Laurier math students frustrated over department’s decision to require external webcams

Students are pushing back against Wilfrid Laurier University’s requirement for math students to purchase external webcams for exams, calling the move unreasonable in a global pandemic.

In an email to students last Thursday, the chair of the mathematics department, Roman Makarov, said all students registered in at least one course in the department for the spring term would need a stand-alone webcam with good resolution and a tripod.

“Built-in/integrated webcams are not accepted, and there are no alternatives to writing exams in this manner,” wrote Makarov.

He also acknowledged webcams aren’t easy to come by these days, saying “at the moment, they are in very short supply … be careful of resellers.”

Matthew Rosa, who’s going into his third year in the data science program at Laurier, was shocked when he read the directive in his inbox.

‘Pretty ridiculous’

He said it seemed to him like the school didn’t care about students and the realities they’re facing.

“During the pandemic, people are enrolled in courses because they’re stuck at home and lost their jobs, and they just feel like this is the best course of action for them … so they can get ahead in courses. And the school has just added an extra fee without any help,” said Rosa.

Senad Kokic, who just finished his first year of the financial math program, was confused why a built-in computer camera wouldn’t be sufficient.

“I thought that was pretty ridiculous,” said Kokic. “A nice little rubbing salt in the wound and saying, ‘Oh good luck in the spring term. Now, spend at least $100 on a webcam and tripod setup just to write an exam.'”

The cost to buy an external webcam and tripod online right now costs about $100, although many are out of stock or have a prolonged delivery time.

‘Drop out … or you fail’

CBC News requested an interview with Wilfrid Laurier University, but was told nobody was available. In an email, the director of communications and public affairs, Kevin Crawley said the university has responded to students, “and is considering possible options and resources to assist them.”

A tweet from the university last week acknowledged the school has “received a number of student inquiries about webcam requirements for August online final exams.” It said the university strives to balance academic integrity with financial realities for students.

Catherine Dunne, president of Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, isn’t aware of any other universities in Ontario requiring students to buy external webcams. The group represents universities across the province.

Her biggest concerns are cost and short notice for students. Students were notified last Thursday and classes started on Monday.

“These webcams have become more in demand. And we want to ensure that students hoping to access post-secondary education can do so in an accessible and affordable way,” said Dunne.

Rosa said he won’t be dropping the class, but he’s talked to some friends who are considering it.

“If I don’t get one in time … you either have to drop out of the course or you fail,” said Rosa.

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