8/7: Policy and Guidelines for Asynchronous Learning

To: USC Faculty

From: Charles F. Zukoski, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

Date: August 7, 2020

Subject: Policy and Guidelines for Asynchronous Learning

As we prepare for Fall classes and the unique set of challenges they will bring, it is vital that we ensure an inclusive learning environment for all students. One aspect of remote learning that will be new to many of us is managing the needs and expectations of students who are studying at USC while being physically located in countries across the world. Approximately four thousand USC students will be studying from non-US times-zones this Fall, with the majority studying from Asia. As such, it’s important to establish shared principles to support faculty and students as they navigate the remote-learning environment. 

The following policies and recommendations are intended to provide guidance to faculty while also establishing a consistent, campus-wide set of standards for accommodating and responding to some of the common issues that may arise from remote learning. The policies and recommendations apply to teaching both undergraduate and graduate students. We recognize that not all recommendations will be practicable in all situations. 

Please note that, as always, the Center for Excellence in Teaching (CET) is available to support you in your pedagogical needs. Support for international students is also available through USC’s offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and South China, Taiwan, South Korea, India, UK and Europe, Brazil, and Mexico. Additional details and contact information can be found at https://global.usc.edu/global-presence/international-offices/.

Above all, we believe that a strong policy of consistent and open communication with students will be of the utmost importance this semester, and thank you for your efforts in this regard.

Recording Online Classes
For the Fall 2020 semester, USC policy requires that all classes conducted online be recorded for asynchronous viewing with transcriptions made available. Recordings ensure that all classes are ADA compliant, and can be freely accessed at all times by students irrespective of the region or time zone they are studying from. To make this requirement easier for faculty, ITS has set up Zoom to automatically record and transcribe class sessions, which are then made available to students and faculty for all classes in Blackboard. 

As students may be personally identifiable in class recordings via their voice, name, or image, these recordings may be considered “educational records” subject to federal privacy laws (FERPA). However, as long as the recordings are posted to an appropriate class website (such as Blackboard or Zoom) that is accessible only to students enrolled in the class and instructors, TAs, graders, and student services staff members, these recordings are FERPA compliant.

The university recognizes that its faculty have concerns regarding the misuse, inappropriate dissemination, or attempted sale of class recordings, as well the appropriation of intellectual property. As such, faculty should remind students of their responsibilities towards the appropriate use and handling of these recordings under existing SCampus policies regarding class notes (https://policy.usc.edu/files/2020/07/SCampus-Part-C-1.pdf). They should also remind students that they are not permitted to create their own class recordings without the instructor’s permission. Violations of these policies will be met with the appropriate disciplinary sanction. 

Unless faculty request that ITS keep them longer, Zoom recordings will be retained in the cloud until the submission of Fall grades, at which point they will be deleted. 

Information on recording and sharing Zoom recordings, and on Zoom settings, is available on the CET website: http://cet.usc.edu/online-teaching/.

Camera Policy
Acknowledging that class dynamics are substantially compromised without the ability to see the people in class, faculty can set an expectation that students have their cameras on during synchronous online sessions. However, some students may be facing challenging situations, such as internet connectivity, illness, or home environments that make this difficult or impossible. To alleviate these concerns, faculty can encourage students to use virtual backgrounds, which will eliminate most privacy concerns, and earphones or headsets to improve audio quality. While faculty are at liberty to create a “camera-on” policy in their class, they should communicate that accommodations are available to students who contact them directly with reasonable requests.  

Class Participation and Attendance in Synchronous Sessions
Remote learning, paired with the fact that USC students are spread across time zones, presents a number of challenges related to attendance and participation in synchronous class sessions. 

In general, students should plan to attend every synchronous session for the classes in which they are enrolled, irrespective of when it occurs in their time zone.

However, faculty should only maintain normal attendance, participation, and assessment expectations for students when the class time falls within reasonable learning hours in the student’s time zone, defined as 7:00am to 10:00pm in the student’s time zone. If the class falls outside those hours, accommodations should be extended. A reference table indicating the time differences between Los Angeles and various geographic regions from which USC draws students can be found here. Please note that these time differences may change slightly around late October/early November as some countries observe daylight saving while others do not.

Faculty should develop policies around attendance and participation for each class that are sensitive to the challenges of remote learning. These should be clearly communicated to students in the syllabus and at the start of the semester. In almost all cases, this will mean allowing asynchronous learning accommodations when a student cannot attend live sessions. 

The setting and implementation of asynchronous attendance policies are the responsibility of the instructor of record. When formulating policies, faculty should consider: 

  • What is the relationship between synchronous participation and successful understanding of the class content?;
  • If a student cannot participate in a synchronous component, can they still successfully complete the learning objectives set for the class without any grade penalty by reviewing recordings, completing homework or assignments, or completing an alternative asynchronous activity?;
  • For group work and collaborative projects: Is it necessary for students to be present during a synchronous session to participate? Could the use of asynchronous tools, such as discussion boards, google docs, or google slides be used as an alternative to live collaboration? Faculty should encourage students to be cognizant of any potential times zone challenges within their collaborative group, and make reasonable arrangements to be inclusive of all group members.

Wherever possible, faculty should offer students facing attendance and participation issues an alternative way to complete the learning objectives for the class.

Class rosters for the Fall semester will contain a field containing each student’s home country. At the beginning of the semester, faculty should review this with their students to ensure that the information it contains is correct. Alternatively, faculty can poll students as to the time zone from which they are studying. This will assist in setting and evaluating expectations related to participation. 

Time Zone Accommodations
Students facing obstacles to their learning as a result of time zone differences should be accommodated by the faculty according to the following general guidelines:

  • Faculty should consider the hours from 7:00am to 10:00pm, in the local time zone for each student, as reasonable times for students to attend synchronous sessions or engage in synchronous learning activities or assessments. A reference table indicating the time differences between Los Angeles and various geographic regions from which USC draws students can be found here. Please note that these time differences may change slightly around late October/early November as some countries observe daylight saving while others do not;
  • All major assessments and exams should be scheduled such that students have the opportunity to complete the assessment between 7:00am and 10:00pm in their time zone. If this requires rescheduling an exam session or adding a second session, faculty should make every effort to accommodate the impacted students; 
  • For class activities falling outside the time window for reasonable participation, faculty should:
    • Clearly communicate to impacted students, at the beginning of the course and in the syllabus, which components of the course must be completed synchronously and which can be fulfilled asynchronously;
    • Have a clearly articulated policy for allowing students to make up for missed synchronous sessions due to time-zone issues; 
  • Faculty should schedule some office hours during times that accommodate students in alternate time zones. If students live in time zones that don’t allow reasonable office hour adjustments, faculty should offer an alternative method of communication that will emulate the personal interaction students would receive during office hours;
  • USC’s nine international offices can serve as additional support to faculty and students during these special times. Faculty may refer students or contact offices directly if on-the-ground assistance is needed where we have a presence. 

I appreciate the hard work done by the members of the Asynchronous Policy Committee. Thank you to committee chair Andrew Stott and members Ginger Clark, Laura Ferguson, Ramandeep Randhawa, Michael Renov, Paulo Rodrigues, Gordon Stables, and Gaurav Sukhatme.

cc: Office of the President

Academic Deans

President’s Senior Leadership Team

Provost’s Leadership Team

Academic Senate

Staff Assembly

GSG President

USG President