Spring 2021 Update

Letter to USC Faculty

Dear Colleagues,

I hope your semester has begun well. The new year has hit us out of the gate with continued challenges, but there are promising signs. Vaccines are rolling out here and across the nation. Remaining online and staying vigilant will continue to help our community stay safe, and we will seek guidance from county authorities for a return to campus classes and activities as health conditions improve.

Given the health situation in L.A. County, course instruction will continue online until further notice. Since last March, we have learned a great deal about transforming to a mostly virtual campus and continue to refine our policies and best practices based on feedback from you, students, and staff. This semester we will continue to follow the policies and recommendations pertaining to online and asynchronous learning we adopted in the Fall; I include here some revisions and reminders.

Academic Integrity and Online Assessments and Examinations
The Fall semester demonstrated that, in some instances, administering online examinations presents challenges that do not occur on campus. It is important that students understand that academic honesty represents the cornerstone of the academy. We ask that faculty remind students of their obligations in this regard, and review the Student Conduct Code in SCampus with particular attention to Section B.11. “Behavior Violating University Standards and Appropriate Sanctions” (https://policy.usc.edu/scampus/).

Faculty are strongly encouraged to develop forms of assessment that address challenges and promote academic integrity for all students. In-person assessments practices, and their safeguards against academic dishonesty, do not always translate well to online environments.

Based upon a review of the Fall semester, we have decided to discontinue the use of Respondus Monitor, an online exam proctoring program that uses artificial intelligence. During the course of the Fall semester, we heard a number of concerns about fairness and privacy regarding the use of Respondus Monitor. We have reached out to Respondus regarding our concerns, and they are working on modifying and enhancing their software to address these issues. If that occurs, we may reconsider use of the tool at a later date, but at this time it is no longer available for use.

The decision to discontinue the use of Respondus Monitor does not pertain to the use of Respondus Lockdown Browser or other Respondus utilities licensed by the University. Respondus Lockdown Browser will continue to be available for faculty use.

We recognize that this decision may affect how some faculty will assess their students. We are providing a number of support options to alleviate any challenges this may create for our faculty:

Additional resources on designing assessments can be found here: http://cet.usc.edu/online-teaching/#create-tests. Faculty are encouraged to invest their time in developing pedagogically-sound online assessments that contribute to a healthy, robust learning environment.

Recording Online Classes
As in the Fall 2020 semester, it is USC policy that all classes conducted online be recorded for asynchronous viewing with transcriptions made available. Recordings ensure that all classes are ADA compliant and can be freely accessed at all times by students irrespective of region or time zone. To make this requirement easier for faculty, ITS has set up Zoom to automatically record and transcribe class sessions which are then made available to students and faculty for all classes in Blackboard.

As students may be personally identifiable in class recordings via their voice, name, or image, these recordings are considered “educational records” subject to federal privacy laws (FERPA). However, as long as the recordings are posted to an appropriate class website (such as Blackboard or Zoom) that is accessible only to students enrolled in the class, TAs, graders, and student services staff members, these recordings are FERPA compliant. In the interests of student privacy, however, do not record office hours or personal discussions as these will also be posted for viewing by the entire class. If it is your practice to have these interactions before or after the formal start of your class, please utilize your Zoom screen’s “pause” button to pause the recording while these discussions take place.

We recognize legitimate concerns regarding the misuse, inappropriate dissemination, or attempted sale of class recordings, as well the appropriation of intellectual property. As such, faculty should remind students of their responsibilities towards the appropriate use and handling of class recordings under existing SCampus policies regarding class notes (see Section C.1. “Class Notes Policy”: https://policy.usc.edu/scampus/ ). They should also remind students that they are not permitted to create their own class recordings without the instructor’s permission. Actions in violation of this policy constitute a violation of the Student Conduct Code, and may subject an individual to university discipline and/or legal proceedings.

Unless faculty request that ITS keep them longer, Zoom recordings will be retained in the cloud until the submission of grades, at which point they will be deleted.

Information on recording and sharing Zoom recordings, and on Zoom settings, is available on the CET website: http://cet.usc.edu/online-teaching/.

Camera Policy
Acknowledging that class dynamics are compromised without the ability to see the people in class, faculty can set an expectation, without insistence, that students have their cameras on during synchronous online sessions. However, as many students have reported challenging circumstances around issues such as internet connectivity, illness, or home environments that make camera use difficult or even impossible, faculty should accommodate students unable to meet this expectation. Where practicable, students should be encouraged to use virtual backgrounds that may eliminate some privacy concerns, and earphones or headsets to improve audio quality.

Class Participation and Attendance in Synchronous Sessions
Remote learning, paired with the fact that approximately 4,000 USC students will be studying from overseas this semester, presents a number of challenges related to attendance and participation in synchronous class sessions.

Faculty should only maintain normal attendance, participation, and assessment expectations for students when the class time falls within reasonable learning hours defined as 7:00am to 10:00pm in the student’s time zone. If the class falls outside those hours, accommodations should be extended.

Class rosters this semester contain a field containing each student’s home country. Faculty should review this with their students to ensure that the information it contains is correct. Alternatively, faculty can poll students (http://cet.usc.edu/cet/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Using-Polling-in-Zoom.docx) as to the time zone from which they are studying. This will aid in setting and evaluating expectations related to participation.

We must continue to support each other while understanding the challenges faculty, students, and staff are facing. I hope you saw my recent letters on vaccines and tips on how to manage difficult conversations in class. I’m proud of the work you’ve done over these ten months and I look forward to another strong semester.


Charles F. Zukoski
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

cc: Office of the President
Academic Deans
President’s Senior Leadership Team
Provost’s Leadership Team
Academic Senate
Staff Assembly
GSG President
USG President