Op-ed: Course guidelines proposal for the spring 2020 semester

The Tufts community, along with communities across the entire world, is dealing with a truly unprecedented public health crisis. On March 10, Tufts announced the necessary decision to complete the rest of the spring 2020 semester online. While students, faculty and staff all do their best to adjust to the new reality as a result of the COVID-19 closure, it is imperative that Tufts create equitable policies to ensure that all students have the opportunity to complete their courses and earn credit for the spring 2020 semester. Students are now working under extremely stressful circumstances, and the resources to which Tufts students have access following the closure of campus are vastly different. In order to minimize inequity, account for a myriad of individual circumstances and enable all Tufts students to continue learning, Tufts must adopt accessible policies for conducting spring 2020 coursework online.

Attendance Requirements and Synchronous Learning

First, Tufts must ensure that students can complete their spring 2020 courses without mandatory attendance or synchronous learning requirements.

Tufts students are currently spread across the world. Students from our international community are in many time zones, meaning that synchronous learning and mandatory attendance would require some of these students to attend classes during mealtimes, late at night or in the earliest hours of the morning when they should be sleeping.

Additionally, many students must now find alternative ways to generate income to adjust for the loss of on- or off-campus jobs in the Medford/Somerville area. These new employment commitments could conflict with existing course times. 

Furthermore, many students are now taking on roles as caregivers for younger siblings, cousins and other relatives, meaning that their availability during normal class time is not guaranteed. 

Many within the Tufts community are also working in home environments that are not conducive to synchronous learning for a variety of reasons. Some of these home environment challenges include unreliable access to WiFi, the presence of young children in the household creating distractions, limited access to and availability of online learning tools such as laptops and unhealthy relationships with family members that our students are now living with full-time.

While the reasons listed are not exhaustive, they provide a picture of some of the most common challenges our students are currently facing and support the abolition of mandatory attendance and synchronous learning requirements.

Making all course material available online

Second, professors must make every piece of course material required for successful completion of the spring 2020 semester available online.

Due to the impossibility of mandatory attendance and synchronous learning requirements outlined in the section above, professors must make it possible for their students to successfully complete the course using materials available online that students may access when they are able. This means posting recorded lectures, annotated PowerPoints and any other materials that they choose to use for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester.

If professors must use discussion as a format for successful completion of the spring 2020 semester, discussion notes and/or video recordings of the discussion should be made available online if the discussion cannot take place via Canvas discussion board. Other possible alternatives could include one-on-one video or audio calls with a professor or TA for students who could not attend a synchronous discussion.

Additionally, required readings and other materials should be made available for students on Canvas, as many students rely on shared textbooks and books on reserve at Tisch library in order to save money. To account for students who do not own or otherwise have access to the required readings and other course materials, professors must make required readings and other required materials available on Canvas or online via other methods.

Exam Policy and Accommodations

Third, exams and other timed assessments must be made available to students for a large enough time window so that students in any timezone could take the exam at a reasonable hour. Additionally, professors and students must work together within a clearly defined timeline to modify the assessment according to a student’s needs, including Student Accessibility Services and Advising Deans if necessary.

Due to many of the same challenges that make synchronous learning and attendance requirements impossible for many students, exams and other assessments must also be made available for a large enough time window so that students across all timezones and students facing changes in their daily schedules at home can take the exam at a time that works for them.

Additionally, Tufts should set a clearly defined timeline for students requesting accommodations or modifications to their assessments. While students already registered with Student Accessibility Services must certainly continue to receive testing accommodations, other students face new challenges including lack of a distraction-free environment at home, poor WiFi connection or responsibilities to care for family members and must also receive accommodations. 

Furthermore, professors should not require the use of proctoring services such as ProctorU, as they require high-speed internet connection, a government-issued photo ID and may subject students to out-of-pocket fees if students need to reschedule. Since many students might not have access to high-speed Wifi, be able to pay rescheduling fees or have a government-issued photo ID, the use of services like ProctorU cannot be required for successful completion of the course.

Ultimately, we respect and acknowledge the enormous stress that has been placed on our professors during the transition to online learning. These guidelines are intended to outline some of the most common challenges that Tufts students are currently facing as a result of the COVID-19 closure. The proposed guidelines for the rest of the spring 2020 online semester are to ensure equitability so that all students can successfully complete the work that is required for the spring 2020 semester. While the challenges that we cite in this proposal represent some of the most common challenges students are currently facing, they do not represent the circumstances of every Tufts student. Additionally, while these proposed guidelines address many of these most common challenges, they are unable to account for every potential issue that students and professors will face in completing the spring 2020 semester. We hope that these guidelines will be adopted along with a spirit of flexibility, patience and compassion on the part of students and professors alike so that we can continue to learn and grow during this difficult time.


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