Ah, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler to suffer peering into student homes and what may be found there, or the agonies of looking at profile pics while wondering if the children are really there …

Recently, the excellent researcher and blogger, Mercedes Schneider, published a piece about her district utilizing the meeting feature that Google offers, Google Meets. It is a video conferencing feature similar to Zoom, Canvas, or Microsoft Teams. You can read it here: Liability, Thy Name is Google Meets.

The piece set Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) musing about his practices because his Florida district, who married Microsoft decades ago and a divorce will never happen, has from the beginning (not even a year ago) of distance learning directed teachers to conduct classes via Teams meetings.

GOT may be violating some kind of blogging rule that no one ever writes about something someone else published, but his response will take too many words to use the comment section of social media.

GOT isn’t too fussed about the liability issue that arises from the mandatory reporter requirement of state laws. If he sees something that would endanger the health or welfare of a child, oh yeah, he’s going to report it. It’s no different from overhearing a conversation in the classroom about what’s going on in the home.

GOT is fussed about the privacy issue that arises from teacher surveillance of students at home. Do school districts have the right to peer inside a home? How does that square with the Fourth Amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Another important issue is the age of secondary students, the ones that many ed bloggers teach: middle and high, generally ages 11 to 18. Adolescents are incredibly sensitive to being viewed, including how they are dressed, how they perceive their bodies, what’s in the background, whether they have positive feelings about the people they live with or are in the ‘how embarrassing are they? Imma gonna die, amiright, amiright?’ stage.

GOT allows his students to keep the cameras off. If they check out of the class and many of his students are, that soon shows up in a failure to complete assignments and a phone call to the parent is in order. That GOT struggles to find the time he needs for those phone calls because of all the usual nonsensical, time-wasting demands of districts is an issue for another blog post.

A camera-on approach will not solve many of the problems of online teaching. One student does no work. He’s not going to. He wants to come to the campus, but his parents will not allow it. He is failing all of his classes in his private war to force his parents into allowing him to leave his house. (He will win. In the Florida governor’s latest order, students with low or failing grades must return to the campus in 2021.)

When GOT has to administer district assessments (how they gonna score on the test? The test! The all-important, almighty, came to Earth with the manna test!), by district policy, he must make the students turn their cameras on.

It’s not a complete disaster. GOT relishes the moment when he can see his beautiful/handsome students as they are today versus the 6th-grade ID pictures he usually sees.

But how does a teacher handle what are not reportable issues, but nevertheless sabotage a student’s ability to focus and learn?

December brings assessment whatever a district might call it: progress monitoring (as if we only do it midyear,) a scrimmage (are we teaching children or coaching a football team?!), check-up (are they sick?), etc.

With the cameras on, GOT saw one student whose parent constantly interacted with the child, danced with a pre-school toddler in the background, and otherwise kept the student from focusing on the task. GOT almost called the parent to tell her to stop it.

Maybe he should have. Or maybe he shouldn’t have been seeing it in the first place.

Microsoft Teams allows students to blur their background (not very effective, some tried) or to choose a background against which only GOT would see their face. That would solve the issue of students leaving a class meeting.

It won’t solve the problem of engagement.

It’s like cheating. GOT has to make his students turn the cameras on so he can watch them and make sure they aren’t cheating. But how?

GOT is a math teacher. Students have to work their problems out on paper and then enter the answer into the computer. If they don’t, they are only guessing and that results in poor scores. But when they look down, GOT has no idea what they are looking at. Are they doing the work on paper or are they using their phone to cheat?

The answer (of course) is to give tests that render cheating useless. But districts don’t do that. They have one purpose and that is to predict how well a student will do on the state test. Standardized tests by their nature are subject to gaming and cheating.

The complete irony of the whole situation is that the Common Core standards were promoted as making students delve deep into really understanding. Then the tests were written for efficient scoring (thus the standardization.) It’s easy to cheat if one has the opportunity, which is why Florida denies parent choice for the home environment when it comes to the almighty, all-important test. The children must report to campus.

One thought on “To Camera or Not to Camera

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