By Briana Brady, Opinion Editor-

As UTC has made the decision to switch to online learning through the conclusion of the Spring 2020 semester amidst the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), many students are asking how grading procedures may or may not change to accommodate the evolving circumstances surrounding learning. Colleges and universities nationwide are grappling with what the switch to online learning entails for students in varying fields; many institutions are considering or have already made the switch to a pass/fail or similar grading system to try to account for the inconsistencies in learning that will result from the navigation of these unchartered educational waters.

For example, at Grinnell College, the switch to S/D/F (their version of pass/fail) is optional. Students can opt-in to the new grading system without facing any penalty regarding progress made towards obtaining their degree.

“Expanded access to the S/D/F grade mode aims to reduce student stress during this already-stressful time, while still providing a pathway to fulfill program and degree requirements,” Grinnell’s webpage explains.

At Smith College, however, the switch to S/U (their version of pass/fail) is mandatory.

Their reasoning is put in this way: “We changed this semester’s grades to S/U to recognize the extraordinary character of current circumstances. As we move instruction into alternative modes, we are necessarily changing our agreements about expectations and assessments. In a new and unfamiliar environment, we cannot hold faculty and students to expectations constructed in and for a different instructional experience.”

The college is also considering the implementation of an altered spring schedule that would revise the end date for the semester’s courses.

Taking into account the varying student experiences this switch to online learning will induce, I think UTC should consider making the option of pass/fail one available to students. Not all UTC students will have equal access to technology from home, some students will be trying to balance work with school in new and unprecedented ways, and with school being out, some students will have children to take care of while trying to continue their studies. Ultimately, not everyone will have the same opportunities for focused learning and thus, perhaps some grading leniency should be taken into account during these extraordinary times.

While no one has all the answers, if we all do what we can to try to ease the load for others, show each other grace, and recognize the circumstances each of us face, we’ll undoubtedly be better off than if we choose the alternative.

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