By Kayla Zhu
As Ryerson students finish their first semester of online midterms and look ahead to final exams, some students are expressing concern that the university’s policies on wireless network and technical issues are unclear and unsupportive.
According to Ryerson’s COVID-19 information and updates website, if students run into an issue before or during an exam, “for example, accessing or submitting the exam,” they are expected to contact their professor.
The website does not currently outline policies or procedures on how professors should manage students’ technical difficulties during testing.
Will Ransom*, a fourth-year computer science student, said he experienced different approaches from two different professors when it came to dealing with student Wi-Fi issues during tests.
This semester, Ransom says he had some concerns around what would happen if his Wi-Fi—which he says will occasionally times out for two to three minutes—disconnected during one of his computer science midterms.
“Our professors don’t know what to do. There is no policy for what happens to you when your Wi-Fi is out. There is no proof”
According to Ransom, one of his professors told the class if they disconnected, they wouldn’t be allowed to go back to previous questions and they’d have to call him to verify they disconnected from the test. He added that if the professor “believed” them, they would let them continue the test from where they left off. He hasn’t heard of any similar policies from his other courses.
“I’m sure most of my other professors aren’t going to have a problem if my internet goes out,” said Ransom.
This summer, Ransom’s Wi-Fi timed out for a few minutes during his first online exam in a calculus course. When his internet connection came back, Ransom emailed his professor who allowed him to re-enter the test.
Ransom said he thinks there’s a lack of urgency from the university to build policies and systems required for online learning and that the university has “abandoned not just students, but the professors too.”
“The onus is on our university to create policy, to create procedures for things like this,” said Ransom. “Our professors don’t know what to do. There is no policy for what happens to you when your Wi-Fi is out. There is no proof.”
Constantine Angyridis, an associate professor and the director of Ryerson’s international economics and finance program, said in an emailed response that he has added a 15 minute “grace period” after the official end of the exam where students can still submit their work.
“Also, during an exam, students can send me a private message through Zoom’s chat room facility asking questions about the exam,” wrote Angyridis. “The more difficult questions are redirected to a discussion by email.”
He said in the instance where a student had technical difficulties during an exam, he would have them alert him through Zoom or email and he’d grant them an extension to submit their work.
In 2016, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declared broadband internet a basic service that everyone should have access to.
According to CRTC’s 2019 Communications Monitoring report, households that have a higher household income are more likely to use the internet. In 2017, over 97 per cent of households with an income of over $86,000 reported internet usage at home compared to 69 per cent of households with an income of less than $32,914.
“I’m paying an arm and a leg to live downtown and I can’t even have a steady Wi-Fi connection”
The report also found that in 2018, over 97 per cent of households in urban communities had access to broadband internet service, compared to 40 per cent of households in rural communities and 31 per cent of First Nations reserves.
Thomas Squires, a first-year graphic communications management student, said he cut out of Zoom classes seven or eight times per class in his first month of living at the International Living and Learning Centre (ILLC).
“It was more than just a little irritating. I’m paying an arm and a leg to live downtown and I can’t even have a steady Wi-Fi connection,” said Squires.
After Squires emailed the residence office, he got in touch with Ryerson’s Computing and Communications Services (CCS) team who was able to set him up with a modem in his room at the end of September. Now, he doesn’t experience any connectivity issues.
When the employee from CCS came to install the modem in Squires’ room, he told Squires this is the first year ILLC had a proper wireless network. He also said things like big metal pipes and the location of the room on a floor could weaken the Wi-Fi strength.
“I think [the service] is great, I just don’t think we should have to ask for it,” said Squires.
While Squires said he probably won’t be facing many Wi-Fi issues during midterm and final season, he said he believes professors “should be giving students as much slack as possible,” noting that online schooling has been more stressful than in-person classes were in high school for him.
He said that although students should be proactive in submitting things on time, if there are technical failures on D2L, professors should understand it’s sometimes out of their control.
“I think the process should be just giving the benefit of the doubt,” said Squires. “Until all this goes back to normal, we can’t be too sure because a good internet connection is a luxury that not everybody has.”
*Last name has been changed for anonymity