By Kristy Koehler, May 20 2020—
Students in the Haskayne School of Business have some strong opinions about the University of Calgary’s response to COVID-19.
Newly-elected Students’ Union representatives for Haskayne, Aly Samji and Shagufta Farheen, wasted no time after being sworn in on May 1 in getting their pulse on how students in their faculty were feeling about the university’s handling of the crisis.
Samji and Farheen sent out a survey to students in the Haskayne School of Business to better get a sense of student opinion about the abrupt transition to online learning during the Winter 2020 semester. They also wanted to hear what students thought worked and what didn’t work, in order to better advocate for their interests in preparation for further online learning.
“We want to ensure that the faculty — and university — are taking the appropriate steps to accommodate the concerns of students,” said Samji.
The survey was anonymous as Samji and Farheen wanted “the raw, unfettered thoughts of students to come through, unimpeded by the fear of repercussion.”
Within 48 hours there were almost 100 responses to the survey. Samji and Farheen are actively soliciting even more responses.
“We know that the more student voices we have, the stronger the foundations of our advocacy can be,” said Samji.
One hundred percent of respondents listed Haskayne as their home faculty, but many were also enrolled in classes within other faculties. Samji noted that the information he collected would be applicable to other faculties as a result.
The first question on the survey asked students to rank the transition to online learning, from one to five, one being “not effective or efficient” and five being “excellent.” Just over 67 per cent responded with a three or lower.
Other questions asked students what worked best for online learning and what some of the challenges were.
Samji noted the key takeaways were that Zoom is effective, but professors need a crash course in how to use the technology properly.
Students also overwhelmingly responded that pre-recorded Zoom lectures were most impactful, that PowerPoint voiceovers were not effective and live Zoom calls “lacked the sensitivity toward students in different time zones.”
According to Samji and Farheen, the best way to go about managing online learning going forward is for professors to host live Zoom lectures at a scheduled time, while posting a recording of the lecture on D2L for students to access easily at a later time. Samji noted this was a solution also put forward by Students’ Legislative Council members from other faculties.
The survey indicated that the credit/fail option was a great cushion for students.
“Whether they chose to take advantage of it or not, it really allowed students to feel more comfortable with the mental health aspect of the transition,” said Samji, something he noted some respondents felt that the university administration had forgotten about.
Students noted a gap in communication between students and professors, “with some students waiting upwards of a week-and-a-half to hear how their courses would be progressing after the initial shutdown of the university.”
Other students noted they felt they’d lost all academic support and Samji says that “a lack of uniformity in course delivery caused many students to feel overwhelmed and anxious.”
A response that stuck out to him was that, in at least one course, a student was not able to go back and look at their own answers before submitting their quiz. A respondent noted this was “inappropriate, given that in an in-person circumstance, this would have been allowed.”
The survey asked students to rank just how concerned they are for the upcoming semesters. A rank of one indicated “exceptionally concerned” and a rank of five indicated “not at all concerned.” Samji says 45 per cent of respondents selected a two or below.
“Anxiety levels are very high moving into the future,” Samji said.
He noted four high-level concepts that emerged in his and Farheen’s analysis of the data — high anxiety about tuition and fees, concerns about uniformity and consistency with regard to the delivery of course, fears about whether or not classes would be in-person or online and specifically, the Haskayne differential fee.
“Many students, themselves and their families have lost their sources of income and are unable to pay tuition and fees and they’re very scared to take out student loans at this time as well,” said Samji. “Students want to know if the university will offer any leniency in light of this global pandemic.”
Many courses in the Haskayne School of business carry an additional fee of $250.77 per three-unit course, in addition to normal tuition fees. This differential fee resulted in a lot of discussion, said Samji, with some students calling the fee “unethical and highly unnecessary at this time.”
Samji and Farheen hope the survey will assist them, and the entirety of the 78th SLC, in advocating for student interests.
“Shagufta and I are super happy to see students actively voicing their concerns and providing feedback because this gives us a lot of strength to continue our advocacy efforts,” said Samji. “We’re hoping that the survey will begin to set a precedent for students to be more involved in the decisions that effect them.”
He also hopes that Haskayne students are able to feel a little more relaxed knowing that he and Farheen plan to take action on the survey’s results.
“We want Haskayne students to know that, going forward, we will work tirelessly to ensure that the insights in this survey are acted upon and that students are being heard and actions are being taken.”
Samji and Farheen want to encourage Haskayne students to get in touch with them, either through their emails or via one of their newly-established social media profiles, on Facebook and Instagram at @suuofc_haskayne. Contact information for SLC is available online.
Editors Note: An earlier version of this story had Samji quoted as calling the inability to review test answers “inappropriate, given that in an in-person circumstance, this would have been allowed.” It was actually a survey respondent who noted this.