Monday, May 22, 2006

Schools, Cameras and Computers

One of my sources of computer information is the web site Macintouch. After the new Mac laptops came out, one reader suggested that the built-in camera would be a deal killer for school purchases, that schools would be unwilling to buy, or have parents buy, a laptop with a camera unless the camera could be disabled.

In the course of the discussion, a couple of explanations for such a policy were offered. One poster wrote that:

"The problem comes from the camera being with every student, all the time. It would become a dominant form of communication and K-12 students, as a group, do not have the mental filters in place to prevent trouble. MySpace proved this. Taking them out lets the kids know that you are concerned about their safety and kids do understand that."

Precisely what is unsafe about taking pictures was not explained. Perhaps I'm missing something, but to me the comment had a distinctly Orwellian tone. Big Brother cares about your safety.

Another poster wrote:

"By providing access to unsupervised video recording technology, a school can possibly open itself up serious legal problems if a child does something beyond the pale, even with the strictest of Acceptable Use Policies in effect."

That one reminds me of the Los Angeles Police Force, which no doubt has a similar attitude to the danger of video recordings of what it is doing. Surely there is something seriously wrong if the best solution to children doing "something beyond the pale" is making sure that no evidence of their doing so survives to reach a court.

Of course, it might be either something wrong with the schools or something wrong with the courts.

Comments? Would anyone involved with K-12 schooling like to give a more detailed explanation of why schools would strongly object to their students having cameras built into their laptops?


At 4:03 PM, May 22, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I presume they are concerned about liability arising out of use by the students of their computers to make sexually oriented videos.

At 5:39 PM, May 22, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I presume they are concerned about liability arising out of students making videos of the stultifying boredom.

At 9:01 PM, May 22, 2006, Blogger Einzige said...

And aren't camera-phones basically ubiquitous at this point, anyway?

At 11:40 PM, May 22, 2006, Blogger Gil said...

I would guess that the excuse is sexually oriented video, but that the real reason is that it would capture actual classroom abuse of students by teachers.

I think that a case of this happened fairly recently.

At 11:50 PM, May 22, 2006, Blogger Gil said...

Here's one such case:

And it seems like the student who posted it, rather than the abusive teacher, got into trouble.

Looks like this is the video:

At 7:32 AM, May 23, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think privacy laws also come into play.

I'm not sure of the legality of publishing videos/photos of people taken on private property, and the school could possibly be considered responsible if it provided facilities to its students to do that.

At least I heard that as a justification for schools banning camera phones. I'm not sure what substance it has.

At 8:32 AM, May 23, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

best solution to children doing "something beyond the pale" is making sure that no evidence of their doing so survives

I'd just like to spell out something that's probably known to most readers: in most states there is an age range in which it is legal for children to have sex, but not to take pictures of it, since the former is by state and the latter is federal.

At 9:21 AM, May 23, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think one concern with MySpace was that students were putting too much information about themselves (including pictures and location) on the internet, making it much easier/more likely for them to be the victims of sexual predators, pedophiles, stalkers, etc. Since the comment compared the MySpace controversy to having cameras in computers, it may be that schools would fear giving the students more tools with which to post information about themselves. Also, they may feel they would be getting more blame from parents and/or legal liability if students use school equipment to post information about themselves that leads to sexual crimes.

In the private high school where I teach, much is driven by quest to avoid parent complaints or responsibility in the eyes of the parents for not protecting their children.

At 10:45 AM, May 23, 2006, Blogger Sarah said...

I think that it is a privacy issue and a saftey issue. If all of the students have camera's they will be using them left and right because that's what kids do. Especially if they have a myspace account, we need to be concerned about their saftey because once one student discovers how to put a video or pictures on their website, all the students will know how to do it and this could turn into a huge liability for the schools

At 12:53 PM, May 23, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My district strictly prohibits the posting or reproduction of any student's face online for any reason or format whatsoever, on advice of the district's retained law firm.

The official reasons given are

1)Illinois statues governing student records and confidentiality. The child's image in a school context is hypothetically a " record" requiring parental permission to release to the public.

2)The dangers posed to students by online pedophiles who might cruise school sites for potential victims. There are two dozen registered sex offenders within 5 miles of the largest school in the district.

Liability from parental lawsuits I'm certain are the most likely, though unspoken, reason. Even a nuisance suit costs school districts money and bad publicity.

At 9:29 PM, May 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The latest in moral panics is "cam whores" -- minors who disrobe on-camera online for compensation:

Note that on "cam whore" has been defined by teenages themselves merely as someone who is vain and likes to post pictures of themselves (analogous to the usage "karma whore" on slashdot), not someone who is charging money to strip. This makes me dubious about the ubiquity of the phenomenon.

At 6:38 PM, May 26, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will preface this post with the fact that I do not normally read this blog, but a friend linked me to it, since I am a teacher in a low socioeconomic school in the greater Cleveland area. In addition, a lot of previous comments have been made that answer parts and facets of the question posed by the blogger, but I feel moved to provide a long-winded, detailed response - I am a teacher, after all...

First of all, regarding the concern of safety of letting students use cameras unsupervised, I think use of the word "safety" is incorrect. I cannot think of a better word at the moment, but safety is not the word I would choose. Secondly, "unsupervised" is incredibly important. I'm sure that in nearly all schools across the nations, students (especially seniors) are allowed to bring cameras on campus and take pictures of themselves in celebration of the end of the year. The issue is with "unsupervised" camera use (in particular, the covertness of an inconspicuous camera found in the Mac laptop or a cell phone). Without some supervision to make sure use of the camera is appropriate, young people, many of whom have yet to fully mature and realize social propriety (not to say all adults have) will find all sorts of ways to abuse it.

