Search This Blog

Jun 28, 2022

Can I zoom into your class, professor?

This seems to be a persistent post-COVID request, a difficult one to address. On one hand, instructors want to be accommodating and compassionate to students. Everyone now knows it is theoretically possible to have some people Zooming in. Students have very good stories, including being sick with COVID. Other faculty relent, so one may feel a bit of a peer pressure to say yes. On the other hand, it is very hard to do well. The dual or HyFlex modality turned out to be very hard on instructors. First, the technology is not there yet. We thought it is, and some ed tech enthusiasts will tell you it is. But do not believe them. Someone has to point the camera to the right direction, make sure the sound feed is OK (most rooms do not have good microphones). Someone has to monitor the online portion of the class and include them into all kinds of activities. Depending on the class, the effort ranges from very difficult to impossible. Also, you look like an incompetent fool to the students, when fumbling about technology. These impressions may affect your student evaluations and ultimately your career.

Universities are reluctant to regulate for obvious reasons: Faculty tend to value independence on decisions, and classes and programs are too different to merit a one-size-fits all approach. Yet the lack of regulation is a problem on its own: it breeds inconsistency, and makes peer pressure worse. Going through the existing services for students with disabilities seems to be too cumbersome. Those procedures work for semester-long accommodations, but not for short-term, or one-time requests. Even regular doctors notes won’t work consistently.

To address the issue, we have been working on a set of guidelines and best practices. The fundamental assumption is that we should communicate three things to the student:
  1. It is a curtesy accommodation; you are not entitled to it. It comes at a cost to me and to other students in class, so please only request when you are truly desperate. “Gas is too expensive” does not qualify. And even then, I may not be able to grant it to you, sorry.
  2. Do not expect experience similar to being in class. We do not yet have technology to provide full participation for remote students in a f2f class. It is much more difficult than a regular online class, and you should appreciate the complexity.
  3. If I agree, find a zoom buddy in class who will do this for you: turn the laptop around, make sure your sound is good enough, ask questions on your behalf, etc. The instructor is too busy teaching to do this for you. And your zoom buddy should do all of that without disrupting the rest of the class. 
We also started to collect the best practices for such remote participation. I am sure, in a few years, people will find better ways of supporting such requests. I hope some smart entrepreneurs are working on better tech solutions. In the meanwhile, we should try to live with the imperfect the best way can.

No comments:

Post a Comment