McGill, News

McGill Senate debates hybrid learning amid reports of overworked staff

At the McGill Senate’s fifth meeting on Jan. 18, senators discussed low student enrollment and presented reports regarding the creation of a new teaching program and budget planning for the upcoming academic year. A large portion of the meeting was dedicated to hearing recommendations for potential blended learning programs, with senators stressing the possible implications of hybrid learning on overworked staff.

Interim Principal and Vice-Chancellor Christopher Manfredi summarized recent government relations meetings in his opening remarks, including a campus visit from the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Manfredi also commended the recipients of the 2021-2022 Principal’s Student-Athlete Honour Roll, whose annual gala he attended a week prior on Jan. 10.

Discussion then turned to the creation of a new teaching program in the Faculty of Engineering—a Masters of Science in Architecture with a thesis requirement—to be established in the School of Architecture

After some conversation around budget considerations for the upcoming school year, the meeting reviewed recent student recruitment numbers. Interim Provost Fabrice Labeau explained that this year’s lower student enrollment may have contributed to McGill’s lower revenue.

“Part of the deficiencies this year in terms of reduced revenue with respect to budget is due to the missed targets in terms of enrollment in certain student populations,” Labeau said.

Labeau also noted that staff turnover had caused significant internal upheaval at McGill. Although McGill’s current turnover rate is approximately seven per cent,similar to pre-pandemic levels, the current labour market poses a new, growing concern. 

“Due to the labour market, […] positions remain open longer, and it’s harder to recruit,” Labeau said. “So even at the same turnover rate, if you look at the number of people who leave in a given year, […] the positions they leave stay open longer.”

Associate Provost (Teaching and Academic Programs) Christopher Buddle presented an update from the Working Group on New Models of Academic Program Delivery. Buddle made three short-term recommendations, such as better definitions and frameworks for online and blended learning programs as the post-pandemic world introduces new challenges surrounding virtual learning and student attendance. 

“We have to consider when course design needs to be rethought. What is the impact on students at a programmatic level?” Buddle said. “If all students have a lot of their courses with a lot of online components, they might question ‘Well, why am I here in person?’”

Buddle also cited the need for refining processes around new program creation and dedicating workgroups to support a unified vision for the university’s summer programs and activities. 

Long-term recommendations Buddle highlighted included developing a consistent approach to hands-on learning to increase student opportunities, while being more responsive to emerging societal needs to fulfill the university’s vision.

Some senators were concerned about the ambitious recommendations Buddle presented. Many pointed out that implementing new blended learning programs would require the university to consider other aspects that were needed to support this shift, such as additional staff. 

“I think it requires a real commitment to it, more than just technology,” Professor Andrew Kirk said. “I think it requires a commitment to a teaching philosophy and learning philosophy. You know, it’s not just a Zoom license and a webcam, it’s thinking about, what platforms do we need? What human support do we need? [It’s] not just technology support.”

Moment of the meeting: 

Kirk voiced his concern about the Working Group on New Models of Academic Program Delivery creating an additional workload for faculties, as he believes that staff already take on additional responsibilities without any extra resources. Kirk said that if the university takes on too many additional initiatives, the number of “precarious” instructors could increase as well. 

Soundbite: 

“I teach music classes where I need to be able to play music, […] and the basic sound and video equipment is in very bad shape. [It is] on its last legs.” 

—Professor Julie Cumming on the need for staff consultation when deciding on new technologies for the classroom

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