COVID Communication: Academic Updates III

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Academic Updates! July has been a crazy month but I hope I may be able to ease your minds on what is lining up for you in the fall term. Without further ado...

Since our last update, many important milestones in our yearly education cycle have passed. Most importantly, course enrollment! As you may have noticed, a lot of your classes have changed to say “online,” and the lab component of your course may be missing. Please do not be alarmed by these things. As we all know, McMaster will remain online in the fall, and if our courses show no lab component, it is likely because your instructor has chosen to offer them asynchronously. In other words, they will be assigned as modules to watch or activities to complete on your own time. If you have any questions regarding the structure of a particular course, I encourage you to email your instructor for more information. It should also be noted that instructors have been encouraged to offer a synchronous-style lecture component. This means that lectures will have set dates and times in accordance with EST/EDT. Instructors have also been asked to record these live lecture sessions so that students living in other timezones or who may encounter tech issues may still be able to learn the material.

Some of you may have heard that the motion to approve the use of proctoring softwares was passed at the university senate recently. Some students may have been exposed to a handful of these proctoring softwares in their summer school courses. These softwares were being piloted to test their utility for university-wide testing applications. To the best of my understanding, the university plans to approve and endorse the use of one specific proctoring software throughout the university.

From simple examination of these proctoring softwares privacy policies, it is quite clear that many of these softwares are quite invasive and collect a concerning amount of data from users that are stored and used in various ways. They may also request an unnecessary level of access/permissions to students’ computers which can leave them susceptible to infection. Please understand that the faculty is well aware of these issues/concerns and have created a task force to ensure that the proctoring software chosen abides by the privacy policies enforced by the university.

It is also important to understand that use of proctoring softwares is optional, and at the discretion of each individual course instructor. Course instructors that choose to use proctoring softwares will be required to include this decision in the course syllabus. Students who do not want to use proctoring softwares for various reasons have the right to drop the course for such reasons. Unfortunately, compulsory courses that are required for graduation will not be waived for these reasons, and must still be completed in order to meet graduation requirements. Students may make an appeal to use an alternative invigilation method upon written request to the faculty if they have good reason. Good reason may include sensitive/confidential information held local on a student’s computer. Objections to the use of proctoring softwares will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and all objections will be documented to inform future assessment choices. More details on the way this process will work are to come.

According to Appendix 6, Section 4.2.3 of the CEAB Accreditation Criteria and Procedures, accreditation is not limited to any one mode of education, so long “Robust systems [are] in place to ensure that the work being assessed is the student’s own work.” This may include the use of recognized centres outside Canada, holding assessments in regional centres, students attending residential courses, and online visual oral assessments. This means that if proctoring softwares are not used, instructors must be able to adequately verify that students are submitting their own genuine work.

Proctoring softwares can sound really scary, and I agree that they each come with their own host of concerns. If it is any consolation, please know that, again, the use of these softwares are optional and at the discretion of the instructor. In addition, note that both the MES and leadership in the Faculty of Engineering intend to discourage the use of proctoring softwares in favour of more gentle yet effective invigilation methods. As students, we are encouraging instructors from all departments and programs to discuss other methods of assessment/invigilation with their colleagues and student stakeholders. Some departments have already made adjustments to their course structure to avoid the use of proctoring softwares, such as replacing exams with more heavily weighted assignments. It is my hope that we can avoid the use of proctoring entirely. In the coming weeks, the MES will be advocating against the use of proctoring softwares within the faculty and possibly the university as a whole. I intend to ask for the support of our program clubs in the writing, support, and distribution of this letter to the faculty. If you are passionate about this issue, please feel free to reach out to me or your program representatives.

For those who have been looking for the tentative midterm schedule for engineering 1, please sit tight! Due to COVID-19 and the start of ENGINEER 1P13 this fall, the calendar is taking longer than usual to be completed. I will be distributing the calendar as soon as it becomes available to me. I will also try to make it available on our website.

Our Mentorship program is picking up speed! Applications for mentors and mentees are now open. We are happy to announce new Mentorship streams in collaboration with NSBE, the B.Tech Association, and our computer science programs. If you are a woman in engineering looking to engage in mentor/mentee relationships with other women in your programs, please consider applying for the Women In Engineering Mentorship Program too!

If there is anything else you are curious about, or if there is something you would like further clarification of, please reach out to me at Also, keep on the lookout for ways to get involved in academics!

All the best,

Andrew D’Elia

VP Academic, McMaster Engineering Society