Students clash with professors violating Sac State policy restricting webcam requirements

Course syllabus policy limits webcam use to approved classes

December 9, 2020

Computer science major Ravneet Heer, 21, added an introduction to theatre class with professor Casey McClellan to meet her 12-unit requirement at the start of the semester.

Heer said she and several other students who added late had to meet in a Zoom room with McClellan to get caught up on what was missed, but McClellan would only talk to the students who had their cameras on during the meeting and would not speak to students who had their cameras off.

When Heer unmuted herself to ask if McClellan really wasn’t going to acknowledge her for not having the camera on, Heer said McClellan suggested dropping the class if she did not feel comfortable having her camera on.

“That didn’t make sense to me because that wasn’t a class, he was just talking to students who added late to the class,” Heer said.
Heer said she attended two class sessions before deciding to drop the class and found another class to enroll in to reach 12 units, the amount needed to be considered a full time student.
“I feel like the teachers know what they have to require or not, but they’re just doing what they want,” Heer said. “I don’t feel comfortable being in a class if a professor is going to treat me like that.”
Heer's experience is one of several stories of professors and students disagreeing over webcam usage. Sac State updated its Course Syllabus Policy in August to require professors gain department chair and college dean approval for class webcam usage. Despite this, students are saying professors this semester required webcams without approval and are raising concerns over some professors with exemptions.

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Students and professors grapple with webcam requirements

The policy states professors must make clear technology requirements for the course, provide means of contact through Zoom and notify students of grading and attendance procedures if they get sick or are quarantined during the pandemic.
Certain courses such as theatre and dance or sign language are allowed to require webcams, but the webcam policy must be clearly stated within the syllabus to be approved, according to the course syllabus policy.
According to McClellan’s webcam policy in his syllabus, access to a live webcam is required to take his class, but students are not required to have them on at all times. The syllabus states that students must have their cameras on only for specific projects such as group presentations or performances.

The webcam policy stated in Casey McClellan's introduction to theatre class syllabus for the Fall 2020 semester. The policy states that students will not be asked to have their cameras on at all times but also recommends students drop the class if they are not comfortable having their cameras on.

McClellan said he did not have time for an interview but gave The State Hornet a statement.
“I would like to restate that I have followed the practice articulated in my syllabus and am in alignment with the approved request for webcam exception,” McClellan said in an email.

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Social work professor Krishna Guadalupe required his students to use webcams at the beginning of the semester because he wanted to ensure his students were present and learning, he said.
Guadalupe said he was unaware of an update to Sacramento State’s course syllabus policy, which restricts most professors from requiring students to use webcams, until an interview with The State Hornet in late October.
Other social work teachers had made it clear they would not require webcams due to equity issues.
Guadalupe said he changed his summer class’s syllabus to require webcams to be on after several students who took the class had their cameras off and would not respond when called upon.
“Social work is very participatory, it’s very engaging,” Guadalupe said. “That’s one of the things this class teaches.”
Guadalupe said he would not require cameras moving forward, but will expect his students to at least put a picture of themselves on Zoom and participate in class.
“My teaching style will not change after this,” Guadalupe said. “If I call on you two times and you don’t answer, you’re not in class.”

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Marketing major Cade Sobon contacted the Office of Academic Affairs after finding out his strategic management professor, John Hironaka, was going to require webcams for their final presentation.
Sobon said Academic Affairs informed Hironaka that he cannot require webcams for the presentation, prompting the professor to shift the points over to the written component of the test.
“We almost felt bad for the professor because we still wanted to do the presentation, just not with webcams,” Sobon said. “You can tell the professor cares about the assignment and the class. He wasn’t trying to do it maliciously.”
In an email to The State Hornet, Hironaka said that he had addressed the students’ concerns and that he had no further comments.

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Marketing professor and associate dean of academic programs Andrey Mikhailitchenko said he had to change his sports marketing class syllabus earlier this semester in order to clarify to his students that webcams were not required.
According to Mikhailitchenko, his original syllabus required students to use webcams in order to receive maximum points.
Mikhailitchenko released a revised syllabus in a class announcement in September that changed the word “webcam” to “video,” which he said means students are required to watch his Zoom session and not anything else on their computers during class time.

Sports marketing professor Andrey Mikhailitchenko's updated syllabus was released in a Canvas announcement Sept. 20, 2020. The syllabus was updated to change "webcam requirement" to "video requirement."

Mikhailitchenko said he “cold calls” individuals during class to make sure students are paying attention to the material presented and will deduct participation points if he finds students are not paying attention.
“When you’re in class, you have eye contact with students,” Mikhailitchenko said. “In a Zoom setting, you definitely cannot watch that attention closely, so you have to encourage students to speak more than you have to in face-to-face classes.”

