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Exam Proctoring, Creative Teaching, and LMS Update

Published on Fri 08/28/20
Dear Texas A&M Community,

I am writing to update you on three instructional matters: proctoring tools and initiatives, creative solutions for in-person and remote classroom teaching, and the learning management system (LMS) migration to Canvas.

Online Exam Proctoring

After a three-month process, Texas A&M University is entering into a contractual agreement with Honorlock to provide automated plus live pop-in proctoring for online exams. I’d like to thank Dr. Jennifer Whitfield, Assistant Head and Instructional Associate Professor of Mathematics, for chairing the exam administration task force and making recommendations to the Provost. The product will not be available right away, as the university must test and integrate the system while building out training materials for instructors. I would note that Honorlock can be used only within an LMS. At this time, you can choose either eCampus or Canvas. We will have additional updates at the Faculty Senate meeting on September 14.

In addition to the currently-available Respondus Lockdown Browser and the new agreement with Honorlock, the exam administration task force recommended that the university set up its own live online proctoring service using Zoom as a replacement for costly third-party vendors. Dr. `Jon Jasperson, Assistant Dean of Learning Transformation & Academic Technology and Clinical Professor of Business, has agreed to develop and pilot test this initiative with the goal of having live proctoring available by final exams. As you might expect, there are many details to work out, including space, equipment, staffing, scheduling, and logistics. However, I’m optimistic about this project and am confident that `Jon is the person to lead this important work. 

Creativity in the Classroom

We have enjoyed hearing some of the ways our faculty have been creative in teaching their courses, particularly those who have adapted so well to teaching face-to-face with a remote audience. We’d like you to share your stories with us! If you or a colleague have a creative tip to share, please send it to provostcomm@tamu.edu with the subject line TEACHING TIP so that we can share these on our Keep Teaching website. 

LMS Migration 
As most of you know, the university is migrating from eCampus to Canvas. This fall is the first full semester in which instructors could use Canvas as we track toward full implementation of the system by August 2021. Unfortunately, the roll-out of Canvas has not gone as smoothly as we had hoped. We deeply regret a series of cascading events that made utilization so frustrating for some faculty and students during the first week of classes. I will be as transparent as possible: most issues can be tied to staffing, automation, and an aggressive implementation timeline during a pandemic. 

After the issues surfaced last week, the offices of Academic Innovation and Provost IT acted quickly to hire and reallocate staff for the implementation and seek out improved methods of automation. Two LMS specialists began work this week and a third will begin on September 1. Additionally, IT staff are building out a solution that will automate enrollment loads and enrollment changes. Longer term, the goal is to have real-time sync with Howdy via an e-tools solution. To date, much of this had to be done manually. Finally, once add/drop requests are completed at the end of this week, Provost IT will sync the rosters between Canvas and Howdy late Saturday. This should address the enrollment inconsistencies you have experienced thus far. The course combinations have been addressed and are current.

A looming issue is midterm grades. At this time, the technical team hasn’t completed the interface between Canvas and Compass, although completion is expected by mid-October. Midterm grading, however, begins September 28. Therefore, faculty using Canvas will have two options for the submission of midterm grades from September 28 through October 5: (1) direct students to view their midterm grades in Canvas, or (2) manually enter the grades in Howdy for the required students. If the first option is selected, we will load midterm grades from Canvas into Compass when the integration is complete in mid-October. At that time, the grade reports for colleges and departments will be updated. 

Migrating to a new LMS is extremely challenging even in normal times, but doing so in a pandemic has exacerbated the complexity of the implementation. The units that are implementing Canvas are the same units that supported our sudden move to remote instruction in March, implemented our online and remote instruction this summer, provided support for all virtual new student conferences, and prepared classrooms for fall with needed media and technology as well as user training materials. Candidly, our personnel have been stretched thin. Hiring was much more difficult because of travel restrictions, limitations on campus visits, and uncertainty in relocating during this time. 

I am hopeful that significant improvements will be made for Canvas in the near future. However, I also know there is much left to do on an aggressive implementation timeline. I appreciate your patience as we continue working diligently to make the experience positive for faculty, students, and staff. Going forward, if you have students with issues, please direct them to Help Desk Central. Instructors should continue to email aihelp@tamu.edu so that the service ticket can be routed to the appropriate office. 

Thank you for all the work you have done over the summer to prepare your courses for delivery this fall. We will continue to do everything we can from the provost’s office to support you in providing the best education possible as safely as we can.

Sincerely,

Michael T. Stephenson
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs & Strategic Initiatives