How students believe online learning could be improved

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By Thea Gribilas

As the winter term comes to a close, students are grappling with the possibility of yet another semester of online learning. Some students are asking for changes and better support after a year of exclusively studying online.

On Thursday, Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi said in a statement the university will announce plans for the fall 2021 semester by June 9.

He said although there might be limited in-person activities, the majority of classes will still be facilitated online.

Umar Iqbal, a second-year business student, said he noticed his professors have become less available to students and are being less accommodating with deadlines.

He’s also found it often challenging to get professors to answer student questions which makes it difficult for students to succeed, he said.

“Professors should try to be more flexible when deadlines are a concern because of the unusual times we’re living in and how hard it’s been on some students to meet those deadlines,” he said.

“Professors should try to be more flexible when deadlines are a concern because of the unusual times we’re living in and how hard it’s been on some students to meet those deadlines”

Alexandra Nash, a fourth-year psychology student and Ryerson Students’ Union Faculty of Arts director, said professors should be recording all of their synchronous lectures. 

“The element of flexibility at a time where you can’t guarantee that none of your students, for example, will have a shift for work scheduled during a lecture that they have to go to, or else they can’t pay rent, is critical,” said Nash. 

“We are doing all of our lectures online anyway, so it doesn’t add any burden to professors to record those lectures,” she said.

She said all recorded lectures should include transcripts and that not having them is a “huge accessibility issue” for those who are hearing impaired.

“[These are] the kinds of things that can’t possibly hurt anyone,” she said.

Grade leniency to better outcomes

Nash said the university should reconsider its decision on not bringing back credit/no credit (CRD/NCR) options. 

CRD/NCR options were introduced last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students had the opportunity to decide whether they wanted to maintain their assigned letter grade, replace the grade with credit or drop the course entirely without academic penalty as a no credit grade. 

“Grades are a huge source of stress,” said Nash. “Having a credit, no credit option would just remove some of that stress from students.”

In an email to The Eyeopener, the university said it “introduced the CRD/NCR option in direct response to help as many students as possible complete an in-progress term during very uncertain times.”

The administration ultimately decided not to extend the CRD/NCR replacement option for fall 2020 after it “determined that students should use existing measures, which include in-program consultation with individual professors/instructors and an extended final course drop date.”

“Having a credit, no credit option would just remove some of that stress from students”

As for exams, Nash added that professors shouldn’t try to enforce closed-book exams as it puts students who are being academically honest at a disadvantage.

Kris Alexander, an assistant professor at the Faculty of Communication and Design, said he opts to use theory-through-practice application questions for tests rather than questions that are on course content. This means students can’t just copy and paste their notes but actually have to know and understand the concepts being tested.

“I’m not going to ask what a theory means,” Alexander said. “I’m saying, ‘How would you use this theory?’”

Alexander has also created a unique learning environment for his students where he uses subtitles and live animations in the Zoom call so students can interact with him, ask questions and actively participate. 

“It really gives them more control,” he said. “The chat is fine…but if something’s really burning and they want to [get my attention] they have the ability to do that.”

Alexander uses a free software called Open Broadcast Software (OBS) in his lectures which allows him to add live subtitles and transitions to his conference software-based calls. 

He said the student feedback since using this software has been entirely positive. 

“I haven’t heard a single student say ‘I wish you didn’t [do this],’” he said.

Although Alexander did a lot of research to completely understand the capabilities of OBS, he said it’s worth it and the school has been entirely supportive.

“The best thing the school has done for me is they have said ‘yes,'” he said.

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