Strategies for Equitable Student Treatment during COVID-19 and Beyond

July 10, 2020

Questions around equity and access for students during the coronavirus pandemic have come up over and over again. In this post I offer some concrete things you can do to treat students more equitably during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

#1: Stop saying “should”.

“Students should have access to high speed Internet.” (Translation: Students who live in areas with unreliable Internet connectivity are less worthy than their peers with premium telecom packages.)

“Students should be able to submit their assignments on time”. (Translation: I care more about my students complying with assignment deadlines than I care about the students themselves.)

“Students should be able to read a .pdf copy of the readings online. (Translation: Just because I can easily read a .pdf copy of an article online, I don’t care about students who either can’t or prefer not to.)

Stop spouting off about what you think students “should” be able to do. Accept that whatever you think should happen may not (or simply cannot) happen and there is likely nothing you can do about it – except make a commitment to try to meet students where they are at, on their terms. Accept the reality of what is, not what you want it to be.

#2: Stop requiring students to buy new technology.

Requiring students to buy webcams for e-proctoring of their exams is senseless if there are none for sale in any of the shops or online. Requiring them to buy new technology that meets a minimum “standard” of the institution creates financial burdens on less privileged students. It’s a form of financial discrimination that privileges affluent students. If there are “minimum institutional standards” then the institution plays a role in ensuring students have what they need.

#3: Stop the coercive control.

Making statements about what should happen, or what students need to buy is a form of coercive control. The implications are that students will do what they are told “or else” (e.g. or else don’t bother registering, or else drop the course, or else drop out of school entirely) is downright discriminatory. The threat of students not being able to continue their studies if they cannot comply with imposed obligations such as buying a webcam due to financial or other limitations is a form of punishment. The messaging may not be as overt as that, but the implication is there. Trying to coerce students into being something they are not (e.g. financially affluent, academically excellent, socially privileged). This kind of coercive control is not only humiliating for students, it a form of instructional and institutional violence.

#4: Involve students in decision making as much as possible.

I get that institutional leaders are frantically trying to make the right decisions about how to move forward. And there’s lots of factors that are still outside of any individual’s control right now, but that’s no excuse to exclude students from decisions that affect them directly. Whenever possible, engage representatives from student government on committees, councils, and in departmental meetings, or any other meeting where having student representation helps to create inclusivity and equity.

#5: Recognize that there is no such thing as a “typical” student.

The stereotype of the single, white, affluent student who studies diligently in the library and maybe does some varsity sports is long, long gone, if it ever existed in the first place. The reality is that your students are likely to have multiple and competing priorities that include jobs, family or caregiving responsibilities, and come from more diverse backgrounds than the average faculty member experiences in a year. Their living situation might be chaotic, noisy, or unpredictable. This does not equal “bad”. That same living situation could also be happy, lively, and punctuated by moments of spontaneous laughter. Other situations could be the exact opposite: Seemingly calm, cool, and collected to the outside observer, but secretly miserable or abusive. The reality is that we simply cannot know or fathom the multitude of personal or family circumstances students are living in right now.

All of this is to say that as instructors and leaders one of our responsibilities is to stop assuming, and start asking. Stop obliging and start offering. Meet students where they are at, not where you want them to be. In short, focus more students’ dignity and less instructional or institutional demands.

Now more than ever, we need to make a commitment to equitable and just teaching and learning practices.

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Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.

Canadian Schools Have Been Preparing for a Pandemic for Years

May 26, 2020

The media makes it seem like schools and teachers around the world have been scrambling to ensure teaching and learning continuity for students. Meanwhile, in Canada, school district administrators, principals and teachers, went into their archives to find the plans that were developed for just such an emergency. You see, way back in 2003 Canada was hit hard by SARS. We learned a great deal from it and somewhere in our collective psyche, we knew it wasn’t going to be the only pandemic. As a result, school districts and boards across Canada began asking themselves, how do we prepare for a pandemic? No one had any clear answers, but they developed plans, just in case. Here are a sampling of just a few of these pandemic planning guides produced across Canada, many of them from school districts or boards. I have included the year of publication, so you can see how far back we have been publishing guidance for school administrators and teachers about how to prepare for a pandemic — These guides date back to 2005 and there were more I could not retrieve because the websites are now defunct.

All the documents I’ve shared in this post had live links to the plans at the time I wrote this post.

