The professor asks this of every student. It's 2 points on an introductory assignment worth 10. Does anyone think this is bizarre? I'm against it to the point that I think it should not be allowed by the university.

It's an online class, by the way. A Senior Communications class is required that most have taken by now. Within that communications class it is required to upload a photo of yourself to the online university system which all classes can see, like in class rosters and private messaging. The professor also asked us to call him (it's explicitly advised at my university not to give your professor your phone number). What really annoyed me was when he then asked permission to share our email among the class. The class already has a messaging system and it can be tied into the university email. This instructor was too pathetic for me, so I dropped the course within a few days.

addendum 2
USA school. top 50 USNews. After seeing these comments I actually find them helpful, because the only reasons I see are to learn the students name, but in this case the professor already has photos of a strong majority of the students. What I'm getting at is the professor is really showing some incompetence and its annoying to a significant extent.

  • 23
    It's not common, but it's not bizarre. Dr. [redacted] lined us up and took pictures of me and every other student in his excruciating course on compression algorithms. By mid-term, he could match names to faces. In many schools, the learning management system now presents pictures taken for student IDs to the instructor.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 0:00
  • 6
    2 points out of how many? What percentage of the final grade does the introductory assignment get weighted as?
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 1:03
  • 21
    My college actually provides all faculty members with photo rosters of their classes to aid, I suppose, in their learning their students names. I personally wouldn’t make my own photo roster by asking students for photographs, but don’t think that it’s exceptionally strange to do so.
    – user109454
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 11:35
  • 8
    @FedericoPoloni Your point may be valid, but you might need to review your terminology. xkcd.com/2165
    – Vaelus
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 12:22
  • 11
    @lighthousekeeper "Every time I procrastinate doing my homework for that class, I feel a burning sensation under my feet or a sharp pain like somebody stuck a needle in a part of my body!"
    – Michael
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 21:53

6 Answers 6


I would be interested to know why the professor wants these. I can suggest a completely innocent reason, even a reasonable one. But, I realize there are other possible interpretations. I wonder if you are brave enough to go and ask why.

But the innocent reason might be that the prof just needs a crutch to try to learn to match the names and faces of students to make interactions easier. A typical student only has a few professors so it is easy to remember names. But a professor might have tens or even hundreds of students. Some will try to remember the names and a picture can help.

To extend this, a professor might be thinking long term about students and might actually keep a file on each student, with notes about their accomplishments so that if the student asks for a LoR in the future there is something on record other than grades on which to base it. A picture in such a file could be a helpful reminder of who the student is, making such things easier.

I used to keep an index card for each of my students. No picture, though. But it served as a place to keep notes about that individual's needs and what I might need to do to serve them well. It also helped me keep track of who was asking and answering questions in class and who was more passive. Then, I could try to bring the passive ones more into the discussions.

Some professors, who teach large classes, assign specific seats to students and have a sheet of the names of the students, with pictures, in the same arrangement as the seats. Then if a hand goes up, the prof can address the student by name.

There are lots of possible positive reasons along with the ones you might be worried about. But you might want to ask. You could also, possibly, ask students who previously took classes from the prof. Or, you could go to the department office and express discomfort. You might learn the actual reason, and it might make the practice seem OK, or not.

The 2 points is immaterial (unless the max is 5). It is just a nudge. A bribe, perhaps.

  • 19
    In addition to the innocent reason you mention: At my institution, we require students to bring ID to every exam; it's possible the professor would rather know students by name than rely on IDs (which a truly desperate student could surely fake).
    – deckeresq
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 23:30
  • 23
    My wife used to teach intro calculus -- 4 sections of 100 students each. She asked every student to bring a picture glued to a note card with a little blurb about the student, for a minimal credit. She then learned all 400 names within the next couple of weeks. It seems like a reasonable request to be a better teacher! Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 1:36
  • 8
    In some universities a list of names and photos of the students in a class is even provided to the instructor by the administration, exactly to help the professor learn the names... Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 7:17
  • 11
    Honestly, as an adult, I'd much rather sit where I please and be addressed as "Yes, you" than be told where to sit and addressed as "David". Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 8:52
  • 12
    @DavidRicherby except in practice it works out more like "how about you answer this one? no not you I mean you. No him. With the hat. Yes you. What was I saying?" Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 12:09

My mother, who is a teacher, does this. She uses it to build a document with the name and face of each of her students.

When you teach several large classes, it's virtually impossible to make the link between the student you see in the classroom and the names in the listings (unless you have a very good memory and are deeply dedicated to remember more than a hundred new names a year).

