McGill aims for online and in-person options after Education Minister’s decision to reopen schools

McGill is standing by its May 11 decision to offer instruction primarily through online delivery platforms for the Fall 2020 semester after Education Minister Jean-François Roberge’s announcement on June 16 that schools across Quebec can reopen in September. 

McGill will conduct all essential class activities through remote instruction, but hopes to facilitate the resumption of some on-campus learning. In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Associate Provost of Teaching and Academic Programs Christopher Buddle expressed the university’s renewed commitment to remote delivery.

“[McGill’s initial] announcement set the stage for planning and we haven’t changed that at all,” Buddle said. “In fact, the minister’s announcement confirmed [our plan]. We want to offer some in-person experiences to students who are in the Montreal area, but we also recognize that many of our students will not be able to be here, so the main components of our courses will be delivered remotely.”

Potential on-campus activities will be reserved for those courses which are enhanced by face-to-face interactions, such as labs, lecture conferences and graduate seminars.

“In a lot of the larger [introductory level] arts classes, [where] there might be […] 10 conference sections […] maybe one or two of them can be offered in person,” Buddle said. “There might also be a graduate class where all the graduate students are in Montreal already doing research, and the professor involved might decide to hold some or all of the graduate seminars in an in-person environment [….] But for the vast majority of students, classes will be online.”

Some students are questioning the effectiveness of online instruction as a teaching medium, especially in the delivery of hands-on learning experiences such as science labs. Kiara Guidote, U2 Science, expressed her concerns about lab-based courses, as well as the lack of communication between professors and students regarding the new school year.

“I’m scared that the learning experience, especially for health science [students] like me, may be diluted […] because of online learning,” Guidote said. “Even though I trust the process and the administration, I wish there was more communication between professors and students like me [at this time], because I know so little about the academic plans for my classes.”

Buddle highlighted a focal point in the administration’s planning process, which is ensuring that on-campus experiences will not academically compromise students who are unable to physically be present. 

“We’re working with faculties to make sure that any in-person activity is not [disadvantageous to] students who are not going to be here,” Buddle said. “We’re committed to making sure that courses are delivered remotely in a way that is collective and robust, so students do not have to feel that they need to come to Montreal if they are unable to do so.”

Buddle added that access to study spaces has been a top priority in preparing for the upcoming semester. Whether these spaces will be available in McGill’s libraries or other secluded areas on campus has yet to be determined. 

Professors have also faced a steep learning curve in transitioning to online instruction. Dr. Sheryl Smith-Gilman, assistant director of the Undergraduate Teacher Education Programs and professor in the Faculty of Education, emphasized the significance of offering creative and engaging instruction methods. 

“When I first heard that we were going remote in the fall, I realized that I have got to learn a whole new language,” Smith-Gilman said. “For us to be able to accomplish this across cyberspace has really given me, as a professor, an added layer of thought and creativity. Maybe in the long run we can look at it positively. Maybe it will make us look at and reflect on how we teach what we teach, and ensure that teaching is not mundane. Maybe there’s some silver lining to all of this.”

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