Fall Emergency Academic Regulations discourage use of third-party online proctoring

Instructors required to provide ‘statement of required work’ and schedule alternate exam times to accommodate students

The Academic Policy and Regulations Team (APART) released its Fall 2020 Emergency Academic Regulations (EAR) Aug. 10. Instructors must provide students with a “statement of required work” early in the semester and schedule alternate times for midterms and final exams to accommodate students in different time zones. Instructors are also encouraged to “de-emphasize” final exams and discouraged from using third-party online proctoring.

General regulations

According to the regulations, the “statement of required work” must contain a list of assignments, an “approximate” schedule with test dates and deadlines, final examination information, and grading criteria. For undergraduate subjects, the statement is due by the end of the first week of class. 

All instructors must provide a “precise schedule” by the end of the third week for full-term subjects or by the end of the second week for half-term subjects.

Undergraduate and graduate subjects with required in-person components must arrange a remote alternative for students living off campus, the regulations state.

Instructors of lecture-based subjects with “live,” or “synchronous,” sections should “strongly consider” video recording lectures for students to “access ‘asynchronously’ at any time.” However, instructors of classes with significant “interaction with or among student members” may “choose not to provide a recording” to promote participation during live discussions. 

Registering for multiple subjects with simultaneous sections “may be more common during the Fall 2020 semester with many subjects providing asynchronous lectures,” the regulations write. Advisors are encouraged to evaluate and discuss these registrations on a case-by-case basis with advisees. 

Instructors of classes with in-person elements must develop contingency plans detailing how the class will proceed under the case of disruption during the semester. Disruptions may include an instructor or TA testing positive for COVID-19; students being “required to quarantine because they were in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19”; and “health conditions in the greater Boston area” deteriorating with Massachusetts ordering that MIT “discontinue in-person instruction.” Remote classes are encouraged to also develop contingency plans “in the event that the instructor becomes ill” and unable to teach.

Students are encouraged to continue using Student Support Services and Gradsupport when making academic requests, the regulations write. Instructors are advised to be “flexible” with these requests and “work with students disadvantaged in completing work due to their home situation.”

Exams and activities

The regulations state that instructors must provide at least one alternative time for midterm exams within 24 hours of scheduled exam times to accommodate students in different time zones or with “uncertain internet connections or problematic home environments.” For online midterms, instructors should be accommodating with “the time needed for submission” and “take into account students granted extended time due to disabilities,” the regulations write.

Instructors are “strongly encouraged to avoid” scheduling exams or major assignment deadlines on Election Day Nov. 3 or the following day.

Subjects that schedule activities outside of regular class time must request an exception from the Chair of the Faculty. Students who cannot attend the activities due to another regularly scheduled class “must be accommodated,” the regulations state.

For subjects with final exams, no assignments may be due and no tests may be held after Dec. 4. For subjects without final exams, the final assignment must be due before 10 p.m. EST Dec. 9. 

“Instructors are encouraged to de-emphasize high-stakes end-of-term methods of assessment such as final exams,” the regulations write. 

Instructors must provide at least one alternative time for students to take the final exam within 24 hours of the scheduled exam time. Instructors must announce the format of their final — open or closed book — by drop date Nov. 18.

Thesis and dissertation defenses will be conducted remotely. Students must submit an electronic copy rather than a hard copy of their thesis or dissertation to the MIT Libraries.

Proctoring software

Instructors are discouraged from utilizing “third-party online proctoring for midterm or final exams unless all other options have been exhausted,” the regulations write. Instructors who wish to use Proctortrack or other third-party proctoring software must request approval from the Chair of the Faculty by Sept. 1. Instructors approved to use third-party online proctoring must indicate the use of the software in the statement of required work.  

APART’s stance against third-party proctoring software comes after MIT required incoming first years to install Proctortrack software before taking the first-year math diagnostic and Advanced Standing Exams early August. 

APART chair Rick Danheiser wrote in an email to The Tech that “APART shares the concerns expressed by many students” about the use of third-party proctoring software. 

