This guide intends to offer advice and best practices for conducting remote exams. To convene a thesis examination remotely, consent of all participants, including the candidate, must be received by the Supervisor and confirmed by the Chair before the exam begins, either in prior written correspondence, at a test meeting, or at the outset of the meeting.
Guests are allowed if the following protocols are undertaken: supervisors are responsible for obtaining everyone on the Committee’s permission (most importantly the student’s permission) to have guests enter into the examination, but only for the student's presentation (if there is one) and general questioning period. Similar to the in-person rules, guests may not be present during the Committee deliberations. Guests must also verbally agree not to record the examination and not to be in communication with the candidate during the examination (e.g., sending texts, photos, or any answers during the examination). The Chair is responsible for ensuring that the guests are welcome at the appropriate time and leave the online examination at the appropriate time. Departments are strongly advised to seek the assistance of ITS (David Smith) if they are contemplating an open electronic examination.
Finally, to the best of their ability, all participants should ensure that they have a quiet environment for the duration of the examination, a place unlikely to be disturbed (by other people, pets, the doorbell, or telephone) and where others can’t overhear the confidential conversation.
The School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs recommends using Microsoft Teams. Participants should download the desktop application (rather than using a web-browser version or the web-based Office 365 version). Teams is available for download from the Microsoft website. Microsoft Teams is free for all staff, instructors, and students and is available to you immediately using your NetID. Additionally, anyone who does not have a Queen's NetID can be invited to and participate in a Teams meeting for free using any email address.
For Ph.D. thesis defence examinations, IT Services is available to help set up remote examinations and provide technical support during them. If such assistance is desired, supervisors should go into the IT service portal to request a web conference a minimum of 7 to 10 days before any defence to allow time to coordinate exams between 8 am-4 pm Monday to Friday, in the following time slots, 8:00-10:30, 10:30-1:00, and then 1:00-4:00. Supervisors should provide IT Services with the email addresses and phone numbers of all participants to create a meeting invitation on Teams.
IT Services will then schedule a test meeting with all participants to ensure cameras and microphones are working. This test session should be scheduled after the full written e-reports are received 5 days in advance of the defence date. As per usual thesis examination procedures, it is important that everyone submit their reports to the SGSPA Thesis Coordinator (email@example.com) in a timely manner so that IT Services have time to conduct a test meeting prior to the final Examination.
Equipment: All participants engaging remotely will need to have computers and/or mobile phones with video capability. These should be charged and charging cords available. The final forms can also be submitted electronically (a photo taken with cell phone and uploaded as a .pdf and sent to the SGSPA Thesis Coordinator - (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Please be aware of the need to send files securely to ensure confidentiality. Although an email sent from one “@queensu.ca” address to another is encrypted, there is always the potential for sending the email to the wrong address. In order to ensure confidentiality, please either: encrypt the PDF with a password (see video on the Records and Privacy website for how to do so) OR have individuals upload their forms to a OneDrive for Business account by sending them a secure link to use.
Contacts: Chairs and Supervisors should have email, phone, Skype, WhatsApp, Messenger and other relevant contacts for all participants collected before the convening of the defense meeting. A chat/message platform that all participants can share for quick communication must be identified in case of video and/or audio conferencing being disrupted for participants. One advantage of using Teams is that when the candidate is “asked to leave the room” for discussion, they can be removed from the conference call and then asked to rejoin the video/audio conference through a message in the chat room. If in doubt about how this works, David Smith from IT Services will assist during the test run. (For written instructions, please see the TEAMS conference tips for oral exams).
Back up procedures in the event of video-conferencing problems:
1. Audio conference calling
Microsoft Teams telephone conferencing is also available and, depending on the internet connection, video can be suspended and audio used in place to conserve bandwidth. Only the candidate and the examiner who is questioning need to have cameras on (and other examiners can also mute their microphones when not contributing).
2. Written exchange
As per usual SGSPA Oral Thesis Examination Protocol, written reports need to be sent to the SGSPA Thesis Coordinator (email@example.com) 7 days before the defense date. It is imperative in the case of remote examinations that the full written reports be circulated to the Chair 3 days in advance of the defense meeting.
It is ideal that the written reports have a final section that formulates several key questions to be posed to the candidate in the event that communication is disrupted. The Chair and Supervisor should advise examiners to prepare their reports in this fashion. External examiners or non-Queen’s Co-Supervisors in particular will need some instruction. The reports can be circulated to all examiners by the Chair. In the event of such a disruption, the Chair or other examiner can pose these questions to the candidate.
In the event of communications by video/audio conferencing failing, the Committee can still conduct the examination as appropriate through the discussion forum created in the chat function on a Teams group or other such platform if Teams is not used. There may also be options by telephone conference calling. However, these measures are a last resort. Alternatively, if the technology is failing and interfering with the content of the examination, the Chair can make the decision, with advice from Committee members in so far as possible, that the examination needs to be postponed or rescheduled. If this is the case, please contact the Associate Dean at SGSPA at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss options.
Chairs report: Usual procedures apply. The final suggestions for revisions can be compiled by the Chair and agreed upon by the examiners. The Chair can solicit the decisions of the examiners and sign on behalf of the Committee members to submit the form in the manner described above. It is best if the Chair types or writes down the suggested revisions on the usual SGSPA forms rather than write on the Teams chat function. If the Teams chat function is used, the Chair is responsible for downloading the file or transcribing the notes and deleting the notes from the group chat. If the Chair feels that because of technical reasons the student was disadvantaged at the remote-based final Oral Thesis Examination, please contact the Associate Dean at SGSPA at email@example.com.
If you have any concerns, questions, or comments about this guide, please contact the Associate Dean at SGSPA firstname.lastname@example.org.
Given the current volume of PhD thesis defence examinations, we are currently prioritizing PhD thesis defence examinations for technical support from IT Services, Monday-Friday 8am-4pm. We expect there will be many Faculties and Departments that do not require the IT support and/or can conduct Master's thesis exams remotely through a Department’s own technical supports. In these cases, other parts of this document can still act as a guide for best practices.