Two ideas that are discussed widely today are online learning and justice. When looking at these two ideas together it leads to the question of what rights do students have online?
Fortunately, one group has attempted to address this question. ProctorU has proposed a seven-point student bill of rights for online students. This bill of rights provides a framework for discussing this topic. It is not necessary to agree with every point that ProctorU makes. Instead, it is better to consider this as laying the groundwork for a deeper discussion. ProctorU’s framework covers such topics as teaching, academic dishonesty, privacy, and data collection. Below are the seven points.
- Have your questions answered
- Have your work presumed to be honest and accurate
- Expect compliance with all privacy laws and policies
- Review and understand policies protecting you and your work
- Review and understand policies keeping others from disadvantaging you
- Understand data collection, retention, and dissemination
- Expect that data collection to be specific and limited
Taken from ProctorU. Student Bill of Rights for Remote and Digital Work. https://studenttestingrights.org/
We will look at the points below. Rather than examine each one individually we will group them on the following topics: teaching, academic dishonesty, and privacy.
The first point of the Student Bill of Rights deals with asking questions. Answering questions is related to communication between students and teacher. In online learning, teachers must communicate quickly as this establishes presence in the online context.
Communication is a trait of excellent teaching both in the online context and in the traditional teaching format. Other examples of excellent teaching include providing clear, well-planned lessons, and reflection. In general, students have a right to teaching that does not cause confusion.
Students expect their teachers to provide excellence even if the students do not always show the same commitment. ProctorU has made the claim that answering questions is a right for online students which means that educators need to take notice.
Points 2, 4, and 5 of the Student Bill of Rights deal with ideas related to academic dishonesty. Academic dishonesty is a major headache in online teaching. Plagiarism and copy/paste, sharing work, etc. are just some of the problems found.
Point 2 of the student bill of rights implies that the work students do is done ethically. However, academic dishonesty is so common that this assumption seems misplaced. Despite this, the teacher is the one who needs to prove that academic dishonesty has taken place
Points 4 and 5 are related to procedural justice. Students have a right to review their school’s policies and know that they are not at a disadvantage compared to their peers. If students think a course is unfair they may justify academic dishonesty to make the course “fair.” To provide an extreme example, if a teacher demands that students memorize 500 words many students would consider that unreasonable and resort to cheating to pass the class.
Lastly, point 5 explains that students who cheat have an advantage over those who do not. Therefore, the teacher has a responsibility to maintain the fairness of the learning environment.
There are ways to reduce the temptation for students to cheat or commit other forms of academic dishonesty. For example, explaining the expectations of assessments is critical to helping students. When developing an online assessment a teacher should be aware of the course objectives, the type of assessment (formative or summative), the process or product focus of the assessment, and whether students will work alone or with others. It is also important to consider the technology needed for the assignment as students may not have the needed technology or lack the skill in using it
It is also critical that all directions are written down and available for the students to look at when needed. There are several things to consider after students complete an assessment. If the students did poorly, it is necessary to reteach the content. However, anyone who has taught online knows how difficult it is to change the content found in the learning management system. One way to address the need for reteaching online is to leave the original activities the same but add additional material for reviewing while also allowing students to retake a quiz or other minor assessment until mastery is achieved. Adding material is easier than rearranging in many circumstances. Providing these opportunities to fix past mistakes is one example of fairness and could discourage academic dishonesty
Points 3, 6, and 7 all deal with privacy and data collection. Within the United States, several laws explain the school’s responsibility for data protection. For example, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) provides protection for students’ privacy concerning academic data, immunizations, and special needs, also known as personally identifiable information (PII). Upon turning 18, even parents must receive consent from their own child to access the child’s educational records. During the pandemic and the explosion in online learning, the Department of Education provides clarifications about FERPA.
Another law related to privacy is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). COPPA is a law in the United States that controls how websites gather data on minors under the age of 13 (Federal Trade Commission, 2013). For educators who may work at the K12 level and or get involved in private industry or non-profit work, it is important to be aware of this as online classes often point students to various websites, and an out-of-compliance website could cause problems.
The Teach Act defends the right of students to learn from copyrighted materials. The Teach Act explains that it is okay for schools to use copyrighted material in traditional or online teaching without prior permission. What this means, as an example, is that a teacher could upload a video and allow students to watch it. A law like this protects an online student’s right to learn.
There are also laws internationally outside the United States that protect a student’s privacy. For example, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides tough restrictions on the use and sharing of data. What makes this law unique is that it applies not only in Europe but to any institution that has business or students in Europe.
Students have rights and teachers and institutions need to be aware of them. It is more than likely that laws on privacy will become more stringent as people look to protect themselves online.