Students' Rights When Learning Online
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Online Learning And Higher Education

The first shoe dropped on March 6, 2020, as the University of Washington became the initial college to close its campus for the remainder of the term. The earliest reported COVID-19 cases—and deaths—came in Washington state, so when an on-campus worker tested positive, classes were immediately pushed online.

Soon thereafter, the dominos started to fall as colleges in California and New York closed campuses. Within weeks, nearly every single higher education institution in the country—all 4,300 of them—had closed to prevent the spread of the virus.

Almost immediately, educators and students were thrust into online learning. Professors faced the challenge of moving existing lessons online while students had to deal with learning to work exclusively via computer.

Now that colleges have completed their spring semester, in part through distance learning, with the realization that this mode might last into the fall and beyond, it is time to take stock and make sure issues brushed aside in the rush online are now answered. One of the most important topics is what students should be able to expect from their schools and professors while they work online.

CEO Scott McFarland and his team at ProctorU have been thinking about just this issue. And, to help offer both schools and students a roadmap to better online learning, they have created some basic points—a Student Bill of Rights for Remote and Digital Work—which need to be agreed upon and communicated clearly to students and school staff.

To create this list, the staff at ProctorU summed up 7 areas of rights and expectations. While highlights are mentioned below, please look over this list and, if you agree, consider endorsing the document and sharing it with staff and students.

Students' Online Bill Of Rights

The whole Bill of Rights can be accessed at StudentTestingRights.org, but here are some highlights that should be guaranteed for each student learning online:

  1. Have your questions answered. You have the right to have any questions regarding these rights and your obligations as a student related to digital or remote academic work or assessment answered clearly and promptly.
  2. Assurance that all academic work is presumed to be completed with ethics and integrity.
  3. Knowledge that policies and procedures are in place to ensure that no student is disadvantaged by the misconduct of others, and the right to review those policies. You have the right to expect that every entity involved in remote academic work or assessments is compliant with all federal and state laws, accrediting bodies, and institutional policies related to student privacy and student data.
  4. Knowledge that policies and procedures exist to protect student work and privacy, and that students have a right to know what information is collected, why it is collected, and what the retention and dissemination policies are.
  5. The right to expect that no information is collected beyond what is required by the academic institution, accreditation bodies, or other governing laws and policies, and the right to review and understand those policies.
  6. Understand data collection, retention, and dissemination. This includes knowing how your work is stored, and whether it is disseminated. You have the right to request that it not be sold or transferred.
  7. Expect that data collection be specific and limited. You have the right to expect that no data or information is collected or retained beyond what is required by your academic institution to safeguard your work and privacy as well as the integrity and fairness of the remote academic work and assessment.

While these rights don’t cover every issue that can surface when learning online, the framework lays out key points and offers both colleges and students a jumping-off point for further discussion if needed.

Right now, decisions are being made about what higher education will look like in the fall. Whether students attend classes normally, continue online, or have some hybrid system that aims to respect social distancing on campuses, these rights remain important.

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