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I will be teaching higher-level math classes in a Texas community college this coming Summer semesters. I will be using the same platform that I have been using for this Spring semester since the shutdown, e.i, Webex video conferencing. I am quite happy with this choice of technology as I and my students are able to engage effectively in both directions.

To be sure, at the beginning of semester I will tell my students categorically that even though they are attending the class from the comfort of their bedrooms, but they have to follow certain codes of good behaviors. For example, they have to dressed up appropriately, to remove any offensive artifacts or sensitive personal items that might cause others to feel uncomfortable, to use only blank wall as backdrop, etc. All of these will also be stated in the syllabus.

However, my department is still concerned about the liability that might incur since accidentally I might have visual access to my students' personal belongings. In connection therefore, I am thinking of requiring my students to sign a waiver form addressing to the issue. Do you, by chance, happen to have copy of such hold-no-harm form that I might use as example? Thank you for your time and helps.

PS. This question was originally posted in Mathematics Educator, but was advised to be posted here instead. Please note that here I am not asking for any legal opinion, but instead asking only if you happen to have a waiver copy which you care sharing with me. Thank you again.


PSS.: Since I posted this question yesterday, I am grateful to have received lots of animated comments. I wish I could thank each of you for sharing your ideas, but brevity of space and time won't allow me to do that. But let me address the answer from Massimo Ortolano since he is the only one who answered my posting. First of all I would like to thank him for his great response.

(1) To your first point "Network Bandwidth": I don't think the bandwidth issue is relevant in my posting. My College advertised the strict, rigid class hours well in advance long, long before the college finally has to convert the classes online, and I dutifully and strictly follow the same class hours in order to be fair to the first wave of students who signed up early. After that, I believe it is student's responsibility to assign priority if there are other heavy internet users in the household. Finally, I am happy to say that the current video technology is such advanced that you do not need spacial bandwidth. Thank you though for your comment.

(2) To your second point "Family & House Mate Life": No, I do not restrict third parties to come into view. I will only intervene if the background noises is too distracting such that they interfere with other students' concentration. But otherwise, students' family members are free to go on with their normal lives. My goal is to have my virtual class conducive and welcoming to all.

Also a family member's flushing a toilet in background will not be "heard around the world" is in the case of recent Supreme Court session. I will use two different and separate webcams to conduct my class. (See the comment I posted yesterday.) The first one is exclusively for interaction between my students and me, this will not be made public. The second webcam is exclusively focused to record my lecturing (video and audio) and to be uploaded immediately to YouTube for students' asynchronous reference. Students's likeness and mutual verbal conversation will not be uploaded to public.

(3) To your last point "Law": Fortunately again, this is a non-issue in my posting. As I wrote clearly in the original posting, I am an instructor in a community college in Texas. As you might have known that in US a community college always belongs to a county, which is literally the smallest jurisdiction unit in state government. As such, most students are in-county local residents. We do have out-county students from time to time but they are nevertheless still Texans. Out-of-Texas students are complete rarities and they are nevertheless still in US soils. International student accessing from abroad? Never come across one to my best knowledge. In rare occasion, we might see an international student with F1 student visa, but she/he resides in Texas. Remember that all courses in my college are advertised as face-to-face classes in the first place, but the college has to convert them to online because of shutdown. 

Finally, I would like to thank Massimo Ortolano again for your comment on this point. Before I wrap up this posting, allow me to add some points.

(a) I am happy to read a recent article from The Chronicle of Higher Education about a professor's 5 takeaways from remote teaching since the shutdown, see the complete article here. Interestingly, the first takeaway is that teaching using video technology is tiring to her but it is very "rewarding."

(b) I will not demand students to have only blank wall as backdrop. The unabridged sentence I will write in syllabus is that " ... the best practice is for you to have blank wall as background..." etc.  (Notice the words "best practice.") Also, I will not ask students to drop from my class if they refuse to sign the waiver. In fact, I do not think I have authority to dis-enroll a student.

Thank you again for all who have contributed to my humble posting. Be safe!

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    Sorry that I don't have an answer for you, but if any of your students are legal minors then there are laws about what you can record, and perhaps, even broadcast. Parental permission may be required. But you should have a legal department at your institution that can answer this question. – Buffy May 7 at 13:14
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    Thanks for the input. As far as recording & broadcasting are concerned, I think I do not have any issue, since I am using two webcams. The first one is for video conferencing between students and me, the other webcam is used for recording and live-streaming to YouTube. As such, the public at large will see and hear only me and my speech, the visual image, likeness and audio of students will not be made public. – A.Magnus May 7 at 13:28
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    You are correct, I should have contacted the legal department. However, I am such a small potato in this multi-campus community college. I suspect I have to go through layers and layers of bureaucracies before a lawyer has time to see my email, if at all. I am thinking of anyone out there who might have a ready form. Thank you though. – A.Magnus May 7 at 13:31
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    It should probably be clearer defined what sensitive personal objects are. Here you could probably have some misunderstandings. – user111388 May 7 at 17:03
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    What makes you think that you have the right to require your students to sign an arbitrary legal contract of your own design as a precondition to attending your class? This is a strange belief. Your waiver idea sounds terrible, sorry. – Dan Romik May 7 at 21:20
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Sorry, I'm not going to answer your question, but I'm going to offer a frame challenge which, I think, is really necessary (and too long for a comment).

