‘Disappointing’: In Canada’s Universities and Colleges, Online Classes and COVID Protocols Are Causing a Messy Back-to-School

Markus Lai has attended orientation, attended his first classes, and is ready for the coming fall in his new program at Seneca College.

But he still hasn’t set foot on campus this term.

Like many postsecondary students across the country, his entire list of Civil Engineering Technician courses is online.

“It’s disappointing,” Lai said of his fully virtual course load, which requires sitting at a computer for “three to six hours a day.”

“It feels quite eliminated.”

It is far from a normal September in Canadian universities and colleges as students return to class. Many (in some cases all) courses are still online, despite high tuition fees. Some students are even dealing with last minute changes to virtual learning.

Others are dissatisfied with the precautions in place and do not trust the vaccine mandates to be met.

The messy start is far from the post-secondary experience you may have imagined, and the official all is well message from the administrations.

Seneca College did not respond to a request for comment, but Lai said that all courses in its program are virtual-only until further notice. That appears to be a pattern for many postsecondary students this September. Although not all courses are online, there are many students, especially in art programs, who have ended up with a completely virtual course load.

After starting her post-secondary education online, Ayan Absiye, a sophomore in political science and international relations at the University of Toronto, was eager to finally get the full, traditional campus experience that her siblings told of. She was scheduled to attend four classes on campus and one online. But recently his schedule changed abruptly, with the four face-to-face classes moved to virtual platforms.

“I was excited to meet new people, meet my teachers face to face, join clubs, go to sporting events, the library,” said the 19-year-old. “There are so many things that I am missing.”

Absiye took a few days off to prepare for her face-to-face classes and planned restaurant shifts for the year based on the assumption that classes would resume on campus. He has friends who returned to the province from abroad and moved into his residence, only to be left with an unnecessary financial burden after his classes moved online as well, Absiye added.

“We got multiple emails that were going to be in person … it’s inconvenient for people who manage their time,” he said. “It is inconsiderate to notify us so late.”

Meanwhile, faculty members are trying to balance safety concerns and their students’ learning experiences.

Terezia Zorić, president of the University of Toronto Teachers Association and an OISE professor, said that a “record number” of staff and faculty feel unsafe returning to campus, especially those who teach large classes, with high counts of three-digit students.

Hundreds of faculty and staff are now “in a panic” because the vaccine mandate is “not yet operational,” among other concerns, he said. Parents with children under the age of 12 who cannot be vaccinated are particularly concerned, along with those with immunosuppressed family members.

“There has been a chaotic approach. It’s really unfair to the students, ”Zorić said. “I am ashamed that our university has not been more respectful of its students, staff, faculty and librarians to take a more methodical and careful approach.”

Faculty and staff feel “betrayed” by the institution, he added. “We are very eager to return to campus, but only when it is safe enough to do so. We share that feeling with the students. “

Several schools have also seen large party incidents, often involving unmasked students.

Kingston police are cracking down after the well-attended meetings at Queen’s University, and made several arrests after another weekend of partying. And amid reports of uproar at Western University during Orientation Week, more serious allegations have also emerged, including several reports of sexual assault that are being investigated by London police.

Experts from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health who are part of the university’s central health and safety committee compiled a Check list of security guidelines they believe must be adhered to if the administration “wishes to schedule important in-person activities while COVID-19 remains a public health concern.”

About 55 percent of the 16,000 courses offered this fall at the U of T have been planned for face-to-face classes, a spokesperson said. Individual academic units, in collaboration with their instructors and teaching staff, are determining what they do in person versus what they do online. Only classrooms that have been upgraded to a minimum of six air changes per hour will be used this period, the spokesperson added.

The gulf between the campus experience on paper and real life this year is the subject of a recent open letter to students from University of Guelph professor Andrew Hamilton-Wright.

Emails from the university administration over the summer “emphasized this idea of ​​a normal campus experience” and that campus security would be the “top priority,” he said. However, concerns remain around transmission and ventilation outside of classrooms, such as in hallways, common areas, libraries, cafeterias, and restrooms; a problem echoed by professors at the U of T.

“Now classes are starting and people are realizing that, in fact, a lot of these things that people thought might be a problem are a problem, and no one has addressed them,” said Hamilton-Wright. “You cannot value health and safety and do nothing for health and safety.”

Several teachers have recently decided to switch their classes from face-to-face to online, he added.

Shoshanah Jacobs, an associate professor in the department of integrative biology at the University of Guelph, said the university is not “reviewing and verifying” the vaccine documentation enough. Because he has ownership, he was able to make all of his courses remote, which he considers to be the safest option. But not everyone has this privilege.

University of Guelph spokeswoman Deirdre Healey said in an email that the university has strict COVID protocols in place based on public health guidelines and that anyone who intends to access university buildings or facilities You must submit proof of vaccination or receive an approved exemption request, through the proof of vaccination and exemption system.

Jacobs also said there are hundreds of students left looking for a place to safely socially distance themselves on campus for virtual classes that are right before or after the in-person ones.

“This is one of the examples of how they are passing all that responsibility to the people,” he said.

“Our leaders have been so inflexible and so reluctant to adapt to current circumstances.”

The library is available and management is working to secure spaces in the buildings, Healey said.

The vaccine mandate was the first step in responding to Delta’s changing situation, but since it went into effect on September 7, teachers who were scheduled to teach in person have the option to go remotely until September 28. added.

Although it helps to juggle full-time work with the school, Lai de Seneca, who has ADHD, said students like him work best in a physical classroom, where they can approach the instructor after class and access resources. campus as tutors. It is also more difficult to meet people.

You are still paying full tuition and would like to see fees reduced to reflect your new reality. But at least, unlike Absiye from U of T, he knew in advance what the plan was.

Thousands of University of Calgary students were also surprised to find that their classes had moved online less than two weeks before school started, according to student union president Nicole Schmidt.

University of Calgary spokeswoman Michelle Crossland said in an email that the pandemic has forced them to make “difficult decisions in a short period of time.” He added that they are working to support affected students, including by eliminating campus recreation and transit fees for those with fully online schedules.

But many had already paid for things like parking passes or even, in the case of international students, traveled the world and spent thousands on flights “to be able to sit in front of their laptops in a bedroom,” Schmidt said.

“This decision was made without planning ahead and students are paying the price very literally.”


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