The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

Credit: Felicity Yick

Though students have so far applauded the University's first-ever virtual class shopping period, some professors have opted out of the program entirely, citing privacy concerns about recorded class sessions.

The virtual shopping period, which will take place until Sept. 15, gives undergraduate students access to courses’ Canvas pages as an "observer" through Penn InTouch, which allows them to view published materials such as assignment titles, syllabi, and recorded class sessions. Students, overall, have found the access to Canvas pages useful in determining whether to enroll in classes, but not all classes' Canvas pages are available, as class material access is up to the discretion of the professor.

Engineering first-year Andrea Urdaneta used the shopping period to access the Canvas page for LING 071: Introduction to American Sign Language and MATH 114: Calculus II, both of which she ended up adding to her schedule after viewing the syllabus and previewing the assignments.

“The information I needed to make the choice of whether I should or shouldn’t [take the class] was there,” Urdaneta said.

Through the virtual shopping period, Engineering first-year Nisha Shah was also able to look through the MATH 114 Canvas page, watch a recorded Zoom session, and join a synchronous class session after getting permission from the professor. Shah said she decided to enroll in the course due to the expanded access provided by the virtual shopping period and professor.

Students must request permission from instructors to attend synchronous online class sessions, and granting such permission is entirely at the discretion of the instructor, according to an email sent to School of Arts and Sciences faculty.

Not all professors, however, are allowing students to shop for their courses through the shopping period on Penn InTouch. 

Math professor Henry Towsner said he is not permitting students to participate in the virtual shopping period for his courses MATH 340: Discrete Mathematics and MATH 570: Introduction to Logic and Computability due to concerns about student privacy.

Towsner said that while he generally wants to support students using the virtual shopping period, he did not want the recordings of his classes’ synchronous meetings to be available for all undergraduate students to view.

“I really want [class recordings] to be restricted to our class, so that they can be comfortable asking questions, speaking out, and talking about things,” Towsner said.

After disallowing students from accessing his Canvas page through Penn InTouch, he said three students interested in taking his class reached out to him and he has since allowed them to become “full observers” of the course, which grants them full access to the Canvas page and synchronous classes. 

Towsner said that making students “full observers” of the course rather than simply "observers" through the virtual shopping period offers an experience more similar to the in-person shopping period. Students who visit Canvas pages through the virtual shopping period are not "full observers," and must still request permission to synchronous classes, according to the email to SAS faculty. 

Urdaneta said that while she understands the general privacy concerns students and professors may have, she is not concerned about students having access to recordings of any of the classes in which she is currently enrolled. 

Shah agreed, adding that privacy is not a concern for her because Zoom notifies participants when the call is being recorded, which allows students the opportunity to turn off their cameras and microphones, and ask questions in the chat if they are uncomfortable being recorded.

Although the Provost's Office does not currently have plans for the virtual shopping period to be extended beyond fall 2020, Shah said she would like to have access to courses' Canvas pages for future semesters, citing the usefulness of previewing a course's syllabus and assignments before officially registering for the course.

"You should sit in [classes] in person if that's an option [for upcoming semesters], but having access to Canvas would be helpful," Shah said.

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.