Students’ response to the online semester, and how we can make the next one better

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In September, I asked students how they were feeling about the online Fall semester. To recap, students reported an increase in class content, assignments, and stress. 

In October, MUN released a survey to students, asking about the challenges they have faced during the semester, and what they feel would help.

On November 13th, 2020, MUN released the preliminary survey results, which stated*:

  • The preference of synchronous vs. asynchronous classes was pretty close to 50/50
  • 70% of students reported having a much larger workload than expected
  • 28% of students reported not having access to internet inside their home

*Only 19% (~3582) of registered students completed the survey.

A few days later, MUN released the full report of the survey in a document called “More activities than time”. To summarize, 

  • The increased workload caused students to drop courses, reporting a higher amount of low-stake assignments which made due-dates hard to keep up with.
  • Mandatory discussion posts as a replacement for in-class discussion is not feasible: it takes significantly longer to fully participate in discussion posts than it does to speak in-class.
  • Students struggled with time management: having weekly assignments in every course added unnecessary stress to an already challenging pandemic-life. Some instructors even made their lectures longer, causing students to spend more time than normal in class.
  • There was a decline in student-instructor communication, as instructors failed to get assignments back in a timely manner, or respond to emails.
  • Too much screen time causing a decline in mental and physical health. Screen fatigue causes eye strain, headaches, and general lack of motivation.
  • Technical difficulties: low quality internet caused students to miss classes, some of which were not recorded. Students also reported a lack of time-related accommodations in testing, making them unable to complete their assessment due to tech-related issues.

As stated in the document, the next step is to circulate the report “to academic units through the CITL Advisory Council and the CITL website to aid instructors in the design and delivery of their learning experience for the winter semester. CITL will also work with administrative support units on designing and promoting strategies that will enhance student success in the winter semester” (Hawkins & Wright 15).

This week, MUN announced that they would be delaying the winter semester start date. The new semester will officially now start on January 11th, 2021, giving students a well-needed break to recover from the Fall semester. Exceptions to this new delay include the Faculty of Medicine, the Faculty of Nursing, and the Faculty of Applied Science. Internships will also be exempt.

So far, there has been plenty of positive feedback regarding this decision. However, some students are still worried, wondering whether or not instructors will be rushing to add extra work in order to compensate for the lost week.

Amanda Bittner, Political Science Professor at Memorial University, has put forth a proposal to other instructors on how to structure the upcoming semester. The schedule consists of a reflection week between February 1st and 7th, reading week from February 22nd to 28th, and then another reflection week from March 22nd to 28th. During these reflection weeks, there would not be any classes or deadlines, giving students a full week to catch-up on the semester and start on upcoming assignments.

Reactions to this structure have been mostly positive, but students are still worrying about instructors increasing the workload to compensate for lost time.

Considering the results of October’s survey, this schedule would be a great benefit to student life. There would be more time to complete assessments, more time for self-care, and more time to establish communication with instructors.

Overall, the fall semester has been tough for many students. Between juggling school, work, and leisure time, students are suffering. Hopefully, Memorial University continues on the path of taking students’ opinion into account, and works with us to make the upcoming semester as prosperous as possible.

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