With the academic year starting up again, students around the world are preparing for this unprecedented era of social distancing and primarily online instruction. While UC Berkeley initially intended to create a hybrid model of education for the Fall semester, rising COVID-19 cases and no sight of an end-date for the pandemic led the university to adjust course to a fully online system instead. Now, only a few days into the semester, it is clear that the next few months will be a challenge for all involved.
Though many professors are making their courses more accessible to those who require some asynchronous format, such as students in distant time zones or those lacking stable internet access, other professors have refused to make such accommodations. One professor outlined the reasoning for his lack of flexibility in a 1000-word email to all the international students who had indicated a need for some alternative arrangements. With international and special needs students making up a minority of his class, the professor felt justified in requiring synchronous attendance and participation in his lectures. He further expressed concern over a possible rise in cheating, along with a lack of time in his schedule to create alternative assignments to accommodate the minority of international and special needs students.
I am not unsympathetic to instructors’ unique positions - accommodating for many different cases on top of figuring out new technology, dealing with their own working-from-home environments, and undergoing the global crises is a lot to ask. But so many have managed it. I am on the teaching staff of a UC Berkeley class myself (and have been for a couple of years!) and am often overwhelmed by all the work that goes into preparing and teaching and grading for a course. Mostly, however, I am in awe of the staff I work with for their unending willingness to adapt to better the student experience. I understand some professors have to do their jobs alone without assistance from GSIs or TAs, but a complete lack of flexibility and understanding isn’t justifiable to me.
The case of this inflexible professor is very troubling, as a willingness to accommodate the different needs and requirements of a community, particularly the minorities, is crucial in the makeup of a diverse and equitable society. The lack of such resources makes minorities feel less welcome and may dissuade them from contributing to the community at all, which would be a significant loss. Accommodations for different needs cannot arise when such conditions are not represented and thus not understood by the broader community. Therefore, I urge all educators to consider the areas and people they influence and to be considerate and adaptable, especially in difficult times such as these.
In response to this professor, I would like to ask why, if your primary purpose is to educate your students, is your limiting factor the method of testing?
For further reading into the value of diverse and inclusive communities, I highly recommend reading Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking by Matthew Syed.