Big brother is watching you

woman looking at computer
Illustration by JP Bernal
Illustration by JP Bernal
Illustration by JP Bernal

“Get a college degree in your pajamas,” exhorts a frequently aired television commercial for online higher education programs. Despite this encouragement, you may want to think twice – or at least reconsider the skimpy negligee – if you are taking online classes at Amarillo College. AC has started using mandatory webcam monitoring to stop students from cheating when taking online tests. The next time you log in to ACConnect, Big Brother may be watching. Be sure to put on presentable pajamas and clean up your bedroom before you abandon your right to privacy and open your home to prying eyes. We have some pressing concerns about the new webcam testing software. Primarily, it is a privacy violation. Also, it speaks volumes about human nature. Finally, people still will find a way to cheat. As college students, we understand the need to deter cheating and maintain the integrity of online classes. Nevertheless, watching us in our bedrooms is taking things too far. Mandatory webcam monitoring is a violation of students’ civil rights. It represents an outright violation of our privacy. Plus, it’s creepy. The idea of taking a test while someone watches through our computer screens makes us nervous. Students who already suffer from test anxiety will feel that pressure step up a notch. Furthermore, this is college. What happened to honor and integrity? We enrolled in college classes voluntarily with a desire to expand our knowledge. When did the pursuit of higher education become more like turning your home into a prison cell? This new software implies that the instructors and administrators do not trust their students or respect their students’ honest intentions to learn. While the administration may view this new software as a way to make student lives simpler, a sense of distrust certainly is implied. How are students supposed to feel confident in their knowledge of the material if their instructors don’t even trust them enough without constant monitoring? Another reason for concern is that people always have cheated, and students across the country already are finding ways to outsmart the monitoring system. From taping answers behind their computer screens to substituting a prerecorded video feed, numerous websites give webcam cheating tips. Why do we trust students to be honest with other assignments? How do we know students actually have written the papers they turn in? Do we need to make video recordings of students writing papers to make sure their work actually is their own? What’s next: 24-hour video monitoring? Finally, this new software really speaks volumes about mankind. What kind of society have we morphed into that our first instinct is to cheat our way for a grade? What happened to good, old-fashioned honesty and integrity? Where did all the good people go? Higher education should be about expanding one’s knowledge and furthering one’s future, earning a degree and finding a career – not about finding the easiest and quickest way to earn an A. In the end, it is the dishonest students who have forced the implementation of this technology. If we dislike webcam monitoring, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Whether you consider it a creepy privacy violation or a necessary evil that must be implemented to preserve online course integrity, the use of webcam monitoring makes a bleak statement about modern higher education.
Gentry Anderson, a Ranger videographer, reports for us as well.

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