AUSG’s Center for Advocacy and Student Equity hosts town hall about virtual learning

The event covered issues such as online test-taking and group assignments, the future of spring break and camera policy

AUSG’s Center for Advocacy and Student Equity hosts town hall about virtual learning

American University Student Government’s Center for Advocacy and Student Equity, often referred to as “CASE,” hosted a virtual town hall with multiple AU deans on Feb. 23 to discuss the hardships and triumphs of online classes and to advocate for student issues. 

The event covered issues such as online test-taking and group assignments, the future of spring break and AU’s divisive camera protocol. 

“We want to make sure we are advocating for resources and services that are helpful for students, especially in the online setting,” said CASE Director Mehak Chadha. “With this specific event, we wanted to create a community space where students could talk to administration members about their online learning experiences and voice any concerns.”

CASE provides support and consultation for students accused of conduct code violations by the University. Recently, the center pushed for changes including the renaming of AU’s Freshman Forgiveness Policy to the Course Repetition and Grade Replacement Policy and the implementation of the Student Tech Task Force.

At the event, students first discussed the successes and failures of online classes. Many said that professors were more empathetic and accommodating to students this semester, especially to those living in different time zones. Many appreciated the transition from Blackboard to Canvas, citing the improved usability and design of the platform. 

However, some students said collaboration online, especially with group assignments, is still a major hurdle. Differences in time zones and limited communication make already-stressful assignments that much more difficult. 

Hannah Brown, the chief advocate for the academic affairs program at CASE, agreed. 

“STEM group work online is really difficult, especially when we are asked to share certain programs and parts of our work,” Brown said. 

CASE’s academic affairs program raised the issue of maintaining academic integrity online and asked the deans to define what is appropriate. For example, students might create shared study-guides for their open-note finals, which could be an issue in many cases. 

“The best way to know what is or is not appropriate and avoid any future misunderstandings is to ask your professor beforehand, especially for tests,” said Dean of Undergraduate Education Jessica Waters. 

Laura DeNardis, interim dean of the School of Communication, agreed, saying that these clarifications from professors should continue whether virtual or not.

“This sounds like an issue important to clarify for in-person classes as well,” she said. “Students can still create shared documents or take shared notes, for example.”

Chadha also suggested creating a Q&A session during the first day of classes to clarify questions about academic integrity and test-taking. 

In a discussion about Wellness Week, the deans reassured students that spring break will be reinstated in the future and that the adjustment was made purely due to concerns around traveling during the pandemic. 

Rosemary Shinko, assistant dean for Undergraduate Education for the School of International Service, said she hoped that students understood that professors and the administration are also affected by the pandemic and online classes.

“We are as tired and we are hanging on too,” Shinko said. “We have great admiration for you students and can’t wait to see you all on campus soon.” 

Núria Vilanova, associate dean of Undergraduate Studies, said that professors understand that some students cannot have their cameras on, but she said it was helpful to have them on whenever possible to better interact in classes. 

The deans also underscored the importance of reaching out and creating communities online. Waters suggested making connections with peer facilitators and teacher assistants. Vilanova said study groups have been very effective in meeting new people. Shinko recommended doing a quick check-in with other students during breakout rooms. DeNardis asked students to attend office hours to chat and reach out to the AU alumni network. 

“I think the key takeaway from the meeting was that we are all in this situation, and we can work together to find easy fixes for our problems and to improve our virtual semester,” Chadha said. 

achhangani@theeagleonline.com

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