By Len La Rocca
While students packed their bags on March 11, the Friday before spring break, College officials imagined a return to campus three weeks later.
The virus had other plans.
Anticipated or not, the wait is over to transition from a watered-down summer to more intensified remote classes compared to the past spring.
How professors will determine webcam usage, grading and testing are all questions on students’ minds as the first ‘can you guys hear me’ is uttered by persevering professors maneuvering Zoom.
The path to an online-only fall
The sudden shift to fully online instruction was rough for many. Anxiety grew in seniors as the clock ticked away the college experience; some students struggled academically and professors scrambled to make things work.
Capping off the spring semester in her fifth corona-missive, President Foster sympathized with the College community. “It was not easy, it was not normal, it was not satisfying in many ways,” she wrote.
As the number of Covid-19 cases continued to rise, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Jeffrey Osborn understood one thing in particular: online classes needed to improve in time for the fall semester.
Preparations took place over the summer as professors were trained in remote teaching practices and encouraged to create alternate assignments fit for remote learning, all while attempting to match the typical academic vigor at the College.
“Nearly all faculty members at the institution have been through training,” Osborn said. “So in the fall it’s going to be very different because faculty have planned for their courses to be remote and have been thinking about that from the very beginning.”
Will webcam use be required?
From privacy issues to just wanting to stay comfortable in their pajamas, many students are wondering if simply unmuting to contribute without video will suffice, or if constant webcam use is expected.
The decision is in the hands of professors and deans, according to the College’s interim remote classroom camera/microphone use policy.
“The College will not prohibit faculty members from requiring students to use microphones or cameras for synchronous Sessions, group meetings, etc.; nor will the College require all students to use microphones and cameras,” the policy states. “Rather, faculty members are afforded the flexibility to determine the best approach for their courses and pedagogy. However, faculty members and departments should be equity-minded in their approach to requiring the use of cameras and microphones.”
The policy also states that students are welcome to voice their privacy concerns to their professor, as their faces may be recorded. “Students who have concerns about being recorded or about having the recording accessed by other students in the class, may contact their instructor, who should endeavor to address those concerns,” according to the policy.
If the professor insists that the student must use their webcam, “students … may appeal to the applicable school dean, who will make a final determination in consultation with the Privacy Officer, Accessibility Resource Center, and/or Division of Inclusive Excellence, as appropriate,” the policy states.
Testing and grading
The College is suggesting that professors think outside the box this semester in their assessment using the Universal Design for coursework.
“Faculty members are encouraged, as they always are but especially now, to think about and consider a variety of ways to assess student learning that might not be a high-stakes exam,” Osborn said. “It can be an open-book exam. It can be a paper.”
The Universal Design encourages professors to implement the following:
- Take-home assessments, assignments and projects versus timed, in-class or online assessments
- Multiple modes of assessment versus few assessments that make up a course grade in its entirety
- Posting notes and supplemental materials online ahead of class meetings and due dates
- Flexible due dates and deadlines
- Ensuring availability of course materials in other formats, such as audio books
- Recording and archiving of class lectures (in compliance with the requirements of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act Policy)
- Built-in extended time for timed assessments (80 minutes for an exam designed for 40 minutes means 100% extended time for all)
For classes that must have exams, however, the online proctoring policy allows professors to require webcam use and be on a lockdown browser.
“There are certain fields where there just aren’t a lot of alternatives to traditional exams,” Osborn said. “So in those cases faculty want to make sure that students are not cheating and that they’re balancing out the academic integrity needs for a course with student privacy needs.”
While many aspects will be ironed out as the semester progresses, students are encouraged to contact the Accessibility Resource Center about online classroom concerns.