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Live at 9:00: Are You Ready for Web Cams in Your Classroom?

Technology in the Classroom Center"I propose creating a secure pilot program in a small handful of schools, wiring every classroom with Internet-connected video and audio equipment, allowing parents to log on to the World Wide Web and watch their children in their classes." Those are the words of Jeff Howard, a New Hampshire gubernatorial candidate. How would you feel about having every moment of your school day broadcast live online via Web cam? Today, Education World shares thoughts from educators on both sides of this hot debate. Included: Share your feelings about Web cams in the classroom on today's message board!

Jeff Howard, a Republican gubernatorial candidate from New Hampshire, recently shocked some in the state's educational community by calling for a pilot program in which schools would install digital audio and video equipment in selected classrooms so parents can observe their children during the school day.

In his position paper on education reform, Howard, a former state attorney general, stated:

I propose creating a secure pilot program in a small handful of schools, wiring every classroom with Internet-connected video and audio equipment, allowing parents to log on to the World Wide Web and watch their children in their classes. This parental reinforcement in the classroom will not only better include parents in their children's education but will also provide assistance to teachers with problem students.

Such a program, Howard said in a recent interview, "would be no different than allowing parents to come in and visit their kids."

EDUCATORS REACT


New Hampshire gubernatorial candidate Jeff Howard has proposed installing Web cameras in that state's classrooms both to help teachers and to better involve parents in their children's education. How do you feel about Howard's proposal? What problems and/or benefits do you foresee? Share your thoughts on today's message board.
Not everyone agrees with Howard about the benefits of classroom Web cams.

"I wonder if Mr. Howard thinks that the idea that mom or dad is watching will keep children from misbehaving," said Kathleen Hill, principal of Sandwich Central School in Center Sandwich, New Hampshire. "If he does, he hasn't been in a grocery store lately, where mom or dad are not only watching but are within grabbing distance, and little Susie or Johnny still does not behave.

"I believe Howard thinks that when parents see their child misbehave they will discipline that child at home," Hill told Education World. "Why isn't it enough for the teacher to make a phone call to get the parents to act? What parent has time to watch [his or her] child on TV all day? Will the parents who do watch be second-guessing the classroom teacher, not only on discipline but on instructional methodology?"

John Grady, principal of Fairgrounds Junior High School in Nashua, New Hampshire, agrees. "The idea of Web cams either smacks of Big Brother or implies that schools are nothing more than day-care centers with nannies," Grady told Education World. "In my opinion, we are neither. Parents are welcome to come into our building at any time, but we are not ready to turn the school into a peep show similar to a program on commercial television."

THE OPPONENTS REACT

Others, some of whom agree with Howard about the theoretical value of such a program, believe that issues of privacy, security, and cost make the proposal impractical.

Howard's Republican opponent, Gordon Humphrey, who made a similar proposal earlier in the campaign, has since changed his mind. "It occurred to me that there is really no security on the Internet," Humphrey said in an interview with eSchool News. "If hackers can break into the Pentagon, there's no security."

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) representative Connie McKenna suggested that the money such a program might cost would be better spent on school improvements. If the program is implemented, McKenna told eSchool News, "The parents will probably see leaky pipes, classrooms without air-conditioning in June, and teachers teaching without textbooks. Maybe if people see what bad condition schools are in, it might help!"

Principal Hill also questioned the amount of money it would cost to implement the program. "Wouldn't that money be better spent on books, teachers' salaries, or technology that students can use?" she asked.

A WIRED CLASSROOM

For R. Scott Page, a science teacher at Hanford High School in Richland, Washington, Classroom Live Pictures are a reality, not a theoretical discussion. Page, who has taught for 15 years, has had classroom Web cams for about 18 months. "Last year I alternated between one and two Web cameras in my classroom," Page told Education World. "This year I plan to have two high-resolution cameras and one lower resolution 'ball camera' on line 24/7."

"Frequently I place the camera on the microscope -- or on different aquariums in the classroom. We've used them to study experiments such as developing eggs of a spawn of angelfish. We've had angelfish (and other fish as well) spawning on the Web cam several times. I might wide-angle on the classroom or, by special (parental) request, focus on a specific student. Occasionally, I set the cameras to record student images on a write-able CD-ROM," Page added.

"I also like to check on the classroom in my absence," said Page. "I have many animals in the room and I can place a thermometer in front of a camera to check the room temperature while I'm on vacation.

"I have had nothing but good results having the Web cams in the classroom," said Page, a recipient of a Teacher Leadership Project grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. "My favorite feedback has come from grandparents of my students who see their grandkids on camera. They love it. About 83 percent of my students' parents are online at home, and they love it too -- without exception so far.

"Of course, student names are never connected with any of the pictures, and we've had no problems with 'stranger danger' as a result of pictures we have on our Web site or class Web cam," Page said.

"Most students like the cameras as well and even check them on days when they're absent," Page continued. "But not all the students endorse the camera. For example, parents don't necessarily condone clothing styles enjoyed by students, and some students change their clothes between home and school. If the student's picture is available for home viewing, this practice is much harder to get away with."

Page also told Education World that the Web cameras do appear to have some value in preventing discipline problems. "Just the thought that their parents can see them in the classroom makes a difference with students who are fence-sitters, although it doesn't make a difference with students who are incorrigible," he said.

"The cameras do keep some students on task," Page added. "They also provide an impetus for discussion of the school day at home. I feel the primary benefit, however, is that [a camera] forces students to open up their minds to other places and to recognize that what they do in the classroom is worth other people's attention.

"I hate seeing myself on videotape," Page said. "And at first, I worried that, like many baseball players, I'd get caught in a private scratch when alone in the room. However, the Web cam is so non-intrusive that now I don't pay any attention to it at all. It's just a great way to share what we are doing with the world -- or at the very least to open students' minds to that possibility."

THE CANDIDATE

Candidate Howard hasn't backed down from his position on Web cams, even in the face of vocal local criticism. In fact, Howard has said he will seek the support of local officials to wire every classroom in a handful of schools with Internet-connected video and audio equipment, allowing parents to check on a student's class during the day.

"Of course, we must make sure security and legitimate privacy concerns are given paramount consideration," Howard stated in a recent press release, "but the reported charge by some in the education establishment that parents should be excluded from real-time oversight of their young children is misguided. We need more parental involvement, not less," added Howard. "This is not, as claimed by the teacher's union lobbyists, Big Brother being intrusive. This is mom and dad being interested and involved. Schools should welcome this support."

Are Web cameras the best way to provide that support? Karl Green, PTO president at of Fairgrounds Junior High School, doesn't think so. "The question of whether Web cams should be part of the classroom so that parents may better participate in their child's learning experience is a poorly contrived idea that leaves much of the whole learning process open to abuse," Green told Education World.

"The technology is such that the next demand could be interactive input by parents, which would require teachers to justify each and every statement a parent might take issue with," Green pointed out. "This could escalate to the point where parents with diverging views could bring the class to a standstill. This is clearly not the intent of the suggestion, but it could be the result if carried to the extreme -- an extreme that should be guarded against from the start."

Green continued, "I'm not saying that there are not some very good reasons to record a class. Helping students who are absent on a long-term basis is a good example of a positive use of the technology. The idea of providing ongoing interactive input to schools is a very dangerous issue, however, and should be avoided."

Linda Starr
Education World®
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