Over 650 individuals signed a student petition to ban the use of Proctortrack at MIT. The petition describes Proctortrack as “spyware” and cites the possibility that the software could be hacked. “We have no idea who works for ProctorTrack [sic] and who there can access our private files,” the petition writes, urging students to “stand up against this extreme invasion of privacy.” 

The petition also suggests that instructors could proctor students through Zoom or replace exams with other assignments to address cheating.

The Undergraduate Association (UA) Committee on COVID-19 and Student Information Processing Board released a report the week of Aug. 8 recommending that proctoring services be “avoided at all costs” and that procedures on reviewing and using them “be codified in EARs rather than general recommendations.”

Following the regulations’ release, the UA Committee on COVID-19 (UA COVID-19) and Graduate Student Council (GSC) Academic Policy Student Solutions Group (SSG) wrote in an email to The Tech that they “especially want to continue addressing the use of third-party proctoring services.” 

“We plan to continue conversations with relevant faculty and staff members about how MIT students’ data are being used and what other guidelines or guidance can be put in place to ensure that these services are used only when absolutely needed and in the safest way possible,” they wrote. 

UA and GSC Recommendations

The UA COVID-19 and GSC SSG released a joint recommendations report on Emergency Academic Regulations July 31.

Prateek Kalakuntla ‘21 and Tam Nguyen ‘21 led the UA COVID-19 Academics Subcommittee, and Rebecca Black G led the GSC SSG Academic Policy Subgroup for the creation of the report.   

UA COVID-19 and GSC SSG wrote in an email to The Tech that ideas for the Committee’s Preliminary Report to APART on Academic Support “came directly from undergraduate students through the UG Academic Support Forum” July 15. 

“Outside student input was, and always is, key to our process,” they wrote. 

Discussions between UA COVID-19 and faculty “made clear that APART would be most receptive to our recommendations in the form of values and outcomes we hope to see reflected in the EARs, as opposed to explicit policies.” After defining these values, they were then “integrated with a separate report” by the GSG SSG based on “internal discussions and feedback” collected from graduate students at GSG General Council meetings. 

The recommendations are organized under five headings: “Flexibility in Policies,” “Setting Clear Expectations,” “Reasonable Workloads,” “Compassion for Personal Concerns,” and “Considerations for Teaching Assistants.”

The first section, Flexibility in Policies, concerns the “learning disadvantage faced by students who [do not] live on the East Coast,” the report writes. The recommendations address issues about “tests being scheduled at unreasonable times, classes occurring late at night or early in the morning, and difficulties assessing TAs/LAs.”

The Setting Clear Expectations section addresses how classes can promote “successful communications, accountability, and student empowerment” by setting “unambiguous expectations for students, instructors, and TAs.”

The Reasonable Workloads section contains recommendations for how syllabus adjustments, exemption policies, and grading are made.

The Compassion for Personal Concerns section addresses scheduling, student wellness, submitting and presenting theses, and the use of proctoring services. 

Expectations for TA compensation and working conditions are highlighted in the Considerations for Teaching Assistants section. The report recommends that TA-graded exams be “normalised” between TAs. UA COVID-19 and GSC SSG wrote that this could be accomplished by normalizing “the average or median grades between TAs,” so one is not a “‘harder grader’ than others.”

The report also proposes extending the MIT hotline to cover TA “difficulties with instructors” and Principal Investigators.

The UA COVID-19 and GSC SSG wrote that their recommendations “were written to explicitly highlight the hotline as a way to report either [TAs’] instructors or PIs coercing them to teach in-person if they are not comfortable, as these topics have generally not been discussed in the context of the hotline.”

Undergraduates may report academic policy violations to the UA Committee on Education via an online form. Graduate students may report violations to or via an anonymous form. For other concerns, undergraduates may email or fill out the UA COVID-19 response feedback form, and graduate students may email or fill out the GSC topic suggestion form.

Update 8/12/2020: The article was updated to correct the UA Committee on COVID-19's abbreviation from UA CC19 to UA COVID-19.