Letter says faculty want more control of classroom decisions


A letter to the provost — recommending that the University allow (and facilitate) faculty decisions on whether to record classes, how to assess students and the manner in which other pedagogical procedures are chosen — passed the Faculty Assembly on Dec. 1 and now heads to Senate Council for further discussion and approval.

The letter, originating with the Faculty Affairs Committee, “strongly recommends that faculty be allowed to determine which pedagogical practices (especially those pertaining to remote/hybrid teaching and student assessment) are best for their curricula and students. … In addition, we believe that policies related to teaching should be communicated to all faculty and all students in a timely manner. Better communication regarding technological resources for faculty in the Teaching Center should also be practiced, especially for faculty who wish to record their class meetings.”

The letter suggests that Pitt:

  • “Allow faculty members to decide whether they recommend the recording of class discussions and/or the use of hybrid or remote teaching technologies.”

  • Allow faculty to determine which pedagogical practices are best for their students. … We recommend that Pitt not encourage the blanket policy of recording all lessons as the go-to default. In units and departments where hybrid or remote teaching is preferred, ensure that all faculty know about which kinds of supportive technology are available and ensure that such tech, when necessary, is installed prior to the beginning of the term.”

  • “Permit faculty to employ effective assessment protocols at their discretion, based on best practices within their relevant fields. This may include the need to assess attendance and active participation in class. In addition, allow faculty to require an excusable absence policy for exams and other major assessment dates.”

  • “Communicate any possible changes to syllabi before the beginning of the term to all faculty and students, allowing extra lead time in the weeks before the semester to ensure that faculty can make reasonable changes and accommodations in a timely manner. … When possible, pedagogical rationales should be provided when university- or school-made changes are made to syllabi policies or practices.”

The letter also notes that, “It seems unreasonable to ask faculty to provide alternative make-up assignments to every student that is absent, especially since students who miss an exam due to illness will return at different times, resulting in multiple make-up assessments required for those students.”

Earlier this semester, the provost asked faculty to not drop the lowest grades for quizzes and assignments and instead provide make-up assessments for all absent students.

The letter notes: “Dropping the lowest quiz grade or assignment grade has been common practice to address this (that is, students know that they can miss an assignment or quiz without penalty). In addition, this request was made in the fourth week of the semester, causing general confusion among faculty and students.”

Faculty Affairs member Tom Songer, of the Graduate School of Public Health, noted at the committee’s Nov. 9 meeting that there seemed to be no common thread for how faculty are dealing with online vs. in-person teaching, and that many faculty have had poor communication with leadership and thus are unable to learn the reasoning behind policy changes.

While students like the fact that recordings may be available for class review, “I think now we are creating an expectation from students that everything will be recorded, and I think that should be addressed when the pandemic is over.”

“I don't think it is up to the department head to tell individual faculty how to teach their classes,” added Tom Loughlin of the School of Engineering. Nor should there be “a mandate from the provost’s office” concerning whether to record classes or other teaching decisions. Both ideas were echoed by other committee members who spoke up.

During the Dec. 1 Faculty Assembly meeting, nearly all members voted to endorse the letter.

However, some members raised concerns about potential legal issues surrounding the recording of classes and their distribution. John Stoner, history faculty member in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences and co-chair of the Educational Policies Committee, said this is especially important because Pitt has made efforts to prevent recordings from being taken and shared.

“I think that moving forward,” said Lorraine Denman, co-chair for Faculty Affairs and faculty member in French and Italian in the Dietrich School, “if we are to have this collection of recorded data and recorded materials online, the faculty should have a better understanding of how that can be used and what kind of legal protections we might have in place, and thinking about things like everything from copyright to the dissemination of potentially controversial ideas online. There’s a lot of ways to manipulate these things.”

Bonnie Falcione, co-chair for Educational Policies and faculty member in the School of Medicine, said faculty are concerned that students weren’t being educated on laws surrounding copyright and the dissemination of copyrighted materials.

Multiple students had expressed their disappointment with the ways hybrid and Zoom teaching have been implemented, added Claudia Kregg-Byers, co-chair for the Governmental Relations Committee and faculty member in the School of Nursing.

Senate Council President Robin Kear ended the discussion by reiterating that the goals of these suggestions are to empower faculty to make their own decisions on whether they want their classes recorded and shared.

Donovan Harrell and Marty Levine are staff writers for the University Times. Reach Harrell at dharrell@pitt.edu or 412-383-9905. Reach Levine at martyl@pitt.edu or 412-758-4859.


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