5 Tips for University Bound Students: Considering Fall 2020 and Another Possible Lockdown

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Online learning brings certain benefits. Image by Ruca Souza. Pexels.

To state the obvious, it is clear that this Covid-19 pandemic has impacted higher education. Most universities quickly put the remainder of their Winter/Spring 2020 semester courses into an online format. Quite a few schools suspended A-F grading scheme in favor of a simple credit/no credit scheme, a version of pass/fail. I won’t get into the complaints for and against any decision because they’re not worth our time here. Indignation about going online for university learning or about changes to grading doesn’t help anyone right now. A smarter strategy is to use this moment to plan. So with this in mind, from the viewpoint of a professor who has been on these front lines of educating during the pandemic, I have five simple but important points for you to consider as you look ahead toward university this coming Fall.

A pandemic won’t be here for long in the big scheme of things. Taking a long view (over four years — the general length of an undergraduate degree, or six years — including a Master’s degree) a degree granting program will outlast the pandemic by far. Study after study has shown, the higher the level of education, the more a person will earn over their lifetime. So if you’re thinking of going to university and wonder if you should because of this pandemic, put that thoughts aside. Of course you should. Stay the course, get your education. You’re in this educational endeavor for a lifetime, not a season.

Models show that when everyone shelters at home, herd immunity is not developed. Consequently as soon as we open up society again, numbers are predicted to spike. Looking ahead, consider a scenario where lots of people come together in a close environment for an extended time — you guessed it, the classroom. Predictions I’ve seen show a spike of Covid-19 again in late September through October of Fall 2020. If this occurs, and given the current response by governments, we most likely will be told to head into lockdown again. This means that Fall 2020 courses may be all or partly online. It’s early enough to consider what you will do, what your university student will do, if this occurs. In your considerations know three things:

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Online course content. Image by fauxels. Pexels.

The whole abandonment of grades to a credit/no credit scheme for the Winter 2020 semester by universities everywhere was considered by faculty to be both an empathetic response and a one time special circumstance, for the benefit of students who at the last minute had their entire semester upended.

Know though, most faculty won’t allow this credit/no credit grading scheme to be implemented again. Not to mire the general reader down in university policies, but grades are normally seen as the purview and responsibility of faculty only. Grades are not to be dismissed or to be supplanted by an administrative decision.

There is good reason for this. A credit/no credit has no impact on a GPA. Great students complain their hard work is not rightly rewarded in such a scheme. More serious perhaps is that poor students, who might be getting a D+ for example, end up with a CR (credit) on their transcript. They get an automatic pass into the next level of learning and the professor has no indication the student may need particular help. This can cause devastating results for a student, particularly in maths, sciences, and medical fields. The short of it is, faculty will most likely not agree to suspending grades for a credit/no credit scheme in a future lockdown. Therefore, each student will have to be a fully engaged online learner and to buckle down with online work.

“But I’m not getting my full eduction,” some complain. Of course you aren’t. You’re losing the big get-togethers, the football games, the clubs, the in person socializing. But in terms of learning you’re getting the same great education you would in a live classroom. We are experts at helping students succeed in reaching learner outcomes; online course content delivery is simply a different delivery method. We’re good at this just as we’re good at the in-class stuff. Offices to support students have people available online. We’re all here to make this online learning work just fine. So the complaint is really a false complaint with respect to learning.

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Online learning. Image by Julia M. Cameron. Pexels.

Yes, I’m adamant. Students need the decent resources to do the online work. Computers won’t be available at schools for student use. And, let’s be clear, it’s a real hinderance for students who try to do coursework only on their phone. There will be long papers to type and submit, courses will run involving an online learning management system that students will be expected to access and use, for uploading created material, responding to forums, etc. In addition to asynchronous learning there may be synchronous meetings, using a particular program that allows students to all show up at once to hear a lecture or to have discussion, or to have a one to one meeting with a professor. Now’s the time to think about how you will solve this with both equipment and internet access. Unlike this past semester, students who have no access to a computer, half way through a semester when courses head back online, will probably be advised to drop the course. It’s not about whether we care, we do, a great deal, it’s about our legal requirement to fulfill contractual and governmental obligations for teaching degree-based course content.

Synchronous learning means all students log on at the same time using a video/chat program. Often a lecture will be given by the professor. Note well: most professors will not allow their lectures to be recorded in any form. There are many good reasons for this, we don’t want our content, words out of context, images of students, or discussions by students that often involve personal information broadcast around the internet. Doing so would violate student privacy laws, copyright, and other laws. So the student should not expect to rely on a recording of a lecture. This means a student has to be responsible for attending the scheduled online session. A student who misses the online lecture will be marked absent for one class, and then they won’t do well on the homework.

No, sorry I don’t have time to teach the same class two and three times for students who miss the online lecture, just like I don’t do this when giving an in-person lecture. I may post a few notes online about the content of the lecuture but it won’t be the same.

If you’re interested in my personal view, I understand the problems for some students in attending a real-time lectures therefore I tend to shy away from them, preferring asynchronous, access on demand course content. I just think it is fairer to students learning online. But many don’t agree with me. So be preapred.

Start thinking ahead and start getting the home online learning space and equipment in order now, not later, and you’ll guarantee a fairly seamless transition into the Fall semester if and when universities must again go online.

Novelist, poet, a post-studio visual artist, and the founder of The Invisible Art Collective International. Recent novels include “Sundre” and “Garbage Head.”

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