McGill students’ lives are shifting entirely online. April 3 marks the end of the first week of classes since the university made course instruction remote. McGill administrators are attempting to provide uniformity to students in all faculties, but even so, professors have been left largely to their own devices in terms of how to approach this transition. While the administration has been confident about the efficacy of the shift in their emails to the student body, McGill students have had varying experiences with remote instruction so far. In addition, many other aspects of students’ lives—such as socializing and basic errands—have either halted or been forced to adapt to less-than-ideal circumstances over the last several weeks. Crucial resources like therapy and simple tasks like going to the grocery store have all been disrupted by COVID-19. Many McGill students are finding that, in being forced to adapt to entirely new modes of learning and living while managing the stress caused by the pandemic, they are struggling to keep up with their responsibilities, academic and otherwise. With this in mind, it is crucial that McGill’s administration and professors continue to be understanding, practice leniency, and provide resources for the student body while it undergoes an entirely unprecedented series of events.
McGill’s decision to allow students to exercise a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U) option for all classes is warranted and the administration should be commended for it. Further, it was appropriate for McGill to entirely shut down over two weeks so that they could properly assess how to move forward, yet it is imperative that professors acknowledge the circumstances that the closure has created. Students were discouraged from preparing assignments during this time, and even though professors had been allowed to maintain deadlines, these weeks were a crucial period for students to take a break from school work in order to commit mental energy to adapting to new circumstances caused by the pandemic. The return to class should not involve professors simply taking four weeks of material, work, and lectures and squeezing it into the final two weeks of the semester. While an imperfect solution, if professors need to cut material from their syllabi in order to refrain from overwhelming students, they should do so, even with the S/U option in mind.
The McGill administration, in continuing to decide how the semester will proceed, should recognize that professors are being put in an extremely difficult situation, often lacking the infrastructure or expertise to quickly move classes online. Professors, in turn, should recognize the position in which this puts students. Zoom, as ubiquitous as it has become, is an imperfect piece of software and can be accompanied by a range of technical difficulties. In addition, it must be noted that moving away from in-person instruction, while a difficult change for all students, is particularly devastating for students without a reliable internet connection or who learn most effectively in a classroom setting. In addition, much of the burden of shifting toward remote instruction has also been placed on Teaching Assistants, creating an increased academic workload for individuals who may be experiencing stress for other reasons related to the pandemic. The administration and professors should be cognizant of this reality.
While students are confronting this litany of changes in their academic lives, they face other challenges as well. Some students may be dealing with family members or friends who have contracted the disease, or engaging in more extreme quarantining measures because they are at higher risk. This is also a time during which challenges with mental health are being exacerbated, and unfortunately, resources for such challenges are much harder to access. At this time, McGill’s Wellness Hub is not accepting any new clients. That being said, thus far the administration has made concerted efforts to make online mental health resources available. McGill should continue to do everything in its power to make sure these services are accessible to its students remotely. Professors too, should take specific note of circumstances causing anxiety or stress when considering student requests for extensions or alterations to assignments.
Finally, McGill students should seek to shift their expectations of their own productivity. We must be gentle with ourselves when things are not going how we would like them to be, primarily because we are in the midst of a contemporarily unrivaled global pandemic. Students should try to do things that offer them structure over the course of days and weeks which would otherwise blend together. In addition, so many facets of students’ lives are now exclusively accessible through a laptop that it may be necessary to schedule breaks from being digitally immersed throughout the day. Moving away from screen-time for a set number of hours a day can not only benefit one’s physical health, it removes one from the perpetual cycle of news related to COVID-19 which can be anxiety inducing. Stress may be an inevitable consequence of moving into a digitally-oriented world, but McGill students can make use of the resources available to them and their existing networks of support in order to mitigate the effects as much as possible.