Last-minute switches to online courses hurt students

Opinions

Some students have more online courses than previously anticipated

Woman at a laptop in the dark. Photo by Victoria Heath via Unsplash.
Photo by Victoria Heath via Unsplash.

This fall semester, UVic marked the return to in-person classes after a year-long hiatus due to COVID-19. In their early announcements about the return to campus, UVic indicated that 100 undergraduate courses would be online — on top of courses taught online pre-pandemic. However, recent data gathered by the Martlet indicates that 557 classes are being taught online in the fall semester.  

Some courses have moved abruptly online, or did so with a few weeks remaining before the fall start.  UVic says the decision on future course delivery mode lies with faculty heads and instructors. This means a face-to-face course may move to online learning — depending on the personal preference of the faculty or instructor.

Like me, many students had made their plans for the fall semester and the last-minute course delivery switches disrupted those plans. The uncertainty has been mentally taxing, and eventually it transformed into my worst possible scenario — one of my courses moved to online learning mode and I had to rearrange my course plans.

I registered in a social science course for this academic year — it fit my schedule, seemed interesting, and most importantly was face-to-face. I was quite excited about this course. However, about three months after the release of the timetable I got an email from an administrator of the department that the course has been moved to an online setting. This news came as a bombshell for me. I was quite disappointed at first, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Eventually, I became exasperated with the repercussions I had to face with my course going online.

One half of my U.S. direct loan disbursement almost got cancelled. A new U.S. federal government legislation, passed on July 1, made it mandatory for students to be enrolled in face-to-face lectures. I got an email from the SAFA (Student Aid and Financial Awards) office, informing me to change my course to a face-to-face lecture — if I did not my loan would be cancelled. As there were no other sections for the course, I had to take another social science course. I had some backup courses, but all of them were full so I had to take a course that I’m not particularly interested in.

I am quite sure that I am not the only student whose course or courses has been changed to an online setting just before the start of the semester. On average, international students in Canada pay four times more in tuition fees than domestic students — just to get that world class education that is not available in their home country. The purpose of their education, and the high tuition fee they are paying, is put into question if they are coming all the way to Canada to attend some of their courses online. They will not be getting the true Canadian education experience, just an artificial one, in some of the courses they are taking online.             

On the other hand, immunocompromised students may disagree with me. They would want more online classes to happen, which is completely understandable. Some data has shown that COVID-19 vaccines are less effective on them, so the best approach they can take is to attend classes online rather than face-to-face. 

According to a survey conducted by CBC news, students seem more content with face-to-face lectures than online ones. Out of a survey of 2 700 people — 62 per cent of students and 76 per cent of faculty members felt that the standard of online classes is not up to the same level as face-to-face ones. 

Furthermore, UVic should make an update on how many courses are actually online — the data they have on the course registration website is not entirely accurate.

In my perspective, the classes that were face-to-face should have remained face-to-face. I personally want all classes to be face-to-face, but I know that the current COVID-19 situation makes that difficult. At most, to accommodate disabled and international students, UVic could have changed the courses to a hybrid model, instead of keeping them entirely online. By switching in-person classes to online at the last minute, UVic has tampered with students’ plans and caused unnecessary hardship. 

Being transparent and making concrete, fair, and clear decisions is what universities should strive to do. UVic has failed to accomplish these goals. They have not been transparent about how many courses are online. 

Will my courses in January remain in-person? Only time will tell. But even if they don’t, I can only hope that UVic shows their students the courtesy of providing advanced notice for mode of delivery changes and communicating those changes to students better.