SFU must be willing to make structural changes for remote learning to be successful

Students were patient last semester, but are expecting better systems for remote learning this summer

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SFU must be willing to make structural changes for remote learning to be successful

By: Devana Petrovic, Staff Writer

Over the past several months, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact around the globe, and our SFU community is no exception. One of the most obvious ways that SFU students have been affected is by the transition to online instruction. Whether we’re dealing with serious financial strain (i.e. job insecurity or hardware costs of adapting to online school), a loss of motivation, or a technologically clueless professor, every university student has been affected one way or another. So with the social distancing measures still in place, and the summer semester just starting, I have some concerns that I’m sure many other students share as well. Will professors be more prepared this time around? Will our remote learning be a little less chaotic? There were many problems with the abrupt switch last semester that I hope have been addressed and corrected for the benefit of students this semester.

Let’s start with a big one: equality. Not all students have equal access to the same spaces, technology, or uninterrupted free time while studying from home. I hope that SFU has put some thought towards ensuring equity in class arrangements, including encouraging professors to practice additional sensitivity to the various situations of students — first and foremost ensuring accessibility and fair expectations during these confusing and difficult times. SFU has already stated that there will be no pass/fail option for students in the summer semester. That being the case, I hope adjustments have been requested of individual departments to ensure fair grading takes into account inequalities in students’ situations.

Similarly, it is important that class arrangements integrate inclusive and accommodating measures that ensure no student is denied the option of gaining course credits during the summer due to the lack of their accessibility needs being met. Classes that rely a great deal on class presentations, field work, or lab attendance are going to need to ensure that all students are able to participate equally as their circumstances allow. This includes allowances not only for technology, but also for the ability of students to safely leave quarantine zones. This will likely require assessment of each individual students’ abilities at the beginning of the semester. Failing to provide these accommodations may result in students withdrawing from enrollment until in-person classes can resume again, delaying completing their required credits.

Additionally, courses that rely on timed exams are going to be a problem for some students in quarantine. A two-hour timed exam set in a particular time frame does not consider the barriers that students face when completing an assignment in their own home, without access to on-campus commodities such as a quiet work environment (e.g. the library), or access to reliable Wi-Fi. Moreover, many students have families, dependent loved ones, pets, and any number of other responsibilities in their homes that may be difficult to ignore during a high-stakes, timed event like an exam. 

Reconsidering the necessity or form of timed exams is especially important, as I have found that the added stress of a timed final during COVID-19 is an unnecessary burden on the anxieties that a university student already faces. Just speaking for myself, but requiring a final of this nature would have been no more beneficial to retaining course content last semester than alternative assignments that provide a more reasonable time limit. I have found that added research assignments or even untimed take-home finals have been much more productive forms of examination in these particular circumstances.

SFU students pay this institution a whole lot for our education and expect the quality of that education to reflect the money that goes into it. In the time of a global pandemic, it’s understandable that we all have to make some adjustments. However, the onus should not be on students alone to shoulder the unreasonable expectation that remote instruction be as similar to in-person learning as possible. SFU should also be willing to adapt and accommodate to what is reasonable in these unprecedented times. Anything less is not a proper utilization of student tuition money. 

These are exceptional circumstances that are beyond anyone’s control, and expecting students to follow the same academic structures as pre-quarantine learning is frankly unfair and unrealistic. Hopefully with the added notice, the summer semester’s agenda will be more clear and SFU students won’t have to experience another semester of chaos.