Leora Schloss logs onto ESC’s Zoom for the first time as ESC Bureau Chief to bring you the latest on testing, holidays, and a COVID task force.

After a few technical difficulties (would it even be a true Zoom experience without them?), ESC began this week’s meeting with a visit from Doran Sekaran (CC ‘23). Sekaran is the Roosevelt Institute’s Health Policy Center Director, and is working with the Roosevelt Institute on creating a Student COVID Task Force. Sekaran and others in the Roosevelt Institute feel that Columbia’s administration run task force is not doing enough to address students’ needs. They hope that their student-run task force can collaborate with the university’s task force to make future decisions on COVID related policies. 

The student tasks force currently includes members from student groups including the Roosevelt Institute, Barnard’s SGA, and Active Minds. They hope to ultimately have at least one representative from each student council. Student Health and Wellness Representative Lori Luo (‘23) offered to serve as ESC’s representative to the task force. 

Student Body Estevan Mesa (‘22) asked if the Roosevelt Institute had looked into sending students to join the existing task force run by Columbia’s administration before creating its own task force. Sekaran clarified that the institute determined from the website of Columbia’s task force that students could not join but emphasized that the student task force is meant as a compliment to the university’s task force. The two, he hopes, will work in tandem to determine future initiatives and decisions related to COVID. 

After wrapping up this discussion, ESC began a conversation on testing and proctoring. Mesa noted that the university had asked him to explore students’ worries regarding exams. Columbia administrators wanted to understand whether students were more concerned about academic integrity issues or feeling that their privacy might be violated by new proctoring methods.

Professional Development Representative Shomik Ghose (‘23) reported noticing discourse among students about Proctorio, an online proctoring platform that some professors are using during their exams. Proctorio uses a variety of AI features to monitor students. This includes one that tracks students’ eye motions to make sure students are focused on the exam and not looking elsewhere to cheat. Ghose heard concern from students of if proctoria’s AI could be biased. He concluded that students are nervous about privacy. He believes that students want to understand more about what information is collected by Proctorio and how that is used to determine if students are cheating.

Academic Affairs Representative James Wang (‘22) added that he has looked into Proctorio’s features. Proctorio allows instructors to choose to do all of the following: record a feed of students’ webcams and screens; block students from opening other tabs; and flag abnormal cursor activity, the presence of other people in the background of a student’s feed, and certain student eye movements. 

University Senator Joseph Hier (‘21) expressed concerns about academic integrity. He felt that when professors rely merely on the honor code to maintain academic integrity, students take advantage of that. This, in turn, can impact a class curve, thereby penalizing students who uphold academic integrity. He advocated for professors to take non-traditional approaches to assessments in order to disincentivize cheating. Several ESC members reported on their personal experiences with non-standard assessments and expressed that these typically seemed effective.

ESC’s third main topic of the night was a proposal for a new SEAS policy. This policy would prohibit professors from assigning exams and large projects for the first few days after an academic break such as Thanksgiving. The goal of this policy would be to prioritize student mental health. In typical years, many students travel to visit family for these breaks. It can be hard to study in these cases, and spending the whole break studying makes it hard for students to relax or spend time with their families. 

Class of 2021 Representative Ethan Thayumanavan (‘21) worried that this policy would lead professors to increase the workload before and after holidays and that this would be a negative change. Class of 2024 Representative Suheyla Tuzan (‘24) echoed this concern, adding that her high school had a similar policy, and students struggled with increased workloads before and after holidays.

Racial Diversity and Inclusion Representative Elias Tzoc-Pacheco (‘23) suggested that although this policy may not eliminate workload related stress, it will promote equity.  During academic breaks, students go home or elsewhere and may not have access to the resources they need to complete their work. This policy would allow for all students to be able to do their work before or after break while on campus, where it can be assumed that they have access to certain resources that Columbia provides. 

ESC plans to discuss this potential policy further at future meetings.

ESC via Bwog Archives