Classroom cameras allow teachers to monitor students

The $2,000 cameras in the Academic Learning Commons classrooms are meant for distance learning.

Sam Isaacs
News Editor

If you have a lecture in the new Academic Learning Commons, think twice before updating your Facebook status in class.

The lecture halls on the first floor of the $44 million MCALC building come equipped with cameras stationed in the front and back of the room. The cameras cost the school about $2,000 each Sam Kennedy, assistant director of user services at VCU said the cameras can be used to monitor students.

“The ALC classroom cameras (Vaddio) serve three purposes: Echo360 classroom lecture capture, video conferencing via Vidyo, Google Hangouts or Skype and distance learning,” Kennedy said.

“The thought is that if a professor hosts an off-site speaker for class, the guest speaker might like to see the students they are talking to,” he said.

The technology is new to VCU, but some teachers are already trying it out.

“I’ve used them a lot before. As much as I hate to say it, it gives me ‘extra eyes’ in the classroom… I think they’re great,” Albert H. Lee, a statistics professor said.

Several students said they were surprised to find out about the capabilities of the new cameras.

“It seems invasive, I’m not sure what they are reporting with the cameras there. I think our rights are being violated enough and it’s honestly a little shocking. I’m not sure that’s the best use of my tuition money,” said sophomore Hillary Korman.

Matt Kozak, a junior biology major, said he is not opposed to the idea of the cameras, but is worried they might be misused.

“Sometimes, I sit and class and look around and I see people playing Angry Birds or some other game the whole class. If you are paying to go here, why would you waste you and your teacher’s time like that?” he said. “However, I would be worried if the school started abusing that technology. I would be mad if I was checking my email and my teacher called me out.”

While many students bring their laptops to class for notetaking, they can become a distraction. It’s something that  John Mahoney, Ph.D., associate professor and director of undergraduate studies at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, said he has noticed.

“I have not objected to students using their laptops in my class as long as they appear to be attending to what I am lecturing about.  In some cases, I have welcomed it, especially when they look up something that I said and ‘fact-check’ it,” Mahoney said. “On a related topic, I can’t count the number of faculty meetings I’ve been to where some of my colleagues had their computers open.  But like my students, they were attending to the business of the meeting as first priority.”

He also said the more technology advances, the more multitasking becomes apparent.

“Think of students in the library. Yes, they are studying, but don’t assume for one minute that they aren’t checking their cell phones for text messages, emails and the like,” Mahoney said. “I feel that the successful students are the ones who can manage all this multitasking successfully and not be distracted to the point that it harms their studies.”

Though he has not yet taught in one of the new classrooms, he said he has a zero-tolerance approach to distractions.

“If I see a student in my class using the cell phone, iPad or computer in a way that indicates that they are not paying the slightest bit of attention to what I am saying, I call them on it and tell them to shut the device down because it is disrespectful to me and the institution I represent,”  Mahoney said.

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