Penn professors who post recorded lectures on Canvas through the video platform Panopto can track whether students have watched their lectures and see if students are able to keep up with the class amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Some professors say they do not use the tracking feature to take graded attendance but rather to check in on students who are not regularly viewing the lectures. Rather than finding the feature invasive or upsetting, some students see it as a fair way for professors to ensure students are engaged in the course.
Wharton management professor Mauro Guillén teaches MGMT 198, Epidemics, Natural Disasters, and Geopolitics: Managing Global Business and Financial Uncertainty, which covers the implications of the coronavirus outbreak on global business. Guillén said the online course, which began after spring break, includes a record-breaking 2,050 students from all graduate schools and all four undergraduate schools.
Guillén said he looks at viewership of the videos but does not penalize students' grades for not doing so. He said if he notices a student is consistently not viewing the lectures, he will contact them to make sure they do not fall behind in the course.
Guillén added, however, he does not view the feature as particularly different from how he would view an in-person class.
“In class, you can see who has come to class. However, there's no guarantee that people are paying attention, and the same goes online,” Guillén said. “Online, everybody leaves a digital footprint, so you can track who's connected and not, but that doesn't mean that they're paying attention.”
Rather than grading attendance through video viewership, he tries to engage students in other ways such as taking questions during live course sessions on video conferencing platform BlueJeans, Guillén added.
Wharton first-year Ari Portal, who is enrolled in MGMT 198, said he thinks the tracking feature on Canvas is reasonable.
“It’s kind of a proxy for attendance,” Portal said. “We have the ability to listen whenever we want. We can listen to it later on double speed. We have that convenience, so I feel like it's only fair that they can track [viewership].”
Associate Director of Undergraduate Mathematics and Senior Lecturer Nakia Rimmer said he lectures MATH 114: Calculus II live on Zoom and also posts recordings on Canvas. Rimmer said he does not check to see who has viewed the lecture recordings but that approximately half to 75% of the class typically attends the live Zoom lecture. Rimmer said he chose to conduct live lectures to replicate the in-person class as much as possible.
College sophomore Emilie Dávila said Chemistry 241: Principles of Organic Chemistry professor Marisa Kozlowski has posted messages on Canvas reminding students to view the lectures, as many students had not done so, and that she wanted 100% viewership. Dávila added that Kozlowski also recommended viewing the lectures on a normal class schedule to prevent binge watching.
Dávila said her friend in the course had received an email from Kozlowski which read that the student had not been watching the lectures recently and asked if there was a situation preventing the student from accessing the videos.
Kozlowski is not using the tool to penalize students' grades but to ensure that students are on top of material and staying engaged, Dávila added.
“I think it puts a little more pressure on you to be up to date,” Dávila said. “I think, in a way, it's good if [professors] are doing it without a penalty and just letting you know to keep up with it, just because they don't want you to miss the material.”