This document is archived for a few years, as long as she needs an archive of the reports she graded for a class, and then destroyed.

It is called a trombinoscope in French and is fairly common.

  • 3
    @Federico GDPR only regulates digital data stored or manipulated on computers (or more generally, what they call "automated means"). If anyone complains about good old paper+pen+glue files in the name of GDPR, the lawyers are going to laugh.
    – dim
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 14:03
  • 19
    @dim: GDPR only regulates digital data stored or manipulated on computers ← what you are saying is completely incorrect. The medium does not matter. See cnil.fr/fr/rgpd-de-quoi-parle-t-on (the authoritative body on GDRP in France) → they specifically mention that paper documents are in scope (les fichiers papier sont également concernés et doivent être protégés dans les mêmes conditions)
    – WoJ
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 14:35
  • 5
    @WoJ in this specific case, where is the automated mean, though?
    – dim
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 15:35
  • 3
    @FedericoPoloni Why wouldn't a private archive that is destroyed when no longer needed be GPRD compliant? My understanding of the law is that storing PII is fine as long as it is for an acceptable reason (and learning the students' name certainly qualifies!). Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 9:16
  • 3
    @DenisNardin It is OK, but you need to ask for explicit consent and keep it on record, give an option to opt out if the data processing is not necessary to perform your service, and provide the students with a note that details by whom, how and when their data will be used. And it's not "private use", it's within the activities of a university. Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 9:46

There are a couple issues here.

  1. It might not be allowed by privacy laws, or at least require explicit student consent. Personally I think it’s ok for the instructor to ask but not right to make this mandatory.
  2. I strongly feel that it’s wrong to have part of your course evaluation (however small) tied to this; I fail to see the link between the academic performance in a course and submitting a picture.

Where I work students agree when the register in a course to give access to their student ID picture to the instructor of the course. I’m pretty sure there is an opt out feature but I could be wrong.

I usually use the picture roster to help me recognize students who send me emails or to whom I would like to speak at the start or the end of a class.

  • I agree, there's no academic value in submitting a photo—it seems almost unethical to require it. I know some faculty who ask students to take a selfie outside their office door to prove they know how to get there. They say more students come to office hours for help that way. Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 9:35

There are several reasons photographs might be helpful to a professor:

  1. To try to learn your names. This is a nice gesture, and you should be thankful that your professor is going to the effort
  2. To prevent cheating. The professor can check the photographs of students match the person submitting the exam. This may not be obvious; the professor may recognize many students, but can double-check a few less familiar faces immediately after the exam is turned in.
  3. To track student interactions. This actually seems like the most likely reason to me. While learning names a nice gesture, grading class participation, noting who is absent, and identifying problematic behaviors is crucial. The professor doesn't need to memorize your name for this, but does need to be able to go look up the name associated with a face under various circumstances.

You shouldn't feel uncomfortable with this; the professor already sees you regularly and many schools already provide student ID photographs with the roster. If anything, the fact that your professor doesn't already have your photograph is unusual.


I agree with you.

He should not be allowed to force students to submit their picture. It should be voluntary. Where I live it would legally not be possible to demand this.


I certainly understand why he would be asking for these pictures. We had a teacher ask if anyone was fine with him photographing the class, so he could learn everyone's name and seating. Everyone agreed to the photograph(s).


What this professor does would be illegal under EU GDPR regulations, but of course you did not specify if your University is in EU. It violates EU privacy regulation in so many ways that is impossible to describe, so I will point out just the most obvious:

  1. Proportionality criteria. He/she does not need your pictures to enforce rules. He/she is fully entitled to ask any of the students for valid trustworthy personal ID when you sit the exam or join the lab (anything that involves grading) and refuse your participation if you don't provide one.
  2. Securing the private data. Your image is very personal information. If the images are seen by default by other students (this implies, since this is electronic system, that they can be downloaded), this is serious breach. Additionally, to build even a database of such info, you need to have valid reason (see 1: you don't), and you need to secure it properly. Extremely high burden.

So in EU, if you report him/her to information commisioner (each country has his own) he/she will be found in violation of GDPR and University can incur heavy fine.

Now, my opinion is that the reason why he/she does this may be totally innocuous. Like the professor has prosopagnosia (difficulty in recognizing faces) and tries to remember the students faces this way. But I think it that behaviour is highly unusual and perhaps creepy (I am a man, and still creeps me out).

I do have big problems with recognizing students (and I don't have that many) but I simply require them to show me the ID card when I am unsure whether something fishy is going on. I always ask them to show their ID before I finalize their grade. Problem solved.

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