Course instruction at USC will continue online until further notice due to elevated COVID-19 infections in Los Angeles County, according to USC Provost Charles F. Zukoski.

“The new year has hit us out of the gate with continued challenges, but there are promising signs,” Zukoski wrote in a letter to USC faculty, dated Tuesday.

“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,” he wrote. “Given the health situation in L.A. County, course instruction will continue online until further notice.”

Zukoski said that, 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.”

The provost stated that 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.”

Zukoski encouraged faculty “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.”

He said that based upon a review of the fall semester, the school has 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,” the provost wrote. “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 provost said that as in the fall 2020 semester, it is USC policy that all classes conducted online be recorded for viewing with transcriptions made available.

“Recordings ensure that all classes are ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant and can be freely accessed at all times by students irrespective of region or time zone,” he wrote. “To make this requirement easier for faculty, ITS (Information Technology Services) has set up Zoom to automatically record and transcribe class sessions which are then made available to students and faculty for all classes in (online learning app) Blackboard.”

Zukoski also said that remote learning — plus the fact that about 4,000 USC students will be studying from overseas this semester — presents challenges related to attendance and participation in 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 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the student’s time zone,” he wrote. “If the class falls outside those hours, accommodations should be extended.”

The provost said members of the USC community “must continue to support each other while understanding the challenges faculty, students, and staff are facing. … I’m proud of the work you’ve done over these 10 months and I look forward to another strong semester.”

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