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UCalgary extends blended COVID learning into the winter semester

The University of Calgary is set to continue a blended online and face-to-face system into the winter semester.

In an online update posted Sept. 24, the Calgary post-secondary school made the announcement.

“Instruction in the 2021 winter term will continue to be delivered with a blend of face-to-face and online modalities,” the post read.

In May, UCalgary said it would be delivering fall semester classes in this same blended model. That’s now going to continue through the winter.

Effort boosted to improve the quality of online education

With rising concerns from students about the quality of education, the University of Calgary Students’ Union is increasing their efforts to improve the remote learning experience. They anticipated the decision to remain online for the foreseeable future.

The U of C SU’s VP Academic said she has been advocating on behalf of students to ensure that they will be better prepared should they remain online.

In an interview with Livewire Calgary, Semhar Abraha, the VP Academic for the SU’s student leadership committee said that there had been discussions about the decision, but nothing was official at that time.

Abraha said the health and wellbeing of the students’ is the main priority.

“We don’t know when COVID will go away,” she said. “We want to keep everyone safe.”

Abraha and the SU had brought forward ideas and initiatives to the university’s administration that they believe are necessary for a better online learning environment for students.

Adapting to new circumstances

Many international students have returned home during the pandemic, Abraha said. For some, it’s made accessing remote learning more difficult.

“Their main issue is accessing exam times, for example, classroom times too,” she said.

“It’s just the whole idea of being away, in a different time zone.”

The SU says they have ensured that international students are able to write their exams within a 24-hour timeframe.

“After advocating, we successfully achieved that they [international students] can write an exam within a 24-hour time window,” said Abraha.

But other problems may arise.

“There is an issue moving forward with online exam proctoring,” said Abraha.

Because everyone is taking exams remotely, there isn’t anyone monitoring the exam physically.

She explained that the University is looking into a software that they believe will make writing exams easier for students. It would also help faculty ensure that anything unethical is being monitored.

Before taking an exam, the students using the software would have to scan the room. If they get up in the middle of the exam and leave the room, they would have to scan the room again.

“It’s a software that tracks any movement while you’re taking an exam,” said Abraha. “It tracks everything, every movement, like if you open a book it’ll flag that as suspicious activity.”

Abraha and the SU have opposed this idea, saying that it will cause more unnecessary stress for students.

New for everyone

While this situation is new for students, many of the university’s teaching staff have not taught online before.

Abraha said that many of the professors have been holding office hours to familiarize themselves and their students with their teaching style. They’re also showing how they plan to be more engaging online.

The SU is bringing their teaching awards for both the fall and winter semesters, something Abraha believes will motivate TA’s and professors to engage their classes and take an extra step for their students.

“This year are we trying to recognize those profs who are going the extra mile,” she said.

“Even though they’re struggling with online themselves, they’re trying to get the best experience for students.”

There has been no word from Mount Royal University or SAIT regarding their plans as of yet.

Editor’s note: In the original version of the story, we had indicated that the Students’ Union was bringing forth the new software. It was the University that is exploring it, according to the SU. That has been corrected in this version.