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SU President Frank Finley speaks out at SLC on test-taking in an online learning environment

By Cristina Paolozzi, February 27 2021—

At the Feb. 23 Student Legislative Council (SLC) meeting, Students’ Union President Frank Finley spoke out about the advocacy work he’s been conducting — ensuring students are able to complete online exams on D2L with the same flexibility as in-person exams. Currently, students may only be able to see one question at a time, and students are not able to see the whole exam, preventing them from starting with questions they feel stronger on, or attempting different parts of the exam in different orders. Some students are also unable to check back on answers they’ve completed once they’ve submitted a question. 

In an interview with the Gauntlet, Finely expressed some of the concerns he’s had with the university’s response to something he believes is a huge stress on students. 

“This is causing huge stress while students are doing their best to complete these exams,” he said. “Further, this goes against all fair recommendations for how students should try to take exams. For example, the university has recommended in the past that when students start something like a midterm, that they take a moment to evaluate the entire exam, that they should feel free to do it out of sequential order.

“Imagine being a student, opening up your exam, not knowing how long it was, not knowing how to budget your time efficiently and not being able to re-check your answers. It causes huge stress,” reiterated Finley, in an environment where students are already on edge taking an exam.

Finley has been working to try and implement some changes to the way students are able to take their tests online. When asked what steps he had taken to bring this advocacy to action, Finley listed numerous committees and university administration members that he has been in consultation with. 

Finley outlined that he brought his concerns to the Academic Planning and Priorities Committee (APPC), twice, Student and Enrollment Services (SES) and the Academic Crisis Management team. He’s taken this directly to Dr. Leslie Ried, vice-provost teaching and learning, Dr. Dru Marshall, provost of the University of Calgary and to Dr. Ed McCauley, president of the university. Finley noted that he does not usually bring issues of an academic nature to McCauley and their meeting wherein he voiced these concerns was fairly recent.

“What I’m asking for, in all of these discussions, is an explicit academic regulation that prevents this feature on D2L being used,”  said Finely. 

“When I started pushing for this, I expected that people would say, ‘Oh my goodness, what a horrible issue, we didn’t know this is happening, let us correct course here.’ That has not been what has happened. The recommendation from many people in the institution is that we put this as an academic recommendation in documents that academic staff use to help them create exams.” 

Finley maintains that this suggestion is not enough. He provided the statements that the university has used in response to this issue — one of which suggests that changes to exam procedures could lead to an increase in cheating rings at the university. Finely states that this does not prevent cheating rings, arguing that it could make cheating more difficult, only because it makes the exam more difficult. 

“You are penalizing all students who are just doing their best with these sorts of exams out of possible fear that somebody maybe could cheat.”

Finley also revealed that when pressing people in the institution as to how prevalent cheating rings are at the University of Calgary, the response he received lacked depth and clarity. 

“The exact response was, ‘there have been many concerns,’ which does not give me a lot of evidence to go off of. I’m not denying that these things are happening, but I’m saying that sometimes it’s easy to get ourselves in a moral panic and end up hurting every other student in the process,” says Finley. 

Another of the university’s concerns states that there would be changes to academic regulation in the middle of a semester. Finely responded by saying that students are paying large amounts of money to attend university, only to have exams given in an environment that causes students to break down and negatively affect student performance. 

“We are not asking for the moon, we are asking a very reasonable question,” he said.

With only two more months in office as SU president, Finley maintains that he will keep pushing to see these changes enacted for students at the university. 

“This process should have been fixed in the week when I brought it up. I will not stop pushing, but this needs to be resolved ASAP,” Finley remarked. 

While there are members of the institution who aren’t against the idea of creating better testing environments through D2L, “the processes aren’t happening the way I’d like them to,” Finley concluded. 

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