The reality of the Pass/Fail Option and online classes

Kaitlyn Wilkes • Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Yasmeen Khalifa

“We're doing the work to make it look like we're taking care of our students, but if you actually dig into it, doesn't feel like we are.” This comes from a concerned faculty member who recently reached out to The Patriot Talon concerned that students don’t truly understand the Pass/Fail option they have been given for their grades. They asked to remain anonymous.

“Faculty did receive a survey . . . ‘Please rank your preferred choice,’” the staff member said in a phone interview. “You ranked them, and you gave a little bit of a rationale, [and] the last question was, ‘if you had to pick one [grading option] for the whole university, what would you choose?’ The whole process besides that survey was super unclear.”

According to this staff member, when the email was sent out to the students, the Pass/Fail descriptions “were not the same” as the email originally sent to the faculty.

Students were told that if they have questions about their grades or about Pass/Fail, they should ask their professors. However, since the plan was not made clear to the staff, and they were not given any additional information about the new grading process, they “[didn’t] know what . . . to tell these students.”

“[They were] just trying to make sense of it so [they] could tell [their] students,” the faculty member said. “It seems like, unfortunately, everyone has the same information, and no one knows how to help.”

In addition, it seems that students may not be fully aware of the effects of changing their grades to Pass/Fail.

“Grad schools could potentially hold students responsible for making it Pass/Fail,” the faculty member said. Grad schools may see this Pass/Fail as a “C,” a grade just above failing. If it were a mandatory Pass/Fail, however, it would be a different story.

Students aren’t the only ones who face challenges with this new change. If a student decides to change their grades to Pass/Fail after grades have already come out, an administrative assistant must change the grade. This creates a lot of excess work for administrative assistants.

The faculty member also explained the problems they have been facing with the staff town halls being online.

“[Faculty members are] posing these questions at the town hall, and it’s like no one wants to answer the questions,” they said. They elaborated by saying they have posed questions at two different town halls, but no one seemed to have an answer or wanted to answer the questions.

According to this faculty member, some of the professors have suggested that since some students don’t have access to reliable Wi-Fi, there should be a Wi-Fi hotspot map of the UT Tyler parking lots given to students. Students would use this map so they can park on campus and log into Zoom classes or turn in assignments from their vehicles.

“Some students might feel uncomfortable with that,” they said. “You never know who’s at high risk. I brought up, ‘guys we’re in a shelter in place,’ and they just ignored it.”

In the amended stay-at-home order detailed on the Smith County website, one clause states, “Nothing in this Amended Order shall restrict the school-related activities of any college, university, public, private, or charter school, or any homeschool association, including without limitation the delivery or pick-up of meals, supplies, or homework supplies.”

Thus, students are permitted to be on campus grounds for essential resources. However, students who don’t live in Smith County may have different stay-at-home orders. In addition, not all students who attend UT Tyler can feasibly drive to a UT Tyler parking lot to attend class or submit an assignment.

There is more to the Pass/Fail option than what appears on the surface. There are disadvantages for students. On the UT Tyler website coronavirus FAQ, there are multiple sections about grades and Pass/Fail. The questions include how to determine if your grade is passing, how final exams will happen and what the timeline for the Pass/Fail option is. Many of the answers to these questions reference a pros and cons chart for the Pass/Fail option. The answer to the question “If I’m not comfortable with my grades, what should I do?” refers to the chart. There are only four pros and nine cons, which is definitely something to take into consideration.

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