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Professor alleges policy caused ‘scrambling’ for last-minute syllabus adjustments

The Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate approved the webcam policy August 14 on behalf of the Faculty Senate before school started. The policy had Sacramento State President Robert Nelsen’s approval the next day.
Matthew Block, physics professor and member of the Faculty Senate, said faculty had little time to overhaul their syllabi to reflect new procedures.
“Many faculty were left scrambling to adjust their syllabi last minute,” Block said. “The webcam policy, when it was announced, was also mentioned with a bunch of other mandates that we add things to our syllabi.”
The updated policy also included other syllabus requirements teachers needed to implement besides the webcam policy, including technology requirements and grading and attendance procedures for students who get COVID-19.
“I would say under normal circumstances, it’s fair for students to think of the syllabus as a contract,” Block said.
However, Block argued that given the short notice professors had to update their syllabi to meet the new requirements, it’s not likely that every instructor would have had the time to create a proper webcam policy.
“Provost Steve Perez has addressed this in recent Faculty Senate meetings being somewhat apologetic for the haste and the last minute nature in which the policy was released,” Block said.

Perez said he sent an email a week before the semester started and a follow up in September. He said these were the only attempts to notify teachers of the new syllabus guidelines that contained the webcam policy. Perez said that while no specific guidelines exist for reporting teachers for not following webcam policy, he recommends that students go up the chain of command by first addressing the issue with their teacher, then the department chair or the college dean after.
“There’s really no way for us to check other than to hear if somebody is not [following the rules],” Perez said.
The State Hornet contacted the deans of each college to create a list of classes that have received exemptions to require webcams. Below is that complete list, according to the college deans.

 

College

Exemptions

Classes

Arts and Letters

Yes

  • Select School of Music classes (Listed below table)
  • Humanities and Religious Studies: HRS 105, HRS 202, HRS 80
  • Communication Studies: COMS 2, COMS 4, COMS 4H, COMS 5, COMS 104, COMS 111


Engineering and Computer Science


Yes

  • ME 126
  • ME 255 
  • CSC 255 
  • CSC 140
  • EEE 257

Business Administration

No

None

Health and Human Services

Yes

  • Kinesiology: KINS 152, KINS 152A, KINS 152S, KINS 151, KINS 151A 

Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Yes

  • MATH 32 (Section 4) with Sayonita Ghosh Hajra
  • MATH 107A (Section 2) with Abigail Higgins 

Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies 

Yes

  • No undergraduate courses
  • Three post-baccalaureate courses  

Education

No

None

 

School of Music Director Stephen Blumberg said that the department was approved for webcam requirement exceptions for classes including musicianship courses, piano courses, music education methods courses, conducting, chamber music and large performance ensembles.

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Students and professors compromise with Zoom profile pictures

According to Sac State student Samuel Ehrenberg, some students are learning to be college students through an online environment that doesn’t feel like the college experience many of us know.
“I’m having to get used to college, online school and learning during the pandemic,” Ehrenberg said. “It’s a lot of moving parts that you have to get used to really quickly.”
RELATED: KYLIEBYTES: Students are struggling with online learning
Ehrenberg, 18, is a biological sciences major and has been struggling to adjust to college life during the pandemic. Zoom lectures have not been a very exciting introduction to the college experience for the freshman, but Ehrenberg said he understands where teachers are coming from when requesting students to turn on their cameras.
“For some people, being at home is a very private, safe and secure place,” Ehrenberg said. “I think it’s unfair to require [webcams], but I think it's reasonable to request it.”
Some teachers have been finding alternative methods that help classes feel more in-person without having students turn on their cameras. Ehrenberg said his math teacher offered extra credit to students who uploaded a Zoom profile picture.
“It was just free points, and it made it feel more like a class and less like a mass of names,” Ehrenberg said.
Elisian Ly, 22, is a business major at Sac State and decided to upload a profile picture because she said she thought it was more professional and would be a courtesy to teachers.
“I honestly didn’t want to do a profile photo at first, but I felt that it was a courtesy to the teacher,” Ly said.
If your teacher is requiring you to turn on your webcam and you don’t believe they have an exemption, you can contact [email protected]

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Gerardo Zavala, video editor
Gerardo Zavala is the video editor for The State Hornet. He moved to Sacramento from Santa Barbara, where he was the sports editor and photography editor for The Channels student newspaper at Santa Barbara City College. He is majoring in journalism and political science and is minoring in mathematics and is looking to cover science and politics for a publication after graduating.

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Gavin Rock, podcast staff
Gavin Rock joined The State Hornet as a politics beat writer in spring 2020 and is now on the podcast staff. Before writing for The State Hornet, Gavin was the sports editor at Diablo Valley College's student newspaper, The Inquirer. He is also a member of Sacramento State's Society of Professional Journalists.

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