I was relieved when UBC’s president, Santa Ono, announced that the school was planning to start reopening this fall semester. He stated that “UBC will primarily offer larger classes online with selected smaller classes conducted in-person, adhering to physical distancing and other public health requirements.”
This relief did not last long because the following day, UBC’s Faculty of Applied Science announced that all engineering coursework will be online this fall semester, including labs and group projects. Many other faculties are doing the same thing.
I, along with many others, am disappointed and surprised.
The faculty has had over three months to prepare since COVID-19 emerged as threat in British Columbia and still has three more months before September to develop a strategy for ensuring staff and student safety. Therefore, the decision came as neither safe nor caring, but as an attempt to take advantage of a bad situation. Post-secondary institutions’ ability to generate revenue while closed does not exempt them from re-opening, and certainly not without consulting the student body.
What are the faculties are waiting for? If it is a vaccine, then it may be years before they reopen.
Perhaps this was done to match the playing field for all students, domestic and international. But why should domestic students’ educations suffer because internationals took the risk of studying abroad?
In-person learning should be available for those students able to return. Students would surely accept responsible measures such as physical distancing and streaming of large lectures, as recommended by UBC’s president and the University of Toronto.
The University of Toronto’s example is cautious, yet proactive, despite the daily COVID-19 cases in Ontario measuring orders of magnitude greater than those in British Columbia.
The reasons given for the continued closure insult and patronize the students by claiming that “…this experience of virtual learning in teams will better prepare you for the future of work.”
Virtual learning can be beneficial in some cases, but the benefits do not result from previous experience with it. Anyone, including my 85-year-old grandfather, can work online.
Additionally, how can labs possibly be online when they are, by definition, hands-on? As for group work, true collaboration occurs spontaneously, when people are most connected and able to exhibit both verbal and non-verbal communication. This is certainly not the case when group members live in different time zones, have never met, and have the barrier of video conferencing technology.
This premature solution is unsatisfactory for all and is an abdication of the university’s responsibility to provide students with a proper education.
“When faced with a problem, we are the solvers,” says Dean Olson of my faculty.
He’s got a faculty with a lot of smart people. People who by their very nature are problem solvers. Therefore, I think that he and the university should solve the problem of how to safely reopen our campuses this September, and give students the education which serves them and the world they are shortly entering.
Lachlan Williams is a fourth-year mechanical engineering student at UBC Okanagan.