Just because we can’t see our professors, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hear from them

Students shouldn’t have to rely on each other to figure out what is expected in their classes

Remote learning is a chaotic situation that demands good communication. Photo: Maxwell Gawlick/The Peak

By: Devana Petrovic, Staff Writer

If you’re currently taking courses, chances are that you’ve experienced some of the newfound struggles that accompany remote learning. In particular, I’m referring to failures in student-instructor communication. Effective communication is the only way courses are able to run smoothly at a distance, but considering the commonality of complaints I’ve heard from fellow SFU students, I think I speak for most of us in that there are inconsistencies in communication between faculty and students. 

Student success is a two-way street, and when communication breaks down at the top, students — especially in a remote environment — lose their primary support in their education. These communication breakdowns have to therefore be called out and addressed before they become entrenched as habit.  

I recall a course last semester in which little to no information was communicated to students. Updates regarding the transition to an online platform were minimal, and instructions for the final exam were received last minute. I even had an instance during the final where an essential link for the open-book exam was not working and the professor was not accessible to help me. In addition, it was frustrating to not only have the TA completely disappear from the picture, but to also have to wait for an email response for days, while being left with unclear instructions and approaching deadlines. 

These communication difficulties resulted in a dependence on peer support, where students scrambled to assist each other in clearing up poorly explained assignment instructions and confusing presentations of course content, all because the professor was not providing the minimal amount of communication required to operate in the course. Without the occasional second-hand information my peers managed to acquire from choppy email responses and office hours, I can’t even imagine how isolated and helpless I could have felt in the course. 

This class-wide confusion was completely avoidable. As a comparison, I had a TA in the same semester who went above and beyond in communicating with students. In this course the TA individually contacted students for assignment feedback and ensured that personal needs were met. Both the professor and teaching assistants were incredibly responsive in emails and Canvas messages, opened their schedules for additional office hours over various mediums, and sent out regular updates on the course status. I can confidently say that my ability to connect to the course material was significantly better as I was not preoccupied with trying to fill in the gaps in instructions or email responses. 

Although I do not expect all instructors to be personally involved in every step of my academic progress or to send hourly updates, there needs to be a standard of communication somewhere between excessive hand holding and an unacceptable lack of responsiveness. My experiences with faculty communication last semester have shown me the drastic difference that good communication can have on course performance. But in times of online learning, our dependency on good communication should not even have to be stated. 

University is stressful as is, it’s an unnecessary added stressor for students to be left in the dark by their instructors.