U of C students protest last-minute transition to online study

Students at the University of Calgary protested the school's decision to allow online classes that members of the student body believe came with little consultation or consideration for their needs.

Students gathered at MacEwan Hall at 11 a.m. Tuesday in an effort, they said, to hold the university to account for transitioning classes to online two weeks before lectures started. 

Organizer John Rawlek wants the university to "uphold its commitment of providing classes it gave to students four months ago, or take responsibility for the thousands of dollars in fees their last minute decision cost students."

Rawlek said virtual learning can't replace the experience of classroom learning.

"A web camera can’t capture the beauty of that human experience where you’re sitting next to people you don’t even know, physically interacting with them," he said.

The decision to opt for online instruction was left up to individual instructors. U of C political scientist Melanee Thomas believes the province is to blame for the last-minute nature of the shift to online classes.

"It landed on us like a sledgehammer," Thomas said. "

This isn’t the university’s fault, and its not instructors fault. People are scrambling to figure out the best way to keep people safe...But the buck stops with the provincial government and the chief medical officer of health."

Students CTV News spoke to were more excited about being able to return to campus than concerned about COVID-19.

U of C student Juan Cruz had no classes moved online, and was pleased about it.

"I’m very happy that all my classes happen to be in person," Cruz said. "Last year when I had courses, they were all online and after awhile it got pretty depressing just being in my room, so i can definitely understand their frustration."

Those sentiments were echoed by student Takumi Rodgers. "I’m excited, I missed out on my first year more or less because of it," Rodgers said.

Meanwhile student Callen Armstrong discovered a combination of online and in-person classes and felt OK about that.

"I have three courses in person, and two online which is my perfect combination I think," Armstrong said.

U OF C RESPONDS

The University of Calgary said the vast majority of its course offerings will involve in-person learning, despite the decision of some instructors to move classes online.

School officials issued the following statement to CTV News late Tuesday morning in responses to the rally.

The University of Calgary’s top priority is the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff.

The environment continues to change rapidly. The pandemic has forced many post-secondary institutions, including the University of Calgary, to make difficult decisions on a short timeframe in order to ensure our campus is safe for students, faculty and staff. These are not decisions we make lightly.

The university is actively working with and supporting students who have been affected by modality changes. This includes:

  • Support for finding classes with the modality of course delivery they prefer through their faculty advisors;
  • Facilitated in-person study groups through the Student Success Centre for some online courses;
  • Dedicated spaces for students to participate in online courses with their peers;
  • Bursaries to offset financial hardship;
  • Elimination of campus recreation and transit fees for those with completely online schedules (with the option to opt in for those who want to use on campus facilities);
  • Continuing to offer in-person experiential research and learning opportunities for students, including for internships and student work placements; and
  • In-person student services and extra-curricular activities.

In making our decisions we have been guided by provincial recommendations, scientific evidence (supported by the University of Calgary’s Centre for Health Informatics Tracker) and input from students, faculty and staff.

Our commitment to all parties has been to track the situation carefully and make changes as necessary to keep our community safe, feeling safe and open for the fall.

School officials said in August that roughly 80 per cent of fall courses would be conducted in the traditional mode of instruction.