UBC students and faculty navigate the new environment of online teaching and learning

As the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted universities across the world to transition classes online, UBC students and faculty members alike have scrambled to adjust to the new environment near the end of school year.

UBC announced the suspension of all in-person classes and the transition to online classes for the remainder of the term on March 13. Just days later came the cancellation of in-person final assessments and the declaration of a state of emergency in the province.

While the university has provided tips for faculty members on how to transition online through UBC’s Keep Teaching website and some faculties have provided new grading policies for students, the abrupt transition has been felt by many.

The Ubyssey spoke with a few students and faculty members on how the transition online has been so far.

Learning online

For Mingjiu Liu, a first-year arts student, the transition to online classes was manageable.

She found her professor’s methods of creating voice recordings to accompany PowerPoint slides as “efficient,” adding that as the situation unfolded, she found time management to be “very important.”

Liu, who is originally from China, also found making the decision to return home challenging. She fears having to write exams at unusual hours due to timezone differences and has thus decided to remain on campus to complete the term.

“I’m worried that if I go back to China, I may need to study at midnight due to the time difference,” she said. “The most challenging and unpredictable thing is we may need to be isolated to prevent the possible spreading of virus from us! It’s hard to know what our living environment might be and if we are still able to have time taking online classes.”

Irina Chua, a first-year science student, admitted that she was not initially keen on transferring to online classes. But she said she found it beneficial not having to waste hours commuting to campus and being able to attend class from the comfort of her own home.

On the other hand, she described feeling a “mental strain” associated with attending online lectures. For her, watching online lectures without getting distracted requires a great sense of self-discipline.

Chua added that she does not look forward to completing online replacement labs as she believes they would be better conducted in person than on a screen.

“There are obviously clear benefits of not wasting two hours on transit, not waking up that early and going to class in the comforts of your own room. But at the same time, there’s this huge mental strain to make yourself attend class. You have to have that self-discipline to click Canvas Collaborate Ultra and actually watch your lectures whether they’re videos or livestreams,” she said.

“I’m not looking forward to my last lab. I really hate doing simulation labs. Labs are meant to be done physically and in person, not on a screen.”

Teaching online

For many faculty members, the work to transition their courses online began quickly after UBC’s announcement, with many also being asked to prepare contingency plans beforehand.

UBC Media Relations Director of University Affairs Matthew Ramsey explained in a written statement to The Ubyssey that CTLT is working closely with faculties to restructure final assessments with a primary focus on flexibility and accessibility.

“The overarching goal of this unprecedented shift has been and will continue to be to put arrangements in place that will enable students to complete their courses,” he wrote.

Dr. Benjamin Cheung, a lecturer in the department of psychology, described the weekend following UBC’s announcement of transitioning online to be “frantic.”

Familiarizing himself with new technological options to conduct a midterm in two days made for “a challenging adjustment period.” After his first online lecture, he found that attendance was one-third of what it normally is.

One concern Cheung has is that students will become less engaged, but also thinks others might enjoy remote learning as they don’t have to worry about commuting or rushing between classes. He suggested that more students may feel comfortable participating as it is “more intimidating to speak in class than to type.”

“I certainly miss the personal connections that I can make when I actually talk to students in person,” he said. “But at the same time, there are ways to make these classes on Collaborate Ultra feel like friendly chat rooms where everyone might feel more comfortable sharing with others.”

Dr. Jonatan Schroeder, a lecturer in the department of computer science, found the transition to be less overwhelming. Having done some recorded lectures last term in preparation for the climate strike and TransLink bus strike, he explained that he had done much of the work required ahead of time.

But the sudden transition also brought new challenges such as making labs, tutorials and office hours accessible online. Schroeder noted that his biggest concern is the delivery of midterms and final exams as the transition forced his teaching team to “think in a really short amount of time.”

Despite how tough the transition has been, Cheung and Schroeder noted that they appreciate the efforts of the UBC IT team and the Centre for Teaching and Learning Technology (CTLT).

“I’m sure there will be some hiccups along the way, but this is certainly a time to learn to adapt and to use what we have available,” said Schroeder.