These measures, in addition to banning proctoring software, are key to ensuring an equitable learning experience.
The International Students’ Association (ISA) has released an open letter calling the attention of top university administration, including President Flanagan, towards urgent issues that international students are facing with remote learning.
The letter, which was backed by all nine international regional groups on campus, says it was necessitated because any discussions so far, including the one with the Council of Student Affairs (COSA), failed to “adequately address these concerns” or provide any assurance of change for the winter semester that rapidly approaches.
The open letter focuses on three major problems: live online lectures not being recorded, marks being assigned for participation in live lectures, and the infeasibility of using proctoring software such as Smart Exam Monitor (SEM) for minor assessments.
These problems are hurting international students and their post-secondary experience.
Kevin Tang, President of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, echoes the letter’s sentiment that forcing students to attend lectures at 2 am is unreasonable and counter-productive. “[S]tudying in such a way is harmful to our physical and mental well-being,” says Tang.
In addition to consequences like sleep-deprivation, and lack of concentration that the letter cites, Vietnamese Students’ Association President Noella Chu argues that the entire family’s lives are disrupted.
“A lot of homes in Vietnam are small, and oftentimes study and bedroom spaces are shared with other family members,” Chu explained. “It is incredibly hard for students to wake up to attend live lectures in the middle of the night while also trying to be considerate to their family.”
Co-Presidents of the Philippines Students’ Association Nicole de Grano and Rupert Gomez say they therefore agree with the letter’s first proposal: “To create equity in our learning, it is essential that [lecture] recordings are provided to students.”
The second issue the letter advocates for is banning marks for participation in live lectures. Assigning marks for regular participation in live lectures unfairly disadvantages an international student's evaluation in a course. Exceptions can be made for a few key critical lectures, but having the outstanding requirement to attend every lecture for ‘participation’ is an incredible burden.
Salsabila Putri, the President of the Indonesian Students’ Association, believes that in these trying times, flexible measures including “recorded lectures, more diverse availability times for office hours and banning participation grades” are the way to go.
Third, the letter firmly supports the Student’s Union push to ban the use of proctoring software such as Smart Exam monitor (SEM). In addition to the reasons the UASU lists, the letter says that a steady internet connection and a steady supply of electricity are both requirements for proctoring systems to work. But that regular power outages for hours or days, and unreliable internet connections are common in many of the countries that University of Alberta students come from.
International students have faced increased visa difficulties, travel restrictions, high living costs, and many other issues since the onset of COVID-19. And Priyanka Maripuri, the President of the Indian Students’ Association, says they are disheartened to see students suffer much more because of these issues that are accommodable.
Chanpreet Singh, the President of the ISA says that the responses he has received from the university administration so far revolve around “things taking time” or the academic freedom of professors to choose the way they present course content, yet there is no promise of real change.
“International students have faced these problems every day and every lecture since March,” he said.
In addition to the students groups above, the UASU, the Nigerian Students’ Association, the Pakistani Students’ Association, and the Black Student’s Association have all spoken out and urged the university to make serious changes in the Winter 2021 semester while there is still a chance.
“The University needs to listen to these important asks from the ISA which we wholeheartedly support. International students need to see serious change in Winter 2021,” the UASU says on Instagram.
The University administration, in a response statement provided to the writer, said they are “committed to adjusting the delivery and assessment methods” for students abroad. The statement cites privacy as one of reasons for not mandating lecture recordings.
In the statement, Dean of Students, André Costopoulos, encouraged students who are challenged by the pandemic to contact the Dean of Students (DoS) Office who will “help make modifications that will ensure they aren’t penalized if they can’t participate in live-interactions.”
“As we’ve shared in conversation with ISA before, we are prepared to help - but we need students in need to contact us."
Chanpreet Singh says he worries that a lot of students will not be comfortable reporting incidents with their professors to the DoS Office since “a lot of grades do depend on the discretion of professors.”
He says he wonders why privacy is a concern for some lectures but not for others since “[t]here are solutions around the privacy concerns, as professors could always ask students to turn off their camera and change their zoom name to "anonymous", if any student has a privacy concern."
The response statement did not mention proctoring softwares.