FSinfo goes digital – Round 2: Student Assembly (summer 2020)

 In Informatics Faculty, Main Page, Student Council

Digitalization has finally reached the faculty student council. About a month after we successfully moved all of our internal meetings to BigBlueButton, just a few hours ago we held the student assembly informatics online for the first time. Apart from a few audio issues, most of it worked out as planned. In total around 370 people followed the event via YouTube (Link) and another 520 people watched via PanOpto (Link). The YouTube view count has since risen to more than 800 views as well. Also 705 users voted 2991 times in our sli.do live polls and asked a total of 239 questions. The open Q&A at the end of the assembly alone went on for about one and a half hours.

 

But enough with viewer statistics. Let us briefly summarize the results from the live polls. (Please note that we do not cover the results from the survey, that was sent out to all informatics students last week, in this article. Some of the results of the survey have however already been covered in the student assembly slides and some of the live polls were based on the preliminary survey results, but the survey is still ongoing and will remain open for now.)

Our first set of polls asked a few questions about which tools are used in current lectures and which ones are the students’ preferred options. All of the options were tools proactively mentioned by students in our survey among all informatics students, which we sent out last week.

With 88% of participants having had a lecture or similar event using BigBlueButton this semester, the open source tool is clearly the most used option in the informatics department. But with 75% Zoom doesn’t lag far behind. When it comes to big livestreams and recordings, 66% of participants have each used TUM.live/RBG-Streams and PanOpto in one of their courses. Both the commercial plattform lecturio, which was only used by about 17% of students, as well as the self-made TeleTeachingTool, which only scored 12%, lag far behind.

Unsurprisingly, the well-established moodle platform continues to be widely used. 81% of participants said that one of their lectures used moodle, while 42% specified that moodle forums are in use. The forum provider Piazza was only used by around 23% of informatics students this semester, and only 20% of students claimed to visit lectures where materials are uploaded to chair websites. About 41% have visited lectures that use ArTEMiS, a tool developed at the chair for applied software engineering, that can be used to provide, submit, and automatically correct various tasks

42% visit a lecture where Tweedback is used, most probably as an additional tool to provide instant-feedback. When we take a look at Chatrooms, which can provide a similar functionality as well as asynchronous communication, it’s a very close call between RocketChat (39%), Slack (38%) and Zulip (36%).

When it comes to the students’ favourite tool for live events in small groups, BigBlueButton is the clear winner with 57% of students preferring this plattform over the others. With 27% in second place there is Zoom, for which a special license has been purchased by TUM last month.

For livestreams of big events, with 48% of students ranking this as their favorite tool, the clear winner is the TUM.live/RBG platform. The next best options are BigBlueButton (19%) and Zoom (10%), which is somewhat surprising, since both of those tools are supposed to be used for small groups with high levels of interaction. 11% ranked YouTube as their favorite option, while around 5% chose PanOpto.

When it comes to asynchronous communication, moodle is the clear winner, with 34% of participants choosing either moodle or moodle forums as their favourite option. The next best options according to the students are Slack (10%) and Piazza (7%).

Anyway, no matter what tools lectures use; one thing has become abundantly clear when looking at the survey results and written feedback: Students want fewer tools! Some even mentioned that a single lecture of theirs uses five different tools to accomplish different tasks. Of course there are very specific tools out there that can only do very specific tasks very well, but for students it’s basically a huge pain in the ass, when they have to use 20 different teaching tools over the course of a week. Of course everyone has their own teaching philosophy, but we highly encourage all lecturers to communicate with each other and coordinate the toolsets used throughout lectures. We have worked together with the lecturers of big lectures from the bachelor program informatics very well, but we simply do not have the capacity to coordinate every single lecture in existence. So please, fellow students: pro-actively talk to your lecturers and make suggestions, so that we can reduce the overall number of tools in use with a common effort. You can of course always refer people to us, in case of specific questions or the need for suggestions. We are always happy to share our experience. Another great resource for ideas and coordination is this wiki entry (Link) that was initiated by Tobias Lasser, who has done a great deal over the last few weeks in order to ensure a somewhat coordinated semester start. It can and should be freely edited and should serve as a place for coordination between lecturers across the whole faculty.