British Columbia

Pandemic Response Framework: and Pandemic Planning Guidelines for School Districts, British Columbia Ministry of Education (2009)

Pandemic Response Plan, School District No. 78 (Fraser-Cascade), British Columbia (BC) – 2009 

British Columbia Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Plan: Guidelines for Planning, Response and Recovery (2005)


Pandemic Response Plan – Horizon School Division (2009)


A Guide for School Board Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (2015)


Pandemic Influenza: Preparedness Guidelines for Manitoba School Divisions and Schools (K-12) (2007)


Pandemic Action Plan, Northwest Catholic District School Board (2009)

Renfrew County & District Pandemic Influenza Plan: A Planning Guide for Housing, Residential and Social Service Providers (2006)

Toronto Pandemic Influenza Plan: Appendix 1.2 — A Planning Guide for Schools (2007)

Atlantic Canada

Two educators from Nova Scotia, Howard & Howard (2012) published a great article on elementary school teachers’ experience with H1N1.

Canada’s doctors published years ago about how to ensure Canada’s children were safe during a pandemic (see Langley, 2006).

And Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam? Well, she has been leading research teams on publications about pandemics in Canada since 2005, too.

So don’t believe the hype. In true Canadian style, we have been quietly and modestly preparing for this for years… So, when Canadian schools and universities make decisions about what they’re going to do for the fall 2020 semester and beyond, trust us when we say that we may not have all the answers, but we sure have been thinking about all this for a long time.

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.

Let’s Talk About the Other Pandemic: Academic Cheating

May 17, 2020

Since the shift to remote emergency teaching and learning as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, there has been story after story in the news about students violating academic integrity.

It’s time we talked about it. Let’s talk about the associate head of school at a New York city upper west side private schools who allegedly tampered with high school admissions tests by (allegedly) providing unsolicited answers to students to help improve their scores.

Let’s talk about how the “unidentified party” who posted fake answers to the Advance Placement (AP) test on Reddit and other social media to lure cheaters taking. It has been reported that the body who administers the test, the US College Admissions board, would not comment on how a “ring of students who were developing plans to cheat” were identified. But someone planted fake answers on social media for students to find. Then that “someone” used those fake answers to identify alleged cheaters.

Let’s talk about the other incidents of individual college professors allegedly posting fake answers to assignments on social media in order to identify students who cheat. Let’s be clear, if this is really happening and it is not some mutated urban myth in which educators are evil masterminds, these would be pretty clear cases of entrapment.

Let’s talk about the professors who allegedly post messages directed to their own students on social media outlining how they’re tracking students’ every move, from their social media posts to their IP addresses during exams. If this is really  happening, then that would be awful. I mean, it would be surveillance to levels that even Orwell didn’t dream up. It might even be considered intimidation, or harassment, or even bullying of students.

Let’s talk about how none of this actually helps students, who are also living through this pandemic along with the rest of us. Let’s talk about how students are reporting they are so stressed out by the conditions under which they are learning and taking exams, that they are throwing up, due to anxiety related to the crisis conditions in which they too, are living. Yes, students. They are trying to complete their academic work in the middle of a global crisis.

I acknowledge there are many caring and dedicated educators who are working hard to support students’ learning, but the increasing number of examples of unethical behaviour among instructors and administrators during the Coronavirus pandemic is not only worrisome, it is downright disturbing. Those educators and administrators who believe that entrapment or other unethical behaviour is “fighting fire with fire” when it comes to academic conduct have forgotten this basic lesson: Two wrongs don’t make it right.

If we are going to ask students to uphold academic integrity, then for the sake of all that is holy, teachers, administrators and learning organizations must lead by example. Educators and administrators who focus on cheating, rather than learning, may not have students’ best interests at heart.

It’s time to start talking about instructional integrity, administrative integrity, and institutional integrity.

A symptom of the academic cheating pandemic is not that students are cheating more, it is that we, those who are responsible for supporting their learning and development, are letting them down. We must keep the focus on helping students to learn. We need to work with our students, not against them.

In the game of “Gotcha!” no one wins.

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.

E-Proctoring: Understanding the debate about invigilating remote exams

May 12, 2020

There has been a lot of talk in the news recently about the rush for secondary and post-secondary institutions to implement digital solutions for proctoring of remote and online exams. In this post, I share helpful resources, articles and news to help you better understand the current debate about what’s good, what’s bad and what’s ugly. This post is not meant to be exhaustive, but instead to curate and share some of the key resources I have found particularly helpful.

Back to the future

Interestingly, the debate is not entirely new. In 2018, Rory McCorkle predicted more students would be taking exams remotely in the future. Welcome to 2020, where the Coronavirus has changed everything.

