March 25: Intellectual Property & Privacy, Final Exams, Course Evals & More

TO: Deans of Colleges & Schools
DATE: March 25, 2020
RE: Advice on several issues

Monday was an extraordinary day for Duke. Our faculty and students showed great fortitude and flexibility in facing an unprecedented set of challenges. The first day was remarkably successful. While we are confident that we will complete the semester, we know you will need to expend significant additional effort to make the academic experience meaningful and intentional for students. We thank you in advance for all you have done and all you will do.

Our collective academic response must be guided by four guiding principles: excellence, continuity, community and resilience. Towards these goals, we write to offer guidance on four academic policy issues that have arisen in the early days of our remote teaching effort.

Class Sessions

Faculty members have asked about adjusting class times to accommodate students in various time zones. We advise against this and strongly urge instructors to hold synchronous class meetings at the regularly scheduled class time. Instructors are welcome to add optional discussion sections to accommodate students, but these should be additional, not substitutive of, originally scheduled sessions. We urge this shared understanding in order to avoid scheduling conflicts with student commitments to synchronous participation in other courses. At the same time, students should be responsible for the content of synchronous sessions – either by participating live, by viewing later, or both. But we urge faculty to not require that students participate live, as some students may face challenges due to technology, connectivity, time zones, and other unforeseen access issues. Live class sessions can easily be recorded and viewed by students at alternate times. (You can find instructions here for recording Zoom sessions.)

Intellectual Property and Privacy

Questions have arisen about the privacy and intellectual property implications of recorded class sessions. The same policies apply on campus and online. The Duke Policy on Intellectual Property Rights in the Faculty Handbook (Appendix P) “reaffirms [the university’s] traditional commitment to the personal ownership of intellectual property rights in works of the intellect by their individual creators…” The policy further states that “recording of lectures may only be done with the permission of the instructor presenting the lecture.” It also limits what students may do with such recordings: “Student recording of lectures, when permitted by the instructor, shall be for private study only. Such recordings shall not be distributed to anyone else without authorization by the instructor whose lecture has been recorded…. Unauthorized distribution is a cause for disciplinary action by the Judicial Board.” Faculty should remind students of these policies. Finally, note that faculty may delete recordings at the end of the semester, or can focus their teaching on lower-tech instructional methods that do not require audiovisual recording.

Final Exams

Faculty have much discretion over the mechanisms used to evaluate student understanding of their course content. Importantly, we are not looking to restrict that discretion. At the same time, it is important that faculty understand that we do not have the technology to remotely proctor final exams in a manner that would mimic the monitored experience in a campus classroom. This is particularly true for classes with large enrollments. In addition, we have considerable heterogeneity in the circumstances under which our students are studying. Some may be in spaces with ample physical space and Internet bandwidth, others may be in cramped quarters with multiple people and limited Internet access.

With these challenges in mind, we have spoken with a number of colleagues at other universities and wanted to share some ideas including: substituting a paper or project for a final exam; developing open-book, open-note exams; avoiding highly time-constrained exams; and creating an option for students to base their course grade on work completed up to the final exam.

If an exam is required, we recommend the following:

  • Design it as an open-book, open-note exam that students can complete within a standard 3-hour window. To account for internet speed and bandwidth issues, we suggest adding at least one hour to the estimated time required for completion (e.g., for an exam expected to take 1 hour, provide 2 hours for completion). Remind students explicitly that the time allotted includes the time to upload the completed exam.
  • Exams should be available asynchronously just as with the classes. In particular, it may be difficult for all students to take the final exam during a given 3-hour exam time, due to issues with time zones, complications with home lives, etc. The window of time the exam is available should provide for flexibility on these dimensions.
  • Exams need not be scheduled for a specific time, but can be “floating” so that students can elect when to download, complete and upload the exam. Specifically, the exam tool within Sakai allows you to set the window of time that the exam is available for students. You may then independently set a time limit for the exam—i.e., the amount of time the student has to complete the exam once they have downloaded it. For example, students might be a given a 48-hour interval during which they may select the best 3-hour window to take the exam.
  • Students should be reminded of the Duke Community Standard when the exam is provided. (This can be enabled in Sakai Tests & Quizzes and Assignments to require acknowledgment of the honor code before beginning the exam.)
  • Please also see the recommendations for assignments on the Keep Teaching website:

Course Evaluations

We will proceed as normal with course evaluations for the semester. However, each faculty member will have the right to include (or not include) these evaluations for any purpose such as tenure, promotion, annual review, etc. The reason for gathering course evaluation data is straightforward: everyone can learn from this experience. Collecting the information and providing the feedback on their course to faculty is essential to learning from this experience. It is also important to recognize that because remote teaching requires different skills and communication styles, some faculty may shine in remote teaching who might not shine in a traditional classroom setting. These faculty deserve to receive this positive feedback from their students. We plan to expand the “free form” comments on the course evaluation template to be able to capture more nuanced feedback from students.

We know this is an extremely trying time for everyone, and we are very grateful for the fortitude and resilience our faculty have brought to this situation.


Sally Kornbluth, Provost
Jennifer Francis, Executive Vice Provost
Gary Bennett, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education