Another thing that was commonly mentioned in the survey are the known data protection issues of some of the tools. Especially the video conferencing platform Zoom causes concern for a lot of people. We have been told numerous times, that TUM has a special contract with Zoom containing special privacy terms. Unfortunately as of today we weren’t able to verify this claim, let alone check if these “special privacy terms” are sufficient, since the TUM management won’t permit us to take a look at the contract. At this point we want to reiterate that we do not care for specific numbers, prices or other business secrets. We only want to see the privacy relevant parts of the contract, in order to be able to classify the situation and protect our fellow students. Especially with a company such as Zoom, that has been known to have issue with privacy and data protection on several fronts, we simply cannot trust a unproven and unverifiable claim that “everything is fine”.

Additionally we have observed a trend, that many lecturers use their own, private Zoom rooms for their lectures instead of the special interface provided by TUM. This is a quite concerning development, since the special privacy terms, whatever they may be, do not apply to those.

 

The second set of polls dealt with issues related to proctored exams. It should be noted that the university management is currently working on changing the APSO (general examination and study regulations) to allow for proctored exams under “special circumstances”. This Thursday there will be a meeting with several representatives of the student council to discuss the planned changes, since there were quite significantly differing positions when the topic was discussed last time. The final decision is scheduled for the next meeting of the Senate.

In the poll it has become pretty clear that most students (56%) think that digital exams provide an unfair advantage over personal exams, while only 11% think that the opposite is the case. We do however understand that the current situation is by no means ordinary and requires unusual measures, that wouldn’t be taken otherwise.

When asked weather we should prioritize creating an option to write exams, even if this means the usual data protection standards cannot be guaranteed, around 33% of students responded that data protection standards must be upheld at all cost, while around 15% wanted to prioritize exams over data protection at all cost. Most of the others thought that it is okay if data protection suffers, as long as proctored exams are voluntary and there is an equal alternative (aside from the lost time) at a later point in time. Around two thirds of the latter thought that the use of personal hardware would be okay, while about one third thought that the University would have provide the hardware in this case.

When it came to the much discussed question whether ungraded exams, which are only awarded “pass” or “fail”, should be considered in this special situation, 56% of students responded that they do in fact prefer ungraded exams. About half of those 56% liked the idea of ungraded exams in general, while the other half would only want the ungraded option for digital exams. About 38% of participants were opposed to the idea of ungraded exams.

 

Another question in the poll dealt with the issue of printed lecture scripts. When asked weather they would make use of an online shop to receive printed lecture scripts via mail, around 32% of students said that they would make use of such a service. It also became clear that a delay of a few weeks wouldn’t be too tragic, since a lot of informatics students don’t use the script to actually take notes but to review the subject a few weeks before the exams. We will definitely look into what we can do, but since we would still need to setup an online shop and payment infrastructure, check some legal details and deal with carriers who don’t take bulk orders at the moment, it would at least take a few weeks until the first lecture notes could be shipped.

We also asked participants how they felt about the survey that we sent out to all informatics students ahead of the student assembly, and received very positive feedback. Around 45% of participants specified they would like to be provided with a lecture-independent survey whenever a new important topic arises, and 44% said they would like to receive a survey on a regular basis (most of which preferred the “once a month” option over “once a semester”). Only around 12% didn’t care or don’t fill out surveys.

 

All of that being said, we are very pleased with how the student assembly turned out and are very thankful for all of the valuable feedback we obtained before and during the event. We have already looked at most responses and will work through the rest in the coming days. The feedback you provided us with is a great basis for our work during this especially challenging semester. So thank you for participating!

On that note we would also like to add that you are very welcome to join us in our quest to improve our study conditions and those of the generation after us. Also, if you have a pressing issue of your own that you want to solve and invest some time in, we are very happy to guide you through the university political structures to achieve your goal. Just send us an email to fsinfo@fs.tum.de or contact one of the representatives in the faculty council or a speaker of the faculty student council directly. 🙂

In case you missed the live event earlier today, you can still watch the recording, which will stay up on YouTube (Link) as well as PanOpto (Link). You can also download the poll results (Link) as well as the slides (Link) to have a look at them yourself. And in case you have any questions that weren’t sufficiently answered during the live event, do not hesitate to send us an email to fsinfo@fs.tum.de or, if you haven’t done so already, participate in our survey regarding online teaching in the coming semester, which will stay open for at least another week. We are here for you! 🙂

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