Students are calling for consistency as the University of Alberta switched many courses online right before the Fall 2021 semester started.
In mid-May, the Office of the Registrar opened Fall 2021 course registration on Bear-Tracks indicating the location as main for in-person, or online. As the University announced that the majority of classes would be in-person, it wasn’t until the end of August that many students received a course delivery change email from the Office of the Registrar.
In a comment provided by Norma Rodenburg, interim deputy registrar at the U of A, the university expressed gratitude for the campus community’s flexibility “to adapt to the local and global realities of COVID-19.”
“Adapting to and accepting our health and safety measures is what is allowing us to keep our classrooms as safe as possible,” she said.
According to Rodenburg, the institutions plans for the 2021 fall semester had always been to deliver approximately 80 per cent of fall courses in-person, with the remaining 20 percent using remote learning. The switch of fall courses from in-person to online has impacted approximately three per cent of student enrolments.
“We did ensure that the changes went through before classes began so that students were still able to tailor their schedules [before the] add/drop/swap deadline, and thank the impacted students for their understanding,” Rodenburg explained.
For students who particularly built up their schedule with in-person classes, the last-minute change caught them completely off guard.
Katie O’Connor, a second-year English and art history student who had two out of five courses switch online last minute, said she received this email on August 29, the Saturday before school started.
“I was upset,” O’Connor said. “I took the course because it was [supposed to be] in-person delivered. That was the main reason I selected it. I think a lot of people chose courses for the same reason, so it’s just not fair.”
Curtis Trolly, a first-year engineering student who just found out his English for Engineering Students course got switched online, also found the short notice change upsetting.
“I didn’t expect to have the course switched online at the beginning of the semester,” Trolly explained. “The rest of my classes are still in-person, which is good. It’s looking like more courses would go online.”
Trolly voiced a desire for more communication from the faculty of engineering as he worries more courses may switch to online delivery next semester. These concerns are escalated when considering Alberta is currently experiencing the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I wish I could know which courses are more likely to be switched online,” he said. “I would really hope they won’t change the delivery method after we have already set up the winter schedule.”
Students voice a need for more on-campus private workspace
Students are also concerned about the lack of private workspace on campus.
According to Rodenburg, tudents can still access a “mix of in-person and virtual student life activities” with on-campus private workspaces “added to support students taking online classes while on campus.”
Kelley Xu, an international student entering her third year of psychology, is still wrangling her commute routes for her hybrid schedule.
“One of my professors provided us with a list of temporary workspace locations, but the drop-in classrooms don’t have signage or labels outside the doors,” Xu said. “I had a hard time locating the rooms.”
Like Xu, O’Connor also attended her afternoon class in a drop-in classroom with a bunch of friends in the Humanities Centre. She said it was hard to engage with the online classes in the public space.
“All of my courses are humanities-based, and I need to talk for the participation marks,” O’Connor explained. “I really don’t know where I can go to have a quiet background to engage in classes without distracting other people who share the same space.”
Anxiety expressed over the lack of consistency from the institution
A hope for more consistent planning was frequent amongst students. Ryan Jacques, a fourth-year computing science student, says he feels lucky to have most of his course delivery remain unchanged, but expressed worry for his fellow schoolmates.
“I truly feel sorry for those who moved to Edmonton for university then had to adjust their schedule at the last minute.”
As an international student who traveled from outside Canada, Xu said she decided to come to Edmonton mainly because back in July all of her major courses were designated as in-person delivery.
“I was already in Canada when my psychology courses got switched online,” Xu said. “I can’t just buy another ticket home. It’s expensive.”
“At this point, I don’t care if it’s online or not, all I want is a consistent and non-confusing semester. I don’t think I have the energy for another round of flip-flopping.”