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Students complain about “confusing” shift to online format

U of T says 55 per cent of classes are now in person
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Students feel they have received mixed messages from U of T. SAMANTHA HAMILTON/THE VARSITY
Students feel they have received mixed messages from U of T. SAMANTHA HAMILTON/THE VARSITY

As the fall semester continues, some students say their courses which were initially scheduled to be in person are moving online with little or no warning. 

According to Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T’s vice-president people strategy, equity and culture, decisions about which courses can be moved online are made at a departmental or divisional level. 

University’s explanation

According to Hannah-Moffat, 55 per cent of classes are currently being taught in person. Some classes started online to accommodate students facing travel restrictions and those waiting to get vaccinated.

She noted that decisions about moving courses online are made at a departmental or divisional level, adding that U of T hopes that courses intended to be in person would proceed with the same plan. 

“[Departments and divisions] are also making sure that they prioritize [in-person classes] as they relate to our students’ learning and learning outcomes in those courses,” said Hannah-Moffat. “It varies across divisions, depending on the kind of program that’s being offered, and the types of students that are in those programs.”

“We’re hoping that anything that started with an intention to be in person continues to be in person, because we’ve put in all of the safety measures necessary to enable that to occur in a safe way,” said Hannah-Moffat. 

She added that instructors are communicating with department chairs and division heads about reasons to change classes online and whether they will be allowed to do so.

“[Instructors] are working closely with their department chairs, and they would be working closely with their divisional heads to have a conversation about why… they would need to move something into a different mode of delivery and exceptional circumstances,” she said.

Confused by the change

Jihwan Shim, a third-year civil engineering student, had one course moved online while all the others remain in person. In an interview with The Varsity, he said that no official notification about the change was given to him before it was moved online, and he first learnt the news from other students in his program’s group chat a week before school started.

“It’s kind of confusing because there’s not that [much] information regarding this online course,” said Shim.

Shim said now he has to look for spaces on campus to participate in online courses, such as empty lecture halls, as the course affected no longer has a designated classroom. “That’s kind of annoying,” he said. Shim also sees a positive side of the online course, since he could watch the recordings again if he misses a class.

Laura Barbosa, fourth-year women and gender studies and anthropology student, has had all but one course moved online, although all were scheduled to be in person when she signed up. She knew about the change from a course’s syllabus, yet no official announcement had been sent to her.

“I first realized because one of my classes sent the syllabus like a week before school started and it said ‘completely online,’ ” said Barbosa. “Then I checked the website, and it said that all the classes are going to be online unless specified by a course instructor.”

As an international student, Barbosa said she could have stayed at home if she had known the semester would be entirely online. “I was annoyed because I was like, oh maybe I could have planned to have all my classes online and then stay at home and not come back,” she said.

Both Shim and Barbosa expressed a wish for better communication between the university and students. “Especially through the departments —  if each department is making their own decision — I think the university should let us know,” said Barbosa.

Shim said more specific information on courses that moved from in-person to online would improve his learning experience. “Make it more clear and give more specific information regarding that course so we can easily understand what is going on,” he said.