McGill announced on May 11 that it would join other post-secondary institutions across North America in transitioning to online learning as the primary method of course delivery for the Fall 2020 semester. Although this type of switch is unprecedented in McGill’s history, the administration aims to clarify how learning and student activities will take place over the summer months.
Following the Quebec provincial government’s mid-March orders to cease in-person teaching, McGill students and staff completed the Winter 2020 semester remotely via Zoom calls and lecture recordings. Associate Provost (Teaching and Academic Programs) Christopher Buddle hopes that the transition to remote teaching platforms will not be viewed as a sub-par, temporary solution, but instead as an opportunity to foster a positive learning environment.
“The transition was really quick at the end of the winter [semester],” Buddle said. “It was pretty difficult to really put the effort in to make sure that the experience was exactly where we wanted it [to be] for remote delivery of courses. What we’re trying to do […] over the summer is bolster support for instructors, whether it’s through webinars, […] individual training sessions […], or learning communities in faculties, to really look at ways that remote delivery can be enhanced.”
With classes moving online, students have voiced concern about the impact that remote learning will have on their education. Alex*, U1 Science, feels that those who rely upon support from services such as the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) may not be able to receive the learning accommodations they require.
“Most [of the] accommodations that McGill [provides for OSD students] is extra time to write exams and writing exams elsewhere than the field house,” Alex said. “Now that [we] have 72 hours to write [exams] from home, [McGill and the OSD] assumes [that it’s enough], but those are accommodations for COVID-19, not accommodations for [students] registered under the OSD.”
Another concern among students is that valuable educational experiences, such as opportunities for in-person labs and research, will not be transferable online. While McGill has yet to announce how location-specific courses that cannot be replicated remotely will proceed, there are several ideas currently being considered by the administration.
“Faculties are looking at a number of [solutions, such as] offering the class in the winter instead of the fall,” Buddle said. “[We’re looking] at ways to do virtual labs and simulations [as well as] using multimedia technologies to make lab experiences quite full and rich, even if [the student is just] sitting in their living room.”
As many international and out-of-province students may elect to not return to Montreal, Buddle emphasizes that aside from those enrolled in certain yet-to-be-determined graduate-level and clinical work courses, students will not be expected to return to campus.
“If there are any [school] activities in-person and students aren’t in the Montreal area, we are looking at ways to make sure that [they also] have access to that material,” Buddle said. “However we start the term is how we end the term in [regards to] academic activities [….] We don’t want to switch [teaching activities] part way through the term, […] because that really disadvantages students that aren’t here.”
It is not yet clear whether campus facilities such as McGill’s libraries and the athletic complex will be accessible. Buddle confirmed that some residence accommodations are planned to be open to first-year students but could not say which specific residences.
Still, despite the administration’s efforts, some members of the McGill community, such as Aakanksha Mathur, U1 Arts, find that the quality of online education is simply not comparable to in-person classes.
“Although [McGill has assured students that] they will get the same academic experience […] it’s really not the same,” Mathur said. “I’m still continuing with a summer course right now, but since it’s an intensive course, you are meant to have two hours of lectures a day. Now I’m having 30 to 60 minute videos instead, and some random lab videos that happen once a week, which is […] disappointing.”
Mathur, along with a growing number of students, feel that this shift in curriculum delivery should be reflected in cuts to the Fall semester tuition.
“I’m not expecting [McGill] to [provide] free courses,” Mathur said. “They’re still justified [in taking] a fee. I don’t think that they are justified taking such a high fee and at the same time saying [that we’re receiving] the same level of education, because we’re not.”
Buddle declined to comment on the possibility of tuition reduction.
The McGill administration will continue making announcements with updates throughout the summer.
* Name has been changed to protect the anonymity of the source.