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Students point to late decision, loss of in-person experience as multiple faculties, campuses move completely online

Changes to course instruction follow new restrictions to curb spread of COVID-19
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Ontario is moving back to Stage 2 restrictions after an uptick in COVID-19 cases. HANNAH WANG/THE VARSITY
Ontario is moving back to Stage 2 restrictions after an uptick in COVID-19 cases. HANNAH WANG/THE VARSITY

On October 9, Ontario announced plans to move back to Stage 2 of restrictions due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the province, leading several more academic units at U of T to transition more of their course delivery to completely online. The restrictions will be in place for a minimum of 28 days.

On October 17, Toronto reported 374 cases of COVID-19, Peel reported 107, and York reported 93. Cases in Ontario hit a record high of 939 on October 9, and the province has reported more than 700 cases for the past six days.

In accordance with the Stage 2 restrictions, U of T closed its gyms and fitness centres, limited seating in dining halls and food services, and set limits on social gatherings. Though the restriction on how many people can gather indoors does not apply to classes, Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regher asked faculties to review their in-person activities.

More faculties move instruction online

Shortly after this announcement, the Faculty of Arts & Science announced that all fall hybrid delivery courses will be moved entirely online after less than two months of in-person course delivery. The Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education and the UTSC campus have also moved completely online.

The School of Continuing Studies, which was meant to begin in-person courses in late October, will also be moving courses online. Most faculties started the year with almost entirely online courses or a guarantee for an online option. As of time of publication, no other faculties have announced changes to their course delivery.

Courses that are fully in person may continue to be in person, along with activities that are deemed “essential,” such as lab courses, music instruction, and practical instruction, such as clinical work in the health professions like nursing and medicine.

Students adjust to fully online course delivery

In an interview with The Varsity, Mohsin Reza, a second-year computer science student, expressed sadness that classes would be moving online. He said that he had two hybrid courses that he was doing in person before they were moved entirely online.

“It was almost to be expected, but at the same time was obviously disappointing because they told us since basically the beginning of summer that there is going to be both online and in-person options available,” said Reza. “Obviously, I understand that there is basically nothing they could have done about this, and they have to prioritize health and safety.”

However, Reza said that he finds it “next to impossible” to focus in online lectures compared to in-person ones.

“If I’m in person, it’s much easier for me to focus, and it’s also much easier to sort of engage with the professor and the material,” said Reza. He also mentioned that he found it easier to meet friends in in-person courses before the pandemic, though most of his friends are taking courses online now.

Reza was also signed up for three in-person courses for the winter semester, all of which were recently moved online.

The Varsity also spoke with fourth-year student Marriam Bacchus, who is doing a specialist in accounting, with minors in French and economics at Rotman Commerce. Though Rotman offered some in-person courses in the fall, Bacchus, who commutes to school, decided to take all her courses online to avoid using public transportation.

Though Bacchus has been taking courses fully online since the summer, she said that she finds online courses to be particularly difficult compared to in-person courses. She feels that online courses have higher expectations for class participation through discussion boards and in-class discussions.

“I think pretty much everyone I’ve talked to has said that this year and this semester feels so much more difficult than previous years. And part of that is mental fatigue, but also, I think, a change in expectation of how much you’re expected to contribute… your time and yourself to online classes,” said Bacchus.

Bacchus thinks that U of T was too optimistic in starting the year off with in-person and hybrid course delivery. She feels hesitant to criticize the university since its plan was similar to other universities. “But I’d say everyone kind of knew there was going to be a second wave,” she added.

U of T Media Relations did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.