Late Course Changes and Uncertainty: Why Some Students Find ‘Trash Can Fire’ on Campus


Students at Canadian colleges and universities expected a more normal return to campus this fall, after most had only had online classes last year. However, many are already enjoying a turbulent start to the new term.

Students from different regions report that face-to-face classes or entire programs have suddenly gone virtual. Others remain in the dark as to how their classes will unfold, just days before the start.

While some institutions cite the changing conditions of the pandemic and the demands for change, students say the last-minute nature of the decisions is unfair and unacceptable.

A sudden shift to e-learning as classes begin can be a dismal prospect, especially for those who have already paid to get to school, for dorms, signed one-year leases for a living. near campus or possibly purchased non-refundable parking or transit passes.

“I think students, especially international students, would have thought twice” before making the major financial commitment to come to campus if the University of Calgary had pointed out that course formats were still subject to change. says Abigia Debebe, who has made a long and expensive journey. from Ethiopia before finding out that his in-person classes had moved online. (Colin Hall / CBC)

After postponing her entrance to the University of Calgary last year, Abi Debebe was excited to start her computer science program. Learning in June of three of her four fall courses would take place in person – confirmed in early August, she said – the international student has left Ethiopia.

However, as the 19-year-old ended her two-week isolation period later in August, she received an email indicating that more classes had gone virtual.

“[I learned] after I arrived in Calgary, after paying for the quarantine. I had paid for accommodation, my flight here, everything – and just to sit in my dorm and learn through a screen all day, which I basically could have done at home and saved myself a lot of money. time and energy, ”Debebe said.

“I think students, especially international students, would have thought twice before making this huge budget [investment]. “

University of Calgary Students’ Union President Nicole Schmidt confirmed that the decision at the end of August has so far affected international and domestic students enrolled in at least 150 courses at the University of C .

“We heard from many students who were very upset with this change of course,” Schmidt said. “It was a pretty tough semester like that. I don’t think the students need that extra stress.”

University of Calgary Student Union President Nicole Schmidt works to ensure that students return to campus safely and a fall semester as normal as possible. She said the university “pulled the rug out from under the students” by running at least 150 face-to-face classes online in late August. (Colin Hall / CBC)

Similar stories have emerged from the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, where students in human kinetics and nursing programs, as well as those taking courses in the faculty of the arts, have reported sudden changes in delivery in person to virtual delivery. Others don’t know how their classes – which start after Labor Day – will play out.

‘It’s just a circus’

“Here’s a page from UBC saying“ It’s in person, you’re supposed to be here. ”Here’s another saying:“ It’s gonna be online for a while, we’re not too sure about the campus at the UBC. “Okanagan.” It’s a bit of a garbage can fire, ”said Kai Rogers, fourth-year management student and executive director of the UBC Okanagan Student Union.

“There was plenty of time to prepare and over the past week it was just a circus.”

Because Rogers, 22, had not enjoyed or felt engaged in e-learning last year, he intentionally chose courses with an in-person or hybrid delivery (in which instructors teach physically to students on the Kelowna, BC campus at the same time as those who log on virtually).

Although he maintained his grades amidst all-virtual learning last year, UBC Okanagan student Kai Rogers said he found strictly online education ‘inferior’ And that he had deliberately chosen in-person or hybrid classes for his schedule this year. (Submitted by Kai Rogers)

“Tens of thousands of students build their lives around plans that [are changing] daily because UBC didn’t have the foresight to go “Hey, let’s build [flexibility] here. Let’s make sure we’re ready in case something like [the delta variant] come.”

For its part, UBC Okanagan cited a number of factors – including an outbreak in late July and an increase in COVID-19 cases among 20- to 40-year-olds, new public health orders and wildfires. in British Columbia – for going online.

“Instructors don’t take these decisions lightly,” a school statement released Tuesday said.

Meanwhile, the University of Calgary said that due to the increase in cases of delta variants in Alberta, it decided to transfer 10 percent of course components (including lectures, labs, seminars and tutorials) to virtual.

In a statement to CBC News, the school said 80% of students have fall schedules entirely in person or a mixed method of delivery online and in person. Students transferring entirely online will not pay campus and transit fees and “financial supports have been put in place for those significantly affected by these changes,” the statement said.

“Course of 80 people without distancing”

In other cases, students say recent provincial changes in COVID-19 requirements have contributed to an already puzzling rush at post-secondary institutions.

McGill University has repeatedly stressed that its students should prepare to return to campus, said Emma Nephtali, a fourth-year student in the cognitive science program. But the Montreal school was not clear on how the classes would actually look.

Emma Nephtali, who just started her fourth year of cognitive science studies at McGill University last week, has seen classes switch between virtual and in-person classes on several occasions over the past month, including at midnight. the first day of school. (Submitted by Emma Nephtali)

First, the 21-year-old’s fall schedule included two face-to-face classes and one virtual class. This passed to all in-person deliveries after Quebec relaxed physical distancing requirements for post-secondary spaces in August (the province subsequently reinstated the mask part of the mandate).

After midnight Wednesday, the first day of school, one of his classes was again changed to virtual (not the one listed earlier as such). “It’s been very difficult trying to figure out what my real time schedule is,” she said.

The latest change in class delivery came just hours before another anxious moment: entering her first in-person class since spring 2020. It turned out to be a classroom. height led by a teacher who, according to Nephthali, triumphantly removed his mask to give a lecture (permitted under Quebec rules), but did not always stay two meters from the students in the first row.

“I was hoping that [going back] didn’t necessarily mean being thrown into a class of 80 people without distancing, ”she said.

“It would be great to see people’s faces, but not in a room where the windows are not open, where I have no confirmation of … immunization status, and where people around me cannot give each other the hardly wear their masks properly. “

“We prefer to open cautiously”

Earlier this summer, Seneca College announced a strict COVID-19 vaccination mandate for return to campus this fall, but at the same time, Seneca President David Agnew said he was establishing a range of options. Of course delivery early on and choosing not to rush into a comeback have also been part of the Toronto-based institution’s plan.

“You just have to be very careful not to raise expectations of what you can safely deliver,” Agnew said.

“We have always believed that we would rather open cautiously and securely rather than having to retreat from a new wave.”

WATCH | College President explains Seneca’s approach to a gradual and safe return to campus

How Seneca College Treats Fall As a “Transition Semester”

Seneca President David Agnew explains why the Ontario institution is opening cautiously, with intention and not rushing to make changes amid a fourth wave of the pandemic. 2:43

This week, Ontario followed Quebec in lifting physical distancing and capacity limits for post-secondary, but “we will not bring 40 students back into a 40-seat classroom,” Agnew said.

He compared the pandemic to “a series of marathons punctuated by several sprints” with the finish line still some distance away. “We prefer … to treat this coming semester as a kind of transition semester.”

After a first year spent almost entirely online, Matthew Lee plans to have “finally that first year of second year experience” at Western University in London, Ont. (Submitted by Matthew Lee)

Having spent his first year in residency at Western University, Matthew Lee’s fingers crossed this fall will be an improvement over last year’s in-person chemistry lab, with all other classes being conducted virtually from his dorm in London, Ontario.

Now living in an off-campus apartment he moved into in May – taking an early and optimistic bet rather than risking having nowhere to live once school begins – Lee plans to sit in the halls. class, see more friends and join clubs.

“I would finally have that freshman experience in second year,” said the 19-year-old medical student, who nevertheless doesn’t expect to know how his classes will be conducted until the first day of school.

“I would appreciate it if they just told us what to expect. Worst case, at least.”

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