Students stressed out

Math students at Laurier University were described as furious after their department required them to buy external web cams for their exams. Rebecca Heilweil shares the perspective of University of Washington student, Marium Raza, who shared concerns about the lack of transparency about how their recorded video will be used or who will see it. The heightened use of surveillance to monitor students’ every move is a recurring theme in these stories.

Faculty disgruntled

Faculty are also concerned about surveillance and an invasion of students’ privacy. References to George Orwell’s 1984 have been made in more than one news article, such as this one by Colleen Flaherty in Inside Higher Ed, and this one by Shawn Hubler in the New York Times.

Michael Sankey of Griffith University has described the rapid move to e-exams as driving headlong towards a cliff.

Human rights considerations

An article in the Washington Post describes how some students get so stressed out by the heightened surveillance of remote proctoring that they throw up into their waste bins while on camera because they have been told they cannot leave the room during the exam. (This begs the question: Is there a human rights violation here? I mean, shouldn’t students be allowed to vomit into a toilet?)

Concordia University has included guidance in their rollout of e-proctoring that: “Any proctored online exam that goes beyond two hours may include a break for students.” They are basically sending a message to faculty to have exams of a reasonable and humane duration, which is a good place to start.

Glitches in the matrix

A recent news story out of Australia detailed how over 250 candidates taking a TAXAU120 required special consideration after their remote exam provider, ProctorU reported that they experienced “a momentary connectivity issue”, leading to them being disconnected from their exam.

Hacking the system

There are ample resources available to students about how to beat or hack e-proctoring software. This post talks about how easy it is for students to load up a virtual machine to beat the system. There are also plenty of online videos dedicated to showing students how to beat e-proctoring system. Let’s be clear: There is no completely foolproof way to ensure students do not cheat on exams. There will always be a small percentage of students who spend more time and effort trying to find creative ways to cheat instead of putting that same effort into preparing for their exams.

Resources: Webinar Recordings

A couple of publicly accessible webinar recordings you might find useful are:

Academic Integrity in Online Exams – This session was presented by Tod Denham and the team at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) Open Learning did for us at the University of Calgary.

Implementing remotely invigilated online exams at scale, presented by Kylie Day as part of the  Transforming Assessment Webinar Series is also worth a watch.

Additional Resources

E-CampusOntario – ProctorTrack Instructor Support Guide (open access pressbook)

Fourteen Simple Strategies to Reduce Cheating on Online Examinations – Excellent article by Stephanie Smith Budhai

What the research says

For those interested in scholarly perspectives on the topic, a couple of journal articles worth looking up include:

Cramp et al. (2019) – Lessons learned from implementing remotely invigilated online exams.

González-González et al. (2020) – Implementation of E-Proctoring in Online Teaching: A Study about Motivational Factors

I will update this post as I collect and curate more information that I think will be helpful to educators and administrators as we learn more about this brave new world of remote learning during COVID-19. (All literary and cultural references to sci fi and dystopian future(s) are most definitely intentional).

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.

Last updated: 8 June 2020

Tenure in the time of COVID-19

April 2, 2020

T&P excerpt

The e-mail came amidst a bunch of others, all with words like “COVID-19” or “urgent” or “time-sensitive” in the subject line. I almost missed it, to be honest. Then there it was: A simple two-line e-mail from Human Resources: “Please see the attached e-mail from the Provost. Should you have any questions regarding the attached, please do not hesitate to contact us.”

I bawled when I opened the letter. It wasn’t the reaction I was expecting to have, but then again, nothing about getting tenure during the middle of a global pandemic is what I expected it would be like… Staying at home, practicing social distancing, and unable to go out and celebrate.

My mind immediately went to those who are losing their jobs, have already lost them or are still struggling to get one. A wave of guilt swept over me. I moved past it. Each of us is on our own journey. My journey has involved working for 26 years in higher education – 22 years as a sessional (or for friends outside of Canada, as an “adjunct” or “part-time lecturer”) and 4 years full-time, so to say the road has been long is an understatement. To paraphrase Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, I have grown old waiting.

I moved past the tears, then the guilt, and finally felt happy.

Old or not, we find ways to celebrate. A quiet glass of wine at home. A virtual happy hour with the family. A hand-made card from a dear friend that arrived via “snail mail” because we can’t go out to celebrate. The card shows how we practice social / physical distancing… and still celebrate. (Of course, I washed my hands after opening it.)


So, this is what getting tenure in the time of COVID-19 looks like.


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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.

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