As the world works to adjust to the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, JMU’s Honor Council is taking steps to uphold the expectations instilled in the Honor Code, even while students are away from campus.
With the university’s decision to transfer to online classes for the remainder of the semester, professors and faculty are working to ensure students still have the best education possible, even while outside the classroom.
After a week for faculty to prepare for the transition, JMU announced on March 18 that all classes will be moved online due to COVID-19.
Audrey Burnett, associate professor and Honor Council Coordinator, has been especially involved in the Honor Council’s involvement in this transition. Because the process was largely an online one before, she said, not much will change when reporting an Honor Code violation. Burnett said that because of the nature of students being away from campus, any violation hearings will be postponed until the fall semester, when an in-person meeting can be held.
“We still expect the JMU Honor Code to be upheld by students and will deal with any academic violations according to the Honor Code and the current procedures that are in place,” Burnett said.
Burnett also said that the Honor Council will continue to uphold the values of the university as it always has.
While the Honor Council has made necessary adjustments, such as waiting until the Fall semester to hold an in-person hearing for violations, professors are also working to uphold the Honor Code under these new circumstances.
Eric Fife, professor and director of the School of Communications Studies, and Melissa Alemán, communications studies professor, are continuing to sustain the Honor Code in their classes.
Fife said he foresees some challenges within his own classes, as he can no longer see what his students are doing during online quizzes. He said he’s implemented a few strategies, such as timed quizzes and randomized question order, to make the possibility of cheating more difficult.
“I have a colleague who asked students to sign an Honor Code statement prior to a quiz, just as a reminder of its importance,” Fife mentioned. “All of us take the Honor Code very seriously.”
For Alemán, she said not too much has changed because her tests have always had an “open note and book” structure. Her tests are also timed, which drives students to prepare beforehand.
“So much learning happens in the preparation for the exam and in the working through the study guide itself,” Alemán said. “I see nothing lost in my courses in allowing students to use those notes while taking the exam, and the timed nature of the test adds a layer of accountability for the preparation.”
With COVID-19, Alemán said, she’s also taken some steps in adjusting her classroom policies to help her students through this time.
“When we work to mitigate students’ feelings of being overwhelmed, create communities of care and support in our online classes, and build in policies and practices that recognize that students may have quite different sets of circumstances at home, as faculty, we can foster learning cultures that cultivate our honor code,” Alemán said.
Alemán said policy changes can help. For example, she’s adjusted her late work policy to alleviate some stress on students and give additional time to work on assignments.
“During any given regular semester, I have a late work policy in which students may turn in one assignment 48-hours late, no questions asked and no penalties,” Alemán said. “Once we moved online, I extended that late policy to all class assignments. As faculty, we need to be flexible right now.”
Fife said he’s encouraged by his students and is confident the Honor Code can still be upheld in the same way.
“Ultimately, the students are responsible for the Honor Code, and I generally trust my students,” Fife said. “I fully expect our students to continue to uphold the Honor Code, even under these very difficult circumstances. It still matters a great deal, just as much as it always has, and I think they know that.”
During this time of adjustment to a temporary new way of life, faculty and professors ultimately are encouraging students to stay safe and healthy above all else, and to reach out with any concerns and stresses.
Alemán emphasized that everyone — faculty and students alike — is feeling overwhelmed by not only the altered state of learning, but also by the pandemic itself and its impacts it has on each individual’s life.
“Frankly, right now, I’m most concerned about my students’ health and well-being and am doing my best to create an environment where they can have a positive and meaningful learning experience in less than ideal circumstances,” Alemán said. “For me, part of this means communicating trust in our students. Doing this gives me hope.”
Contact Eleanor Weber at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.