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“Unengaging” online classes leave Canadian universities and students in dark

Last Updated May 6, 2020 at 6:50 pm EST

Montreal's Concordia University (Alyssia Rubertucci)

Survey: 80 per cent of university students say online learning has been unengaging.

MONTREAL (CITYNEWS) – The COVID-19 pandemic has some Canadian universities – and its students – re-evaluating their plans for the fall semester.

A recent survey found one in four higher-education students in North America are considering not heading back to school in September, while nearly 80 per cent say online learning has been unengaging.

“It’s still in its infancy, in the sense that this is a new way to deliver a course,” said Patrick Quinn, an academic coordinator at Concordia University’s student union. “I don’t think students are necessarily all in favour.”

Summer sessions for students have made their way online, but universities are still exploring contingency plans for the fall semester. They are considering the possibility of full, or partial, online classes.

Concordia economics professor Moshe Lander believes this could result in a drop in enrollment.

“The fact is, if you’re a student,” said Lander, “you’re sitting here and saying: ‘Why am I paying the same tuition to get a Zoom chat rather than having a physical presence in a classroom where I can go up to my prof or go knock on their door and say I’ve got a question.’

“What are we going to do in the fall? Is it going to be online only, the way it was for the last seven weeks of the semester? Is it going to be back in class and business as usual?”

Lander’s unanswered questions were echoed on the streets of Montreal, where several students remain undecided about their immediate future.

“It did change my mind for the summer courses that were starting yesterday, but I think I’ll just have to suck it up for the fall semester,” said one student.

The situation becomes even more complicated for international students, who pay significantly more for tuition than local students. They also need to navigate the complexities of international travel bans in order to attend school.

“If the school decides,” said Lander, “let’s say on Canada Day: ‘All right we’re open for business,’ what do you with all of the students that are currently all over the world and left Montreal without making arrangements for September accommodations?”

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McGill University says they’re still actively recruiting international students for the fall, and in the coming weeks, all universities are looking to make more concrete plans public.

“It’s almost better to kind of pick a date,” said Lander. “Whether that’s January 1, 2021, or even September of 2021, just pick a point and say: ‘All right, we’re going to open then, but until then, this is off.’

“Because the logistics beyond the university gates are just too difficult to try and imagine.”