The issues with myspace has been elaborated upon by several responses from others (with the idea of posting of private information, sexual predators, liability, etc.), which could easily be applied in similar scenarios to unsupervised use of a camera, but I'll add another dimension from a practical point of view, since there have been issues with myspace at the school I am teaching. A student writes a post on their myspace putting down another student, which spreads to other myspace accounts. This may or may not cause real-life ostracization of the second student. When the second student finds out (or BELIEVES to have discovered) that his or her social problems resulted from this post, they decide to get back. Perhaps in suburban schools or private schools, the results are an escalating myspace war, which can have legal ramification with upset parents who think the school has a part in this. It could even result in retaliation on school grounds, in terms of pranks, rumors, etc. In an urban school, this simply results in a fight. Regardless, the school has much less of a headache if the students didn't use myspace.

Now, the school has no business dictate how their young people privately use the internet, but parents have a responsibility to teach their children how to use the internet in a socially appropriate manner. This can explain the lack of etiquette on the internet propogated by 12-year olds. I am suddenly reminded of a 15 year old girl who sent a video caught on a web-cam of herself masturbating to a boy she really like, who then spread it all around the internet. I'm not advocating the removal of technology, but there must be HEAVY supervision and instruction for young people on how to use said technology in a socially-appropriate manner. In terms of unsupervised camera use, the student could take a compromising picture (accidentally or purposefully) of another student. The second student, upset at this, can retaliate in any number of ways (outlined above) resulting in headaches for the school. I am suddenly reminded of Star Wars kid, who had to seek counseling and psychiatric help for the massive depression he faced after other kids found the video he made (locked in a secure place at the school) and spread it around the internet. If you are lost of the references to these internet phenomena (psycho 15-year old and Star Wars kid), do a wikipedia search.

While there is a limit, schools (for young people who are still developing) ARE Orwellian and Big Brother in their nature, and there is nothing wrong with that. More and more, cameras are being installed in schools to watch the movement of teenagers. Is it oppressive? Yes. Should school FEEL oppressive? Some would argue that no matter how nice the school is, BECAUSE public education is mandated by the law, school is automatically oppressive. Any in any education setting, there needs to be rules and governance of punishment, so with young people who can be very emotional, school is oppressive. Society as a whole should not be Orwellian, but state-mandated education for young people (especially in certain poor, low-income districs) needs to be for practical reasons.

In terms of the legal issues, I don't really care. I do know that schools can do without the headaches associated with irate parents who think something wrong has happened with their children. The best way to take care of this is to remove as many things (because you can't remove them all) that could possibly result in this. Hell, parents have sued schools because their child's iPod was stolen! Are the schools really responsible for that? Well, they argue, a school is supposed to be a safe place. Fine: school bans bringing iPods (and other electronics) to school, so that there is nothing to steal. Fair? Maybe not, but practical.

Another practicality issue is the fact that technology, while being a huge educationaly motivator when supervised, can be a huge distraction to education when unsupervised. Anything can become a toy to be used inappriately by a young person, but removing those that are unnecessary (like a camera ON A COMPUTER) will help curb this.

I will tell you that there are several GOOD teachers that would love to have cameras installed in their rooms, EVEN THOUGH they know they will still get headaches and complaints from irate parents who see unfair treatment of their child without knowing how difficult it is to manage 30+ children all at once AND educate them instead of just babysitting them. However, with a supervised school camera in the room visible for all to see, students are more likely to behave, because a teacher can threaten to use the footage to show to parents. So, why don't we do this? Practicality issues: the expense of installing cameras in every room to catch all angles is ridiculous, and who has time to peruse all the footage to catch someone doing something wrong? The teacher? Not a chance. Finally, teachers get regular observations (at least they're supposed to be), so it's not like all of them fear being watched (although I will concede that the majority of observations are pre-meditated).

I personally wouldn't mind have more cameras in the school, so long as they weren't in control of the students. The majority of them do not have the maturity and social know-how to understand what is appropriate use.

At 2:11 PM, May 30, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because they hate life.

At 9:31 AM, June 07, 2006, Blogger Daniel said...

I suppose who-will-think-of-the-children-ism has damaged some people's minds to the point that they believe a camera taking a photograph will steal the child's soul......

At 1:45 AM, June 08, 2006, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Should school FEEL oppressive? Some would argue that no matter how nice the school is, BECAUSE public education is mandated by the law, school is automatically oppressive. Any in any education setting, there needs to be rules and governance of punishment, so with young people who can be very emotional, school is oppressive. Society as a whole should not be Orwellian, but state-mandated education for young people (especially in certain poor, low-income districs) needs to be for practical reasons."

I would like to thank the poster for a long and obviously strongly felt post--and add that I utterly disagree with it. To the extent that public (or private school) needs to feel oppressive, that is strong evidence that it is doing something wrong.

And trying to prevent kids from getting mad at other kids by keeping them from having cameras to use in their feuds does not strike me as a sensible tactic--even if you can somehow deprive them of pictures, they still have words.

I should also add that public education is not mandated by the law--if it were, private schools would be illegal.


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