Students at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo are speaking out against what’s being described as “unnecessary” and “overcomplicated” online midterm exam rules.
Students in an introductory linear algebra course were given a comprehensive five-page handout of rules to follow for their Friday midterm.
The four-part document requires students to video record their room and use a personal mirror to expose blind spots such as the back of their laptop. They’re also mandated to install a lockdown browser and download a monitoring program that records them throughout the midterm, ensuring their hands, face and desk are in view at all times.
“Failure to follow instructions may lead to invalidation of your test or allegation of academic misconduct,” reads the document.
Mustafa Syed, a first-year student taking the course, said there are “too many rules” and students have to buy items, like only using an external mouse on a laptop.
“I’m actually more worried about if I’m going to set up everything right than actually writing the midterm, which no student should go through,” Syed said. “We find that very unnecessary.”
Another student Pavle Lakic said the biggest issue was that the five-page document is “incredibly hard to follow.”
“It’s the over complication of the procedure that should be rather simple,” said Lakic, noting that he, too, has spent more time reviewing rules than studying course material.
Both students said the rules are causing additional stress among their classmates.
A copy of the handout was posted on Twitter and ended up going viral, sparking backlash from a mass of people online.
A spokesperson at Laurier told CBC News that administration is looking into student concerns.
“It’s unfortunate that students are feeling stressed out by this because I anticipate that was not the intention of the guidelines that were provided,” said Mary Wilson, vice-provost, teaching and learning.
“I expect what has happened is that there was an effort to try and anticipate the kinds of actions or behaviours in the remote proctoring environments that may flag concerns about whether or not a breach of academic integrity may have happened,” she added.
Wilson said it’s up to each individual professor or department to come up with the assessment guidelines. In this case, she said, administration is in contact with individuals in the math department.
“There have been conversations over email and indications to consult further with the faculty members to help to unpack this … I mean, it’s devastating for a faculty member who is committed to the education of students to be buffeted by that kind of response. They are concerned and heartbroken,” said Wilson.
It’s not the first time the university has come under fire for test requirements.
Earlier this year after students were sent home due to the pandemic, the school reversed a requirement for math students to purchase external webcams for exams after many called the move “unreasonable.”
Here are the requirements for my math midterm next week. You tell me if these instructions are easy to follow and don’t make you nervous. <a href=”https://t.co/WnW0YSXmhr”>pic.twitter.com/WnW0YSXmhr</a>
Syed said he and many other students think the university should “ease up” on some of its requirements.
“I think students are fine with the laptop browser, but not the recording session,” he said, noting that other requirements should also be removed to axe the handout by at least three pages.
Other schools, like the University of Waterloo, have chosen not to impose any online proctoring or monitoring tools.
Amanda McKenzie, director of quality assurance and academic integrity at UW, said the school is focusing on what’s best for the students.
“We really want to raise awareness about why completing their evaluations in the proper way is important,” she said.
“We want to make sure we show compassion for them, that students are actually very stressed in their learning environment, they’re feeling disengaged in their learning and we need to try to bridge that gap to make sure they’re still well connected and those things will help prevent academic misconduct,” said McKenzie.
The Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union president Devyn Kelly reached out to students in a letter stating that “the midterm requirements that students have shared unfortunately do not reflect the efforts of the [Working Group on Remote and Online Assessments] and instead impose even more unrealistic expectations that actually inhibit academic performance.”
Kelly encouraged students to email the students’ union with concerns that will presented to school administration as soon as possible.