Academic Council Update: Faculty asked to explore the President’s vision of “blended learning” while students voice concerns about surveillance software

At the last Academic Council meeting, which took place on October 27th, a policy instrument directing the the use of surveillance software for invigilation was put forward on the agenda. This meeting was attended by a large number of students who were vocal about the use of Proctortrack and other such surveillance software used for monitoring students during tests and exams. Many or all of you may be aware of this software, however it might not have been clear that this was made available to this (and others) university at no cost by the Ontario Government until March, 2021. The company that created and provides this software experienced a security breach on October 13th and was pulled from use until a patch could be developed. The software has since been reoffered to clients.

At issue, the students were concerned about a number of issues with this software, including but not limited to;, concerns around privacy, the invasiveness of the software, and concerns about the software working properly. Although instructed not to speak or place comments in the chat by the Chair of AC, some students did make their concerns known. It appears this strategy was successful as the AC Secretary was instructed to take those comments and provide them to the various groups overlooking teaching and learning at this university, to help them in their deliberations. The policy was withdrawn to make amendments and will be brought back at the next regular meeting of AC which is scheduled for November 24th 2020.

Blended learning discussions
There was also a separate special session of AC held on November 3rd focused on the idea of “blended learning” at this university. Members of AC were encouraged to come to this meeting to explore what “blended learning” really means. It is noteworthy that the term “blended learning” is not a term used in the UOITFA’s Collective Agreement, although a more common synonym for this pedagogical approach, hybrid learning, is present and included. The term “blended learning” is used heavily on the e-Learning Ontario Website which refers to this approach as “Unlike e-learning classes where students are physically separate from their teacher and classmates, blended learning occurs within a face-to-face class that happens at a specific place and time. Blended learning combines the support of classroom learning with the flexibility of e-learning.” This approach is being promoted to high schools in this province, and it appears that President Steven Murphy, who is the new Co-Chair of eCampus Ontario is promoting this approach here at the university.

Some faculty who attended this meeting had serious concerns about this new pedagogical approach, including concerns that mandating this way of learning at the university would interfere with Academic Freedom of our membership. Two more meetings are planned on this exploration, including one scheduled for December 1st at 2:30 p.m.. They are open to the public. Those interested in this issue should stay informed with the Faculty Forum for updates or contact [email protected] to add yourself to our email list for more frequent updates.

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