Zoom camera students

The Orange Coast College Academic Senate is seeking to develop a policy regarding Zoom guidelines for students in the coming spring semester.

The most glaring issue of concern to students and teachers is whether or not students’ cameras should be on. On the face, it seems like it would be common sense to require cameras to be on to verify that students are present and participating, but it is actually a legal and privacy issue.

At the Nov. 10 OCC Academic Senate Meeting, which was conducted on Zoom, camera requirements were a hot button issue. In response to faculty wondering if they can require students to keep their cameras on in a synchronous class setting, OCC’s Online Faculty Coordinator Jamie Rossiter has been communicating with the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office and said, “The guidance that came out basically said that, legally, because this came from general counsel, that student privacy concerns outweigh academic freedom.”

The Chancellor Office’s directive stated that there must be a justification and rationale for requiring students to have their cameras on. “The guidance that came was basically that only if it is required for a particular type of assessment and the students should be given ample notice and have an option to contact faculty if there is an issue,” Rossiter said.  “Policies will take a long time, but we need to have something in place as soon as possible because there will be an issue in the spring. Not having a policy is a problem,” she added.

The California Virtual Campus (CVC) faculty directives page, which was created in response to the recent unprecedented shift to mostly online learning, states, “Keep equity in mind – students may not have access to a device or strong Internet connectivity, may incur data charges, or may not be available at your regular class time. Turn off video during large class meetings to support students with low bandwidth connections.”

The reality is that requiring a Zoom camera in a student’s home creates a privacy issue, The California Consumer Privacy Act secures, amongst other things, the right to delete personal information collected from consumers. This law applies to data collected by non-education apps such as Zoom.  Under the act, education records would include any recording made of the student in a classroom. Teachers are not allowed to post photos or video recordings of the class online without their permission.

OCC communications professor Emma La Mer currently requires her students to keep their cameras on during class. “I always say the names – there may be four of five people and I’ll say, ‘So and so, turn your camera on,’” she said. “There’s already a lag time from the time I ask the question and the time that they can get on because their microphone is off, so I’m not going to wait for you to get your camera on and your microphone on.”

La Mer’s classes challenge students to confront tough issues like race politics and politics as a whole. Her goal is to create a space where students feel comfortable enough to have an honest dialogue. “We’re talking about controversial subjects, things that are not easy to talk about- especially this generation- and so, they’re not going to do it to a bunch of black boxes,” La Mer said.

Certain programs, such as OCC’s yoga teacher training program, require more on-camera interaction than others. Overall, students have mixed opinions regarding the policy.

“I understand why teachers would want the screen on, and for me, personally, sometimes I do like that as a student because I feel I have to be more engaged in the class and I get to see other students,” said Mackenzie Eggie, a 22-year-old health sciences major at California State University Long Beach.  “I think seeing faces also helps, kind of, [to] get that social interaction that humans need, but at the same time, I don’t think it should be completely required because I know students have different living situations and for some students it’s easier for them to learn by just listening.”

Eggie herself just underwent a minor surgery and decided to attend class a couple of days afterward with the camera off because she still wasn’t feeling “totally herself,” but didn’t want to miss class.

For some students, the personal accountability factor is enough to make them willing to turn on their camera. “I like having my camera off but also I can get distracted easily so having it on will kind of hold myself accountable to pay attention,” said Stefany Aguilar, a 23-year-old yoga teacher training student at OCC. “If you had gone to class in person, what’s the difference?  They’re going to see you anyways.”

However, other students, like Juliet Uribe, a 20-year-old electrical engineering major at CSULB, were more concerned with the privacy and equity issues. She pointed out that some students are facing challenging home life situations that they don’t necessarily want to reveal to on-camera and others are actually living out of their cars, this puts an undue burden on them with regards to their personal privacy. “For it to be required and counted as a grade is totally unfair because not everyone is given the same situation or the same deck of cards,” she said.

Uribe’s point was acknowledged by Rossiter at the OCC Academic Senate meeting. “There are many homeless students at OCC and so they may not be comfortable with having a camera on or may lack a private space,” she said.

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