I understand your willingness to offer lively and engaging lectures, offering an interactive experience as close as possible to the real thing—it's certainly my desire too—but don't. For the following reasons:

  1. Network bandwidth: Your student may not be the only person in the house that needs to use an internet connection at that time. They might not live alone and have siblings or house mates that attend lectures too, and they might have parents or other resident relatives that are teleworking. What if everyone needs to transmit and receive videos at the same time? Are you really sure that your lectures are more important than their siblings' or one of the parent's presentation to their boss?
  2. Family and house mates life: While you're lecturing, the other members of the family or house mates have the right to go on with their lives. Take a shower, cook, listen to music, whatever. And your student may not even have a room just for themselves (don't assume that all your students are wealthy enough to have such a luxury!). Don't impose your restrictions to all family and house members! If one of the students is watching your lecture from the living room, should everyone in the house stay sit and silent? In one of my lectures in which I used Webex, I accidentally forgot to unmute participants on entry. You could hear music, kitchen noises, children playing and so on. Should all other house members (family, house mates, whatever) stop their lives just because you're teaching? What if every professor demands this?
  3. Law: Probably not all your students live in your same jurisdiction or even country. Trying to write a waiver that works for all your students, wherever they are, can be a daunting task. I wouldn't even think of administering a waiver suggested by random folks on the internet without the legal advice of the university lawyers.

The above are just the main issues of your approach, but I'm sure I can find others too. So, let me repeat: rethink your expectations, accept a less lively interaction (e.g. I use a Telegram chat to receive student's questions and their videos are turned off), and don't.

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    RE #2: Apparently a toilet was flushed by someone in the home of a participant in a US Supreme Court official online session. Heard by the world. – Buffy May 7 at 19:37
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    "Sorry, I'm not going to answer your question" Please don't post answers that aren't answers. Reason 1 isn't a reason to deny students the opportunity to interact. Reason 2 has nothing to do with the restrictions in the question. Reason 3 makes sense but does not support your opposition to interactivity. – Anonymous Physicist May 8 at 1:01
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    @AnonymousPhysicist As I wrote, this answer is a frame challenge, and this is certainly not the first answer of this type (if you want to further discuss this type of answers you can bring the discussion to Meta). Reason 1 tells the OP that they should avoid the type of interaction they want to implement, not others; reason 2 has indeed all to do with the restrictions in the question; reason 3 supports my opposition to the OP request. – Massimo Ortolano May 8 at 6:18
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    I'm not convinced in the least. Since there is ample experimental evidence that interactivity increases learning, I consider this answer harmful. I do agree the asker's premise is wrong, but my reasoning is totally different. – Anonymous Physicist May 8 at 8:05
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    The question has nothing to do with "forced interactivity." The interactivity is presumably voluntary. It is only the waiver that the asker wants to require. Your interpretation of the situation may have diverged a great deal from the actual question. Perhaps waivers do not exist where you are? – Anonymous Physicist May 8 at 8:24
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A lot of questions along these lines have arisen since the stay-at-home orders. As in most of these cases, I'm puzzled as to why you feel like you have to make this call.

Things like this, especially if you have legal concerns, are literally why schools have administrators. Pass the buck to people whose job it is to organize and administrate the school as a whole.

You mention that your department has concerns about the liability. Well, tell them you need clear instruction on what they want you to do then. Don't make any sort of legal judgments on your own, not even with the advice of the internet. Don't even consider writing your own waiver.

To use in-person class analogies, if I wanted to hold a class in a Starbucks instead of a classroom, I wouldn't do that without getting clearance. I definitely wouldn't make up my own liability waiver in case a student gets hit by a car crossing the busy road to get to the Starbucks.

If the school says something is purely up to you, then that's pretty explicit clearance to do it how you want. If you're still concerned, ask what they think of your specific proposed method. As an educator and (presumably) non-administrator, there's no need for you to go out on any limbs.

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  • I am sorry for getting back with you late, thanks also for your input. While I did not get the thing that I had in mind while I was writing this question, but I did get lots of useful insights. In hindsight, I think the "waiver" I wrote in the title was too legalese and beyond my plate. Therefore I will write instead Classroom Rules, which I believe are well within my authority to do so. Additionally, I will coordinate with my Director of Student Conducts to make sure that the rules are within the boundary of the college. Thank you again for your great input! – A.Magnus May 11 at 12:58

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