From COVID-19 to the presidential election, 2020 was more than miserable, and remote learning greatly contributed to that misery. Seeking to imitate the rigor of in-person classes, many professors last semester increased assignments, administered exams during unfair timeframes and failed to accommodate student concerns.
Unless professors make reasonable adjustments, remote learning will continue to exhaust students this semester as well. As international student international student Iris Li (22C) wrote in a recent Wheel op-ed, the physical and emotional toll of online classes amid a pandemic is excruciating. To minimize the frustration and difficulty of remote learning this spring, professors should add more accessible time windows for exams, institute flexible attendance policies and administer and listen to frequent student feedback forms.
Despite living through a pandemic still taking a serious toll on the mental and physical health of Emory students, professors insisted on enforcing strict exam protocols last semester. To mitigate cheating and Honor Code violations on assessments, many professors used Zoom to proctor their exams in real time, and others used the Respondus LockDown Browser to record individual students during tests. But if Emory students’ condemnatory reactions are any indication, surveillance is not the answer. Proctored assessments are stressful regardless, but they are especially strenuous for international students, who are forced to take these exams very late at night or early in the morning.
As a possible remedy, Niki Patel (23C) pointed out that the 24-hour window for exams in her NBB 201 class last fall allowed for more flexibility. The course’s three exams were all open for a full day, and she could choose when to take them. Patel found this arrangement to be “especially helpful … I always had one or two other midterms on the same day that my NBB exams were scheduled,” adding that “the autonomy in choosing when to sit for at least one exam was great.”
To provide all Emory students with equitable testing conditions, Emory should mandate that professors keep their assessments open for a 24-hour window or longer. That way, all students, no matter their time zone, can take their exams at a reasonable time. Professors should establish such windows with their students’ input to ensure that testing protocols meet their needs.
Making attendance and participation in synchronous lectures mandatory also jeopardizes the equity and effectiveness of education. For international students who live half a world away from Emory and endure significant time differences, waking up in the middle of the night for classes is unnecessarily grueling. In her op-ed, Li, who lives in Beijing, explained that 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. became her regular bedtime last fall because her synchronous classes were held in the middle of the night in China. Sleep abnormality and deprivation seriously threatened international students’ immunity and mental health last semester, and unless professors listen to their students, the same will happen this spring.
Mandatory attendance not only harms the health of international students, but also disproportionately affects low-income students. The latter are more likely to have poor internet connectivity or live in an environment unsuitable for participating actively in class. To mitigate these concerns, professors should replace mandatory attendance with more recorded lectures and asynchronous materials that are always accessible. Grades should be based on effort, not on time zone or internet access.
Not all Emory faculty have failed to accommodate students with difficult circumstances, however, and other professors should learn from their examples as they design their spring courses. For example, gathering feedback from students throughout the semester proves to be effective. Assistant Professor of Psychology Dr. Arber Tasimi asked for suggestions to improve his course on every exam he issued, which provided him the information to make his tests more valuable and less arduous. The course required students to earn six research participation credits at the beginning of the semester, but as some students explained that they could not find suitable time slots for research, Dr. Tasimi allowed students to waive the requirement by writing three summaries of research papers. This spring, all professors should follow his example by gathering feedback through exam questions, Google forms or Canvas discussion forums. As students have first-hand experience with remote classes, they are more qualified than anyone to improve it.
To be fair, teaching is difficult enough when everyone involved is in the same room; doing it with new technology amid a pandemic can be punishing. Professors, lecturers and teaching assistants are enduring the same social, political, personal and financial turmoil as students, and their learning curve has been beyond steep. But the best way to overcome it is to ask the people for whose benefit it exists in the first place — students — and listen to what they have to say.
Though the pandemic has not been easy for anyone, professors should adapt to these extenuating circumstances by gathering feedback and improving their classes. Student responses can drive courses to become more academically effective, equitable and keep us motivated and enthusiastic. Checking in on students and allowing reasonable leeway for exams and assignments will improve the health and well-being of students in the upcoming spring.
Remote learning already takes away so much from education. To make the most of our current situation, Emory professors and administrators need to listen to students and make reasonable changes. It’s the least they can do.
The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. The Editorial Board is composed of Sahar Al-Gazzali, Brammhi Balarajan, Viviana Barreto, Rachel Broun, Jake Busch, Sara Khan, Sophia Ling, Demetrios Mammas, Meredith McKelvey, Sara Perez, Martin Shane Li, Ben Thomas, Leah Woldai, Lynnea Zhang and Yun Zhu.