image credit: Unsplash: Lianhao Qu)

Some school districts have the short-sighted idea to put cameras in the classroom this fall so that students learning remotely have access to the classroom. Not only is this a bad idea, it is a colossal waste of money. Here’s why:

Laptops Already Have Cameras! 

No need to invest in costly equipment: Laptops already have cameras, and every school should have at least made a basic investment in teacher laptops. 

If the goal is to have students able to see a teacher teaching, all you need is the camera on the teacher’s laptop. Then the teacher simply sets up a Zoom, Google, or Microsoft Teams meeting that students (remote and face-to-face) can join. 

Good Teachers Don't Lecture All Period

A mini lesson is generally pretty short, and usually lasts about ten minutes or less. If you have a camera in the classroom, the majority of the time it would be recording students doing work. This is not engaging content for remote students. 

Furthermore, many modern teachers have moved to the flipped or in-flip classroom model. This involves a prerecorded mini lesson for students to watch at their own pace and that they can return to it anytime, so ultimately a camera isn’t even needed. 

Additionally, a modern teacher generally has a hyperdoc for their lesson that includes the mini-lesson video, directions for what students do after watching the video, and all additional resources. 

Talk about Big Brother! Many teachers and students don’t want to be on camera all day long--it feels like policing and surveillance, and there’s already too much of that going on these days. 

Teachers would also be forced to provide media consent. For students, what if their families don’t want them on camera? (Many would not.) 

Also, who gets to see what’s on camera? Is it recorded? What about those important, sensitive conversations and discussions? Would those happen if the class was on camera? The legal and privacy issues that can occur from cameras in the classroom could become a legal mess. Additionally student privacy advocacy groups will work fast and furiously to shoot this down.

If We Don’t Have Cameras, What Do We Do Instead? 

Prerecord lessons 

Lessons can be from the classroom teacher, another teacher, an expert, or even another student (check out how teacher Eric Marcos does that). Students watch those on their own time during or outside of class. 

Collaboration via video conferencing

During work time, video conferencing and chatting can be available on devices of students who are in-person and remote. This allows students to chat or meet about their work or meet with the teacher or a classmate, or via a small group.

The physically distanced classroom looks different

Remember with physical distancing, working with the teacher, another student, or a group will look very different. A teacher can not come over to a student’s desk and look over their shoulder to see what they’re working on. Students can’t sit next to one another to work in groups or pairs. This will all now take place in an online environment, which is the most practical and efficient way to share work and collaborate. The devices in a class will enable students to work in pairs or groups with their classmates and for teachers to be in compliance with Center for Disease Control guidelines

Whether they are in the same classroom, or in another location, connecting in an online platform will be the most effective way to learn.

Remote may not mean at home

Educators are shifting the way they think of spaces. Cafeterias, libraries, gyms, and other non-classrooms are now all spaces where students may learn. So, while some students may be in the room with their teacher, other students in the class may be in a gym or cafeteria, perhaps supervised by a school aide or teacher aide. Off-site locations, such as community centers, churches, or nearby colleges, may become places where students can engage with their teacher and classmates while supervised by a licensed professional.  

The mobile virtual presence device

You may remember when The Big Bang Theory introduced us to the Mobile Virtual Presence Device. Could this have a place in future classrooms or is this just a fictional idea from a television show? Believe it or not, the technology already exists and is being used in schools to help students and staff feel more connected by giving them a physical presence when they can’t be in person. 

As with many innovations, this technology started with the disabled community. It allows one to interact from anywhere in the world, and is used in places such as New York City, where it is utilized for home instruction students unable to attend class in person

The COVID-19 pandemic will forever change teaching and learning. Our students and staff deserve more than a knee-jerk reaction such as putting cameras in our classrooms. Instead, we can implement well-thought strategies with the input of experienced, innovative educators. It is more important than ever that we not allow a mismanaged response such as classroom surveillance to take over our schools. Instead, we can take this opportunity to put changes in place that will transform education for the better. 

Lisa Nielsen (@InnovativeEdu) has worked as a public-school educator and administrator since 1997. She is a prolific writer best known for her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator. Nielsen is the author of several books and her writing has been featured in media outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Tech & Learning and T.H.E. Journal.   

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.