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All involved must be flexible and communicative to optimize learning this quarter
It has been over 30 weeks (bar finals, that is the number of weeks in an academic year) since instruction became remote, and everyone should understand that calling this a “new normal” will not force any sense of normalcy to this quarter.
Students and instructors may run into Wi-Fi issues or PG&E outages and may be in different time zones, to name just a few struggles this quarter, and these are crucial to consider and plan around. On top of that, a survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified that young people aged 18 to 24 are experiencing rising levels of anxiety and depression.
Some professors have responded to the circumstances of this quarter by being communicative about relaxed deadlines, Zoom lecture recordings and 48-hour windows for exams, among other accommodations. Others, however, have not only foregone that added level of consideration but are making the quarter even more challenging for students through a failure to communicate and a reluctance to be flexible.
Prior to COVID-19, avoiding Canvas was, at best, a quirky trait that set some professors apart from their counterparts, but now it is actively detrimental to students’ ability to stay organized and plan their work. Students can and should be organized, but instructors have a responsibility to provide a comprehensive syllabus that compiles all assignments in an accessible location.
There is much more to be said about the cost of a college education, especially during a pandemic—the fact remains that it is not inexpensive to attend UC Davis. Students should not be paying tuition to watch lectures recorded in prior academic years. And although asynchronous courses are effective in that they are more readily accessible to all students than live lectures with required attendance, they can be isolating and it can be difficult to focus if there is no dedicated time for the course.
When asynchronous lecture videos are longer than official instruction time, it becomes even more draining to get through a week of work. Instructors must respect their students’ time, provide lecture material and assign work that aligns with expectations for traditionally in-person classes. This includes setting intuitive deadlines and scheduling extended exam windows that correspond with official class times.
Being respectful is not, and should not be, a requirement just for instructors. Wi-Fi permitting, students should keep cameras on when professors request that they do. Students should not spam Zoom chats and should create groups on other platforms to facilitate communication and provide a less formal forum for questions. Everyone should be vigilant to prevent accidentally hitting the unmute button in the middle of a lecture.
Taking breaks to prioritize mental and physical health is important, and professors must be flexible and understanding—always, but especially during a pandemic. Students have a responsibility to maintain their integrity, and it is unacceptable to inappropriately take advantage of accommodations provided by professors.
In a letter to the academic senate, provost and chancellor on Sept. 28, leadership of ASUCD and the Graduate Student Association requested attendance from courses or discussions at specified times not be mandatory, that exam attendance not be mandatory, that all academic video learning contain closed captioning, computer labs be open on a rotating basis and that all content is available asynchronously. All of these requests are vital to foster a more equitable academic environment.
Ideally, though, the Editorial Board feels that instructors should try to offer optional meetings during the time scheduled for the course. Be it a synchronous lecture or even a small discussion section, it is easier to engage with instructors and peers at a designated time and can be less intimidating than one-on-one Zoom office hours.
As the first round of midterms rolls around, we urge professors, lecturers, TAs and students to be thoughtful and respectful of the time and money that is going into this educational experience. We know firsthand that it is not easy to be a student right now and acknowledge that it is not easy to be an instructor right now either. There is clearly no one way to perfectly navigate university via Zoom, but being flexible and being proactively communicative are the bare minimum to alleviate the strain on all of us.
Written by: The Editorial Board