This article was written by Han Slater
Introduction and Disclaimer
On January 14th, 2022, students at the University of Lethbridge received an email stating that classes would remain online until potentially February 28th. Some students were shocked to discover that the University of Lethbridge would remain online. With Lethbridge College returning to in-person classes on January 21st, while also providing integrated online learning still an option for students, many students of the University were confused. What does this mean for students now? Will we continue to remain online for the rest of the term, or will February see the return of on-campus learning? Of course, the faculty and staff strike could also alter the potential return. This article does not intend to force readers to pick a side of the argument or paint negative images of the faculty and staff. This article simply gives students a voice to express how they feel about remote learning and how it has been affecting them for the last two years.
When the discussion of online classes began two years ago, it was believed by most in the University and the country that lockdown would only last two weeks. Of course, two years later, here we are now, with most courses online still. Not to say this is necessarily a bad thing, as the University of Lethbridge put the safety of its students and workers first. It became increasingly evident that there was no slowing down the rising global COVID cases. The sudden shutdown and transition to online learning were rocky and not easy for faculty and students. Launching the pass or fail option for students in Spring 2020 allowed a cushion for students trying to graduate and those attempting to uphold a good GPA (Grade Point Average). However, budget cuts and restraints on the University made this transition difficult, and the scandal of the 57-year old employee accused of stealing $580,000 only worsened matters for the University (White, 2021). Many students took to social media to voice their concerns over the University declining to lower tuition costs while the format for school remained online. Students that required studios in the Art department struggled to book studio times over the summer and navigate ever-changing COVID protocols. An anonymous source spoke how at one point, multiple different students tested positive for COVID within the Art department, concealed this information, and continued to use services on campus because of the unrelenting deadlines their professors assigned them. Finding the suitable medium of workload and patience has been a struggle the last two years of the pandemic, and it has dramatically affected students and faculty. With the continuation of online classes for students and faculty, the ever-present issue of workload, social isolation, and COVID conditions changing, there is a mutual air of discontent from the students.
Online Classes & COVID Cases
The decision for classes to remain online was made in consultation with Alberta Health Services and monitoring the Omnicron variant rising across Canada (Mahon, 2022). The increase in Omnicron cases was cause for concern, therefore return to online classes as it is apparent that it was more contagious and viral than the other variants. Many students are frustrated with the constant back-and-forth between in-person and online learning. On social media, a petition became trending for students to sign “Commit to Online Learning for the Remainder of the Spring 2022” (Haas, 2022). John-Paul De Haas started this petition when the University informed the student body that online classes would continue until the 28th of February; approximately January 14th is when the petition began its circulation, and within three days, 1/8th of the student body signed the petition. A decision to move the rest of the semester to e-learning seems to offer students comfort to avoid the continuous game of email tag with COVID protocol information. An interview with a fifth-year student from the New Media department, who intends to graduate this semester, has stated that they understand and support the decision made by the University to remain online during the pandemic. However, the student added that it would be better if the University could be more consistent with delivering information because everything feels uncertain. The desire to return to campus is still apparent in most student bodies, as the petition only contains 1/8th of signatures. There is still hope it seems that students will return to campus. In the same interview and another interview with Taija Weiss, there is still an understanding of why classes have returned to the online format, but both students stated they would like to return to campus.
Return to Campus?
In the interview with Taija Weiss, a third-year accounting major, she mentioned that online learning has made it harder to excel in her studies. In addition, she has stated that being at home and doing classes through Zoom or prerecorded lectures have been challenging because she is not in an environment that promotes learning. To clarify, she strongly agrees that the University of Lethbridge fosters an atmosphere of learning when on campus, but the same sentiment cannot be given to e-learning. As a student at the University, I concur with her statement that campus cultivates this learning experience and online learning has more hurdles than anticipated. Since the start of online classes, the students’ workload has been consistent, if not heavier, since the pandemic began in 2020. The speculation given by students is that professors seem to think they have extra time on their hands because everyone is following COVID protocols and lockdowns. These ideas come from the vast increase of internet meme culture on social media that pictures young adults are struggling with the increased workload. Is this an increase in workload, or is it simply harder to work in an environment that does not promote learning? Perhaps both are true. An anonymous student in the New Media department has stated that it does feel like the workload is heavier than before the pandemic. The University of Lethbridge is aware that the students wish to return to in-person classes as it is better for them. Still, the sudden petition to move the entire semester to online and the impending strike by the ULFA has shifted this desire to return to campus. Of course, there are no right or wrong answers here. This article demonstrates only concerning opinions and a rise in discontent with the handling of the term on the University’s part.
With the lack of stability in society, what this means for students is a continuously changing environment that will reflect the public health changes and mandates of Alberta and Canada. Perhaps this article provided some insight into how students feel regarding the continuation of online learning and will allow others a sense of community to lessen feelings of isolation. On the other hand, perhaps this article did not give comfort and only provided more stress for readers. There are many sides to the ongoing argument of what is better for students, staff, faculty, and administrators. However, the commonality that these arguments share is an understanding, stretched patience, and tiredness over the never-ending changes COVID-19 presents. I will take this moment to mention counselling services are available with the University of Lethbridge should students feel the need to access them at any point in time; the lovely individuals there will help and provide resources for those who need them. Hopefully, the main point is to give a sense of compassion for all students, faculty, staff, and administrators during this very frustrating time. For more current information and updates about the ongoing changes that will affect the community at the University, please refer to the FAQ page concerning COVID-19 updates on the University of Lethbridge website.