EYE 2 EYE: Mandatory or optional cameras during Distance Learning


Leah Gelick/Talon

As students and administrators adjust to Distance Learning, the decision must be made on whether or not to mandate camera use in class.

Pro mandatory cameras: Smileyou’re on camera!

Don’t shutter in fear, it’s just a camera

By: Oliver Carter

John Doe would like FaceTime … 

Remind Me 📅 Message 💬

Decline 📞 Accept 📞

Decline. 📞

I get it. I really do. When receiving a FaceTime call, I either turn my camera off, position it upward at my ceiling fan or call using an alternate means of communication not requiring the use of face-to-face interaction. This is rather indicative of my general stance on cameras; it isn’t that I am antisocial just not a fan of showing my face on calls. 

However, that is within a personal setting. While I can absolutely relate to “not wanting to” show your face on camera, when considering camera consent in a pedagogical setting, my idea of cameras is flipped on its head … or rather, its lens. 

A main goal of distance learning, outlined by California Department of Education, is to “continue delivering high-quality educational opportunities to students to the extent feasible.” In order to reproduce educational opportunities in the virtual classroom, near replication of the brick and mortar classroom is the most practical option to ultimately fulfill this goal. 

This is high school — a bad hair day or a cluttered room, for instance, does not transcend the need for interpersonal connections within a class setting. With cameras off, it is near impossible to read the room. There have been numerous times when a teacher tried making a joke over Google Meet. Perhaps it was just unfunny, or maybe it was because almost everyone’s cameras were off and microphones were muted, prompting the awkwardness that followed the teachers’ remarks. I still think you’re funny, Dr. Anderson.

The teacher needs visual input from you, just as you need visual input from them. When you’re not actively participating, raising your hand and giving a thumbs-up, there’s a good chance you are doing something else. Admittedly, I have fallen asleep in class during the beginning of distance learning, and I am certain others have, too. To avoid this, you should be held personally accountable for your actions in class, and if you get called on by your teacher for texting or sleeping, it is ultimately you at fault; fix yourself before blaming the system.

I know there are many who are uncomfortable with being obligated to “invite” people into their home. Whether it be noisy siblings coming in and out of one’s room, torn furniture or an explicit sculpture gifted to you on Christmas by your grandmother, one can feel rather embarrassed about turning their webcam on. 

I absolutely understand the various circumstances in students’ houses that would repel them from wanting to be seen, but one thing I can guarantee is that we all have walls. Like I did in springtime distance learning, anyone can prop up their Chromebook on the ground in front of a blank wall. Thus, saying you feel invaded by the lack of privacy within your household is a weak counterargument.

Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, it is permissible for teachers to both record classes and share recordings to enrolled students, since “video recordings of virtual classroom lessons qualify as ‘education records.’” I think it is best that I clarify that, although I heavily encourage the use of cameras in a classroom, I am against teachers recording and posting their video conferencing on Google Classroom. Embarrassing moments are forever immortalized, and can be spread via Snapchat, Instagram, text messages, etc. as a means to cyberbully. 

While the same can technically be done during the live meets, it is much less likely a student would have their cameras ready to record an awkward moment as it happens. So, despite heavily encouraging the use of cameras within a classroom, I do think the use of recording should be terminated. However, to call the requirement of cameras in a virtual classroom during a live call an “invasion of privacy” would be counterproductive to the evolution of distance learning for the same reason that it would for a student to advocate for the wearing of ski-masks in a classroom. 

Maintaining the integrity of a pre-COVID-19 classroom means incorporating the ability to see your peers. There’s absolutely an emotional aspect to both teaching and learning, and without it, it’s essentially an auditory delivery of a textbook. I would rather not have a 10-year Oak Park High School reunion where I’m unable to pair actual individuals with their profile pictures used on Google Meet calls in 2020. So, please: tilt your head, laugh, raise your hand and roll your eyes when necessary. And smile, because you’re on camera.

End call. 📞

Pro optional cameras: My face, my home, my choice

A student ought to be autonomous when decisions affect their privacy

By: Charlie Nicks

Administrators should not have the power to mandate that students’ cameras are on during distance learning, regardless of the pedagogical benefits of this practice. Requiring students to leave cameras on violates a student’s right to privacy and thus is unethical.

The first major issue arises when you consider that most students must attend class from their homes, and thus must show their home workspace on camera. Students are being forced to display their private home space to classmates. They may even change the way rooms are decorated or arranged out of embarrassment or the desire for privacy. 

For example, while it’s far more comfortable for me to attend school from my desk, I tend not to — my bulletin board behind my desk makes for a distracting frame, not to mention the fact that it’s full of photographs and personal mementos that I frankly don’t feel comfortable sharing with everyone.

This problem is worsened by the fact that not all students have a workspace that teachers consider “appropriate” — this issue is particularly difficult to overcome for students who live in smaller homes, students who cannot afford a work space, and students with siblings. Subtle classism underpins the notion that all students have “appropriate” workspaces readily available to them.

Distance learning violates student privacy. All students can see the faces of all other students. Unlike in-person schooling, where hardly anyone would notice if a student scratched their head or blew their nose since everyone is facing the teacher, students in distance learning may avoid doing something as simple as scratching an itch. Students are disincentivized from doing basic things to make themselves comfortable – after all, dozens of their peers watch them. It is harder to learn when you’re constantly worried about being watched.

Similarly, all of the students’ actions can be recorded. Most obviously, many teachers record their class lectures which include students’ faces. However, even if teachers aren’t recording, other students are able to snap pictures of their peers without their knowledge or consent. 

Imagine the backlash that would occur if a student took pictures of other students without consent during in-person learning with their phone. That would be unacceptable. Secretly photographing people in person is a huge privacy violation, so why would it be more acceptable to take embarrassing screenshots of peers on Google Meets? Forcing students to keep cameras on leaves them defenseless to violations such as this.

Lastly, it isn’t like students signed up for distance learning. If they had entered into this voluntarily, then they would have relinquished their privacy. But Oak Park High School is a public school that students are required to attend by law. Administration cannot adopt an “if you don’t like it, don’t attend our school” attitude since OPHS is public. They are obligated to respect the rights of students, especially since the students are captive.

This isn’t to say that students shouldn’t put on their cameras if they are comfortable! I love having my camera on — it helps me focus and keeps me accountable. But, it ought to be my choice.



  • Sometimes it’s just nicer not to have your camera on.


  • Having cameras on are generally conducive to a better learning environment.


  • Students and teachers should be respectful about their view of other students — don’t take pictures, don’t record, and don’t call someone out for having a poor workspace.