As online exams approach, UNC community members offer advice, recognize compromise need

As online exams approach, UNC community members offer advice, recognize compromise need

Read in The Daily Tar Heel 4/6/20

As students and staff are beginning their third week of virtual learning, many are wondering how final exams might be adjusted for COVID-19 social distancing. 

“You don’t have the more-or-less controlled environment that you have in the classroom,” clinical psychology professor Jon Abramowitz said. 

Abramowitz said he has been focused on research this semester, but he recognizes the difficult circumstances that students might be facing in quarantine. As a result, he said, students might have trouble focusing on studying. 

“If they’ve had a difficult time adjusting to things, if they’re a little bit more anxious than normal, a lot of people are having problems with anxiety and depression and loneliness,” Abramowitz said. “That can cause stress as well.”

Abramowitz said there is no reason to suspect that online final exams are going to increase stress across the board. It really depends on individual circumstances, he said. 

English professor Marc Cohen said he has some advice for students as they plan for remote exams. 

“This is not a local problem, this is an international health crisis,” he said. “There is not a person or employer on this earth that isn’t going to know about the circumstances that we’re facing. I think people should not hesitate to take advantage of a pass-fail option if they feel like it’s necessary.”

Cohen said good communication between professors and students is important. He said he urges students to complete assigned readings and attend review sessions if they are able for extra support. 

Abramowitz said it might be more challenging to review complex course material without in-person interaction. 

“If students don’t understand the material, they have to reach out, ” he said.  “And we know that some students are uncomfortable emailing professors. That can create an extra barrier. It’s important for professors to make known that they are available even if they can’t meet face-to-face.”

Cohen said he is following University guidelines to modify both the assignments and final exam for his class. As a faculty member, he said, it is not possible to proctor or time exams as usual.

“Some students can’t be on the internet for the hours to complete an exam,” he said. 

As a result, Cohen said he modified his final exam to only cover one book. He said he hopes this final exam system will be successful. 

UNC senior Oreyane Tate is the president of Xcel Advising Program for Minorities in STEM, a program rooted in supporting underrepresented students in pursuit of STEM careers. Tate is also a peer tutor at the UNC Learning Center in STEM subjects. 

Although many of the program’s spring semester events have been canceled, Tate said he is still helping to organize peer mentor Zoom calls and trying to offer guidance to students at home. 

“My advice as students are approaching final exams remotely is to continue to believe in themselves,” Tate said. “They have the means to overcome this obstacle. We’re in this together.”

Students should also look to use YouTube and online notes and videos from instructor to review class material, Tate said. Still, he said he understands the difficulty of a new learning environment — especially in anticipation of final exams. 

“I’m sure a lot of students are feeling like they have to learn this information independently,” he said. “They had help and instruction in class, but now it can all feel very overwhelming. All the home and family circumstances — they are now having to balance out. I would tell them to continue to be confident that they will thrive through this.”

Abramowitz said he recognizes that students and faculty both might have a history of anxiety and depression, or might be worried about sick friends and relatives. He said he hopes people in the UNC community will be compassionate. 

“Flexibility is important,” he said. “We don’t know where we’re going. This is challenging to students and faculty. People should keep in mind that the faculty is figuring this out just as much as students are.”

Abramowitz said there will be assignments and objectives that are not reasonable or possible for online class. 

“I don’t think it’s right to just go back to teaching,” he said. 

Cohen said it is best to assume good intentions from both students and professors. Professors, he said, are trying under high pressure circumstances to fulfill learning objectives and have sympathy. 

Cohen said everyone is making compromises. 

“I want to encourage students to be kind to themselves — to acknowledge that they’re under tremendous pressure,” he said. “Perfection is something that is not possible to achieve in circumstances like this.”