Distance learning, live streaming and cameras are the new normal in education

Written by Mark Powell, first published by the San Diego Union Tribune

Before the coronavirus pandemic, some teachers considered having a camera in their classrooms to be an invasion of their privacy, but livestreaming lessons is now the new norm. Distance learning and livestreaming have been key players in the accessibility of online education during the COVID-19 school shutdown, and San Diego County educators will need to embrace these new forms of teaching long after the pandemic ends. Almost every laptop or tablet is capable of livestreaming or viewing a teacher’s lesson, and almost every student or teacher has a smartphone. All of this readily available technology is here for classrooms and learners to take advantage of, and it does not require much additional investment to implement.

Some teachers might oppose placing cameras in their classrooms to record lessons, stating that cameras are an infringement of the privacy — for both the teacher and the student. However, it is legal to place cameras in public school classrooms, hallways and common areas because these areas do not infringe on students’ right to privacy. However, installing cameras in school restrooms or locker rooms, where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, is definitely illegal. One thing we know for sure, our traditional model of education has changed forever because the public knows that learning is no longer restricted to the classroom.

The concept of cameras in the classroom is simple: Students who are learning remotely log into a videoconferencing platform at the start of class, and everyone, whether in class or remote, can participate in the lesson, ask questions and receive feedback on independent work. Students who are doing distance learning can see their classmates and feel like they are part of the same learning community. The classes are recorded so students and parents can review the lessons later to prepare for tests or help with homework.

The primary use of cameras in the classroom is to enhance online distance learning and make it more accessible to students who prefer a distance learning option. However, some teachers are concerned about the privacy implications of broadcasting from their classrooms. Every heated exchange, teacher blooper and student outburst might be recorded — and that can make students and teachers anxious. Teachers also have concerns that cameras may be used for evaluation purposes; however, recording a teacher for evaluation purposes is something that can be worked out between the school district and the teachers union.

Livestreaming is an integral part of today’s modern distance learning classroom that can contribute to the education system in beneficial ways. For instance, students who want to take Advanced Placement math courses that their high schools don’t offer can use livestreaming technology to take AP Math classes taught by teachers at other high schools. This same remote classroom technology can help students who cannot make it to school for medical reasons. Through distance learning and livestreaming technology, students can attend school from their homes or hospitals and still feel like they are members of the school community.

Cameras have another advantage: They can protect the safety of both students and teachers. A video recording could be the one thing that saves a teacher’s job when there are false accusations of misbehavior; contrawise, a video recording could also protect a student from a teacher who is abusing them verbally, emotionally or even physically. Misunderstandings of discipline issues between students and teachers are common, and school administrators are usually the ones who are left to sort out the details and conduct an investigation.

Video footage would reduce the amount of time spent investigating wrongful claims, freeing up administrators to be instructional leaders on campus, instead of internal affairs investigators. Cameras in the classroom can also help protect students from being bullied or harassed by other students.

Many districts are planning for hybrid approaches to school scheduling, and, in some cases, that means teachers will be simultaneously instructing students in traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms and students who are home, via live stream distance learning. Therefore, it is imperative for school districts to think about how they will continue to implement distance learning long after the COVID-19 pandemic ends — and one way to do that is by having cameras in the classroom to live stream lessons. Cameras in the classroom make a lot of sense, and online distance learning is here to stay. The question is: How do we make it better?