Fall Semester; by Sam Grinnell

“At UBC Okanagan, the student experience is at the heart of everything we do and we are working relentlessly to deliver the high-quality UBC education you expect, wherever you may be.”

As summer draws to a close, the looming threats of assignments, examinations, and sleepless nights have arrived. However, 2020 could not be considered the worst year in recent history if it did not pose a new challenge for students and faculty: online schooling. This method of instruction has brought about numerous concerns about how education and campus life will be impacted.

Many students are wondering what to expect for a full semester of online learning, especially since each university program has unique requirements that may present challenges for online-based learning such as large class sizes, labs and tutorials, and participation-based learning.

To help answer some of these questions, UBC Okanagan’s Provost has hosted two Student Town Hall Webinars. The first webinar took place on June 26, 2020, following the announcement of the online semester and the second webinar took place most recently on September 2, 2020, before the start of classes.

The June 26 Town Hall helped to assure students that although these are not ideal circumstances, there may be some benefits to online learning. Each of the panelists in attendance agreed that online learning will be a mix of asynchronous and synchronous lectures, meaning that some lectures will be pre-recorded while other lectures will be held in real-time so that students are able to engage with their professors and ask questions.

In addition to engaging with professors during synchronous lectures, students are encouraged to engage with professors outside of class time through email and office hours. Professor Mark MacLean from UBC Vancouver suggested that asking professors questions will be easier with online-based learning as students can schedule and attend web-based office hours without leaving the comfort of their homes.

In terms of labs, students will be expected to complete some pre-lab work and post-lab work as per usual. However, rather than performing the experiments themselves, students will likely work with data manipulation or watch videos of the experiments being performed. Professor Tamara Freeman from UBC Okanagan believes that this may help students gain a better understanding of the experiments as there will be more time for explanation and discussion of the theory behind the experiments.

Students attending the webinar were interested in how purchasing textbooks will work. The UBC Bookstore is encouraging students to purchase their textbooks as soon as possible from the online bookstore as they are expecting heavy delays due to high demand. As an alternative, the bookstore has been working to find digital materials where possible so that students can purchase the online versions and avoid shipping hassles.

The September 2nd Town Hall presented an opportunity for faculty to discuss specific topics about this school year and what students can expect. Some of the topics discussed included course delivery, learning supports, grade distribution, and tuition.

Understandably, one of the topics that received plenty of discussion was technology. Many students expressed their concerns about technical issues which could seriously hinder their learning. Students wished to know what will happen if they face these issues during class or examination times. Will students be penalized? Will students receive a lower grade than they deserve? This is what Dr. Freeman had to say about this concern:

“I think I'm reading the same point, what happens if there's a technology problem, what happens if there's this or this. Your concern about that is our concern about that, so we have protocols in place. We have backup plans for backup plans for backup plans. If something bad happens, and again, this is a theme that has been echoed by everyone in the panel today, there's that compassion piece. We’re going to believe you when you say your computer kicked you out of the exam for 20 minutes. We’re going to believe you when you tell us that some horrendous thing happened. Again, I can't just emphasize enough that we recognize your concern, we as instructors, as faculty members have the same concerns.”

In addition to technology, another popular topic brought up by students is how will they be attending classes and office hours if they live in different time zones. Faculty responded that they will attempt to take the burden off students in different time zones with recorded lectures. This allows students to watch lectures when it is convenient for them to do so. However, despite this accommodation, it was also pointed out by the panel that participation and social interaction are key and are a part of a student’s grade in some classes. This renders recorded lectures for some classes with participation marks meaningless as students in different time zones will still have to attend class at very inconvenient times.

Although the university is trying their best to accommodate students during these unprecedented times, this will still be a very difficult transition to adjust to for both students and faculty.