This ongoing COVID-19 shift has raised a flurry of questions about teaching and learning as well as some pressing concerns from students. Beyond the specific technical issues, students have questions about the quality of online programs and the perceptions of online learning. They are also asking whether the systems they are being asked to use are reliable and safe.
These are not unreasonable questions. To the contrary, they are more than reasonable, and it is entirely reasonable that educators do our best to answer them accurately and quickly.
As someone who has taught both online and in-person classes for over two decades and across different institutions, it is easy to explain, for example, that learning online (asynchronous) or remote (synchronous) is different, not necessarily less than. Done well, online and remote learning can not only measure up but offer some real and significant advantages to on-campus study. Whether it is good or not has more to do with the instructor and the school and the program than it just being online or not.
Likewise, I think most students understand that one of the ways online learning can be better is by maintaining or even raising standards. Online does not mean the quality of their education is diluted. That is, work that would earn a B in my classroom should merit no more or less when my classroom is no longer face to face. And that if I, or someone, would watch a student take a test in an on-campus classroom, a similar level of observation may be expected online.
I think most students get those points. It is logical, for example, that the quality of a teacher makes a big difference and that rules and procedures cannot be different from place to place.
But for some students, that does not do much to answer questions about safety and privacy.
Think about that, for most of any student’s life, they have rightly been told to be careful online. They have been surrounded by tales of hacking and identity theft and all the rest. So, when we suddenly tell them they must join large online video calls or post work in chat rooms or engage with live test monitors, some have been saying, “hey, time out. Is this safe?”
Given the technical system glitches and breakdowns we have seen in some schools nationwide, students are absolutely right to ask questions about their online privacy and security.
The major challenge is that most of us are not data or internet privacy experts. Most of us probably do not know exactly what to tell a student who may be concerned about live online test proctoring and assistance, for example.
Given these student concerns, it was a good step when one of the largest online test proctoring services, Proctor, and others, proposed and endorsed a Student Bill of Rights for Remote and Digital Work. It lays out what students can expect when taking a test online or submitting work remotely as well as what responsibilities students, professors, schools and outside partners have in the process.
It says, for example, that students have a right to review and understand the data collection and retention policies of their schools and anyone else who handles or processes their academic materials. It says that schools, professors, and proctors will presume that submitted work was done with integrity. It provides that questions can be answered, other policies can be accessed and reviewed, and that schools and other providers will protect the quality of student work by ensuring a fair and equal process during testing and learning. Finally, it offers that schools and others collect only the information that is necessary to ensure a fair test and everything is done in compliance with existing laws and regulations.
That’s not too much to ask and it is obviously not the answer to everything. But it’s certainly, noteworthy on two points. One, this proposed Bill of Rights starts a needed conversation to provide information and reassurance to timely questions about online safety and integrity. And two, it gives teachers and schools a place to start in answering them.
Maybe the most important thing though is to acknowledge the student questions that are coming up and address them as best we can, because we know that where good information is not available, misinformation and speculation will creep in. That is an outcome by omission that 21st century learners and educators cannot afford.
We cannot afford to add extra, often unnecessary stress and anxiety to students who are already struggling with plenty of it. We cannot afford to see online standards and processes weakened or pushed back. We cannot afford to let concerns about academic integrity online fester.
There are going to continue to be plenty of questions about online and remote learning – more than we even know right now. But the ones from our students, the ones we can answer, we need to. Moreover, as we teach and assess online, we need to anticipate the questions and, just like our students, we need to know where those answers are. Afterall, the students are the paramount purpose behind what we do in education.
About Dr. Richard Pulido
Dr. Richard Pulido, Assistant Professor of Education (Teacher Education Program) at a public, four-year college in South Florida