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Message from the president about moving courses online

‘All of us are part of a new experiment in higher education’
March 20, 2020
By Graham Carr

Dear Concordia community,

As we grapple with the profound impact of COVID-19, I write first and foremost in the hope that you and your family are healthy and safe.

Equally, I want to personally thank everyone who has rolled up their sleeves and helped our university confront this public health crisis.

A week has now passed since the Government of Quebec decreed that universities were to suspend in-person teaching, cancel on-campus activities, and move the bulk of operations to a work-from-home model. Since then, a public health emergency has been declared.

During this time, an unprecedented transformation has begun at Concordia. In an extraordinary call to action, more than 1,000 full- and part-time faculty have taken training to help them convert their teaching to online formats.

Others have begun re-imagining the final phase of their curricula, and planned new assessment measures. All this with a view to enabling our students to complete their term on time.

Concordians have risen magnificently to the challenge. Every sector is maintaining its core activities, working day and night to ensure we continue to function, on campus or remotely.

Many have embraced new technologies and collaborative work skills that allow them to work productively from home. Areas such as the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and Instructional & Information Technology Services (IITS) have been buzzing literally around the clock to prepare for the weeks ahead.

Students are seeking out ways to support each other and the less fortunate through food-sharing programs. In other words, there is an inspiring, powerful story of dedication and collaboration happening in our community.  

But we are also a community under stress. Superimposed on the harsh reality of the public health emergency are massive social disruption, economic uncertainty and professional dislocation.

Student’s legitimate anxieties about how the end of the academic term will play out are aggravated by the sudden apprehension that their short-term employment prospects are uncertain to say the least.

Many faculty members are understandably nervous whether their quick-time efforts to deploy new teaching and assessment methods will succeed. Faculty and graduate students are also concerned about the impact that lack of lab and studio access will have on research and research-creation projects in which they are passionately invested.

And then there are the increasingly complicated personal situations that virtually every member of our community is confronting as our normal habits of mobility and socialization are increasingly constrained.

I point this out both because we cannot minimize the collective shock that all of us are feeling, but also because, looking forward, we need to be realistic and acknowledge that next week, and during the weeks to follow, we will continue to face massive challenges.

Whether we like it or not, all of us are now part of a new experiment in higher education. Next week at Concordia we will literally beta-test our capacity to adapt, innovate and navigate new realities in teaching and learning as we try to shift large portions of our curriculum into a digital mode in real time.

At one level it is super-exciting. Colleagues in CTL, IITS, Knowledge One and the Libraries, not to mention the faculty themselves, have done an extraordinary amount of work in a short period of time to lay the groundwork for what promises to be a transformational moment in the weeks ahead.

Volunteers from multiple sectors, including a team of 20-plus graduate students from Educational Technology are stepping forward to help with the transition. It is inspiring to witness this engagement, but also to realize just how much support we already have in place to make great change happen.

But let’s be realistic. We know that there will be glitches and rough patches ahead.  Not everything will materialize and roll out the way we hope. Some things will work perfectly. Some things won’t. We’ll discover gaps in our systems. We’ll encounter frustrations with technology. And in the time pressures and tensions of the moment it’s also inevitable that some of our communications and personal exchanges will miss the mark.

So, when those hiccups happen, we’ll need to be patient with each other, flexible, understanding and more willing than ever to accommodate. We are, after all, a place of learning, a university that values experimentation, creativity, innovation and imagination. Perhaps the most important question we can ask ourselves in the weeks ahead is about what we can learn from this experiment on which we’ve embarked. How can, and how should, a next-gen university respond to a global challenge in real time?

As we head into the final preparations for our ‘systems test’ week, I want to thank everyone who is working with such great determination to fulfill our mission to students. With so many organizations and enterprises all around us suffering, this is a pivotal leadership moment for universities.

It is an opportunity to demonstrate our capacity to mobilize ingenuity in response to a crisis and to continuously function in service to society.

We are living through testing times. Nevertheless, I believe fervently in the resilience, integrity and innovation of our community not just to push the 2019-20 academic year over the finish line, but to do so with brio. If we can achieve those objectives then we will have earned even more reasons to feel confident about our university’s ability to be creative, innovative and successful in the future.

Please look after yourselves and follow the advice of our public health officials. We are all in this together and we will come out of it together as well.

With thanks and immense pride in Concordia,

Graham Carr
President and Vice-Chancellor
Concordia University

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