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Opinion: Students waiver under the burdens of online instruction

Despite Tyler Junior College’s recent update about its transition to online classes for the rest of the semester due to the Coronavirus, many of the community’s questions and concerns have gone unanswered, particularly those surrounding online instruction. 

In its update on March 31, TJC announced faculty are making an effort to remotely deliver more hands-on courses, such as labs, to the best of their abilities. However, if some of these courses cannot be accommodated to a satisfactory standard, students will face the consequences by receiving an Incomplete (I) grade for the course. According to TJC’s website, an “I” on one’s transcript indicates the course could not be completed “due to illness or other unavoidable circumstances.”

Opportunities to complete these courses will be offered during the summer term, but failure to complete the courses during the allotted period will result in an “F” grade for those classes, which can severely decrease a student’s GPA. Under these unprecedented circumstances, should TJC hold students accountable for the changes that are out of their hands, or should students be allowed to choose?

Ideally, TJC would follow a procedure similar to that being implemented by the University of Texas at Tyler. According to UT Tyler’s COVID-19 resource page, students are given options regarding the continuation of their courses. Students can opt to take an “Incomplete” grade, withdraw from a course, or request a “Pass” grade, provided the student has performed to an appropriate academic standard in the class. Depending on the student’s GPA, this can have positive or negative consequences, but he or she still has the capability to choose how to continue with his or her education. This is a better solution than simply handing students incomplete grades for classes they may or may not be able to make up in the summer. Some students may wish to opt for a “Pass” grade, especially if they are graduating and simply need course credit to complete their degrees.

In continuing their classes online, many students have noticed an unmoving obstacle on the horizon: final exams, which comprise a hefty portion of students’ final course grades. TJC has yet to make any announcements regarding exams and whether or not they will be appropriately adjusted (or even abolished) under the circumstances. TJC students and faculty have faced weeks of missed class time amid closures due to the Coronavirus, yet the looming rigor of final exams – and the uncertainty they bring – remains. 

One phenomenon that has taken over other institutions amid the Coronavirus outbreak is online proctoring. Though many institutions are continuing with exams for the semester, some have purchased online proctoring services to monitor students’ activity while they test from home. Not only does this feel like a gross invasion of privacy, but it negates the resources students have, and should have, access to in order to perform well on exams. 

Rushed curriculums and a hasty, unprepared transition to online instruction have made the effective absorption of material significantly more difficult than usual. If TJC decides to continue with testing in its courses for the rest of the spring semester, it should certainly avoid online proctoring services. Furthermore, professors should be allowed to diffuse the pressure of exams by instituting grading curves and longer completion windows at their discretion. 

TJC’s administration has frequently and thoroughly communicated with students and faculty in the past several weeks, having been fair and understanding throughout most of its difficult decisions. Nevertheless, the college must take into account the personal sacrifices that students and faculty alike have made to continue their duties as scholars and members of the TJC community in deciding how to proceed with academics for the remainder of the semester.

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