‘Disappointing’: At universities and colleges across Canada, online courses and COVID protocols lead to messy back-to-school


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

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

Like many post-secondary students across the country, her entire list of civil engineering technician courses is online.

“It’s disappointing,” Lai said of her all-virtual class load, which requires sitting in front of a computer for “about three to six hours a day.”

“He feels quite distant.”

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

Others are dissatisfied with the precautions currently in place and are not convinced that the vaccination mandates will be implemented.

The complicated start is a far cry from the post-secondary experience they could have imagined and the official message all is well from the administrations.

Seneca College did not respond to a request for comment, but Lai said all classes in her program are virtual only until further notice. This seems to be a trend for many post-secondary students in September. While not all courses are online, many students, especially in arts programs, found themselves with an entirely virtual course load.

After starting her post-secondary studies online, Ayan Absiye, a second-year political science and international relations student at the University of Toronto, was eager to finally gain the full and traditional campus experience her siblings recounted. stories. She had to attend four classes on campus and one online. But recently her schedule has abruptly changed, with all four in-person classes being moved to virtual platforms.

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

Absiye took days off to prepare for her classes in person and planned her restaurant hours for the year based on the assumption that classes would resume on campus. She has friends who returned to the province from overseas and moved into a residence, only to find themselves with an unnecessary financial burden after their classes were also transferred online, Absiye added.

“We were getting several emails saying we were going to be in person… it’s inconvenient for people who are managing their time,” she said. “It is reckless to give us notice so late.”

Meanwhile, faculty members try to balance security concerns and the learning experiences of their students.

Terezia Zorić, president of the Association of Professors at the University of Toronto and professor at OISE, said a “record number” of staff and faculty felt in danger of returning to campus, in especially those who teach in large classes with three-digit student numbers.

Hundreds of professors and staff are now “in panic” because the vaccine’s mandate “is not yet operational,” among other concerns, she said. Parents of children under 12 who cannot be vaccinated are particularly concerned, as are those whose family members are immunocompromised.

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

Professors and staff feel “betrayed” by the institution, she added. “We can’t wait to get back to campus, but only when it’s safe enough to do so. We share this feeling with the students.

Several schools have also seen incidents of major parties, often involving unmasked students.

Kingston police are cracking down after overcrowded rallies at Queen’s University and have made several arrests after another weekend of celebration. And amid reports of heckling at Western University during orientation week, more serious allegations have also been raised, including several reports of sexual assault being investigated by London Police.

Experts from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health who sit on the university’s central health and safety committee have compiled a checklist of safety guidelines that they say must be followed if the administration “wishes to schedule. important in-person activities while COVID-19 remains a public health concern. ”

About 55% of the 16,000 courses offered this fall at the University of Toronto were scheduled for in-person classes, a spokesperson said. Individual academic units, in conjunction with their instructors and faculty, determine what they do in person rather than online. Only classrooms that have been upgraded to a minimum of six air changes per hour will be used this quarter, the spokesperson added.

The gap between the paper experience and the actual campus experience this year is the subject of a recent open letter to students from Professor Andrew Hamilton-Wright at the University of Guelph.

Emails from the university administration over the summer “underscored this idea of ​​a normal campus experience” and that campus security would be “of the highest priority”, a- he declared. Yet concerns remain about transmission and ventilation outside of classrooms, such as in hallways, common areas, libraries, cafeterias and bathrooms; a problem taken up by the faculty of the U of T.

“Now, the classes are starting and people are noticing that indeed a lot of these things that people thought might be a problem is a problem, and no one took care of it,” said Hamilton-Wright. “You can’t value health and safety and do nothing about health and safety. “

A number of professors have recently decided to replace their in-person lessons with online lessons, he added.

Shoshanah Jacobs, associate professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of Guelph, said the university does not “check and verify” enough vaccine literature. Because she has tenure, she was able to do all of her lessons remotely, which she believes is 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 intending to access university buildings or facilities must submit proof of vaccination or receive an approved exemption request, via the proof of vaccination and exemption system.

Jacobs also said there were hundreds of students left looking for a place to safely distance themselves on campus for virtual lessons that take place right before or after in-person lessons.

“This is one of the types of examples of how they pass all of this responsibility on to individuals,” she said.

“Our leaders have been so adamant and so unwilling to adapt to current circumstances.”

The library is available and the administration is working on securing spaces in buildings, Healey said.

The vaccine mandate was the first step in responding to the evolving situation in Delta, but given that it went into effect on September 7, professors who were expected to teach in person have the option of going remotely up to to September 28, she added.

While it helps juggle full-time work with the school, Lai de Seneca, who suffers from ADHD, said students like him work best in a physical classroom, where they can approach the instructor afterwards. courses and access campus resources such as tutors. It’s also more difficult to meet people.

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

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

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

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

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

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