For a wide variety of serious health, financial, and academic reasons, students are split between staying online and returning in late February as planned. However, three weeks into the semester, students agree that their educational experience is much worse than expected. The University has failed to meet basic standards for online learning.
"We supported a temporary shift online with the understanding that the University had fixed the concerns we've continually raised over the past two years," said VP Academic, Abner Monteiro. "This semester students have reported increasing and unacceptable issues with online learning, proctoring, practicums and exams. Students across all faculties feel lied to. It’s very telling of the University’s lack of capacity to maintain quality after rounds of increasingly aggressive tuition hikes."
The UASU consults and surveys students regularly and we are seeing unprecedented pain, anger, and dissatisfaction. After years of pandemic adaptation and budget cuts, students understand that emergency remote delivery has its challenges but rightfully expects the University to deliver the promised quality of education. In solidarity with students, the UASU refuses to accept this semester's emerging and preventable failures. The University must make immediate changes as the current situation is harming students' mental health, financial wellbeing and academic success.
Data from a survey of 1238 students with a 65% response rate, focusing on student experiences since the semester began on January 5th:
- 25% are being required to take in-person midterms before campus reopens.
- 34% report instructors unilaterally deciding to stay remote for the rest of the semester in the context of unclear central plans.
- 21% face housing instability like paying for multiple residences or lack of short-term housing options, compounded by the inability to plan for the rest of the semester.
- 42% report refusals to record lectures.
- 43% report old recordings used as most or all of their course content.
- 37% report negative experiences with online proctoring.
- 38% face internet instabilities — not just at home but in residence and on campus.
- Out of 243 respondents with practicum or experiential learning placements, 40% report that their supervisors aren't telling them whether those placements will continue this semester.
Data from a sample of 756 students with a 77% response rate, focusing on student experiences since the semester began on January 5th:
- "This semester, my faculty's administrators/staff are making an effort to limit students' stress levels." On a 5-point Likert scale, 26% somewhat disagree and 19% strongly disagree.
“This is a cascading failure,” said UASU President Rowan Ley. “Expecting resilience from us without proper stability and tools to be successful is careless. The University committed to uphold its core responsibility and deliver the education we're paying for. Students are reporting historic levels of disenchantment with the quality of education they receive in Alberta. The online pivot has been completely mishandled despite a year of experience, and it's become clear that the University has failed to keep standards up. This failure leaves too many of us without critical support.”
Immediate Action Required:
- Shut down SEM and ExamLock online proctoring software for the rest of the semester except where they are explicit accreditation requirements. The University has not delivered on promises to enforce standards for online proctoring. Students are tired of the distrust, inequity, irresponsibility, malfunction, excessive technical requirements, and invasion of privacy.
- Confirm that no remote student is required to take in-person midterms before campus reopens.
- Make a commitment to a predictable in-person return, release a detailed step by step safe return plan and make rapid tests and masks available for students, faculty, and staff on campus as part of a safe return strategy, similar to what has happened at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
- Students are split between wanting to return ASAP (often citing serious mental health situations) and staying online. However, they are united in demanding clearer plans — and communication of those plans — from all levels of University administration.
- In recent weeks, students have already shouldered many unexpected costs. The University has the power to prevent further vulnerability and financial insecurity by giving students clear predictability for the rest of the semester.
- Immediately increase mental health support. Last semester, 50% of respondents to a large student survey (n=2506, 23% response rate) reported serious mental health impacts from the pandemic (36% ‘a lot’ + 14% ‘more than anything I’ve ever been through’). Students have shared horror stories of anxiety, burnout, and isolation.
- Bolster funding for Accessibility Resources. Students who need academic accommodations report University support staff are overworked, which severely reduces the quality of available services. Many students report duplicate accommodations, or measures that don't meet their actual needs. Students under duress should not need to create their own patchwork accommodations to make up for the current lack of capacity at Accessibility Resources.
- Record all lectures. Over 40% of students report courses that are not delivering this basic accommodation despite the needs of many disabled students and international students in other time zones. This should not be such a widespread obstacle in the University’s seventh semester of instruction during the pandemic.
- Make it clear to faculties that posting old recordings as most or all of their course delivery, as reported by over 40% of students, is unacceptable. Students are upset about paying hundreds of dollars per course just to watch years-old YouTube clips without class engagement.
- Immediately boost internet service in residence and across campus while setting clear standards for how internet failures during exams will be handled. Students explicitly report on-campus internet instability interfering with online courses and exams.
- Direct all practicum and experiential learning supervisors to immediately inform all participating students whether their placements this semester are still happening.
- Scrap Exceptional Tuition Increase proposals, particularly for faculties that are delivering an especially poor quality of education. Students are already paying too much for eroding program quality and poor delivery. If the University cannot deliver on existing commitments and services to a reasonable standard, we do not have confidence in its ability to use millions of new tuition dollars responsibly.
- Develop and broadly implement blended/hybrid learning models wherever appropriate. The University needs to respect and leverage the established expertise of the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL). Much of this should have been carried out even before the pandemic.
“I’m beyond frustrated for students. We’re suffering through a deteriorating, demoralizing, and confusing educational environment,” said Talia Dixon, UASU VP Student Life. “We’ve had to do it all at our own mental, emotional and financial cost. We need immediate action on these items to avoid any more long-lasting impacts to students' lives and futures. We are resilient but we will not accept low standards.”
Advanced Education and University administration cannot in good conscience pursue exceptional tuition increases at a time when students are receiving such low value for money. Instead of hiking tuition again, the University needs to regroup and correct its pervasive top-down failures.
“This is a compounding issue that has gone from bad to worse to inexcusable,” said Ley. “Unprecedented budget cuts weakened the University at exactly the wrong time and set students up for additional pain. But the quality of learning this semester has fallen so much lower than it had to. We're afraid we'll see another round of compounding cuts in the upcoming provincial budget. I’m tired of students paying such a heavy and avoidable price.”
"Students are justifiably angry," said Dixon. "As students, the UASU Executive Committee shares students' feelings of anger, sadness, disappointment, and even betrayal. The University must do more to ensure we are not only safe but receive the high-quality education we expect."
To get advocacy updates, follow us on Instagram (@uasu.alberta) or check out our Facebook page (University of Alberta Students' Union - UASU). If you wish to connect with UASU leadership about our advocacy on these issues or additional supports, please email UASU President Rowan Ley, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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