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Fall 2020 update and student feedback

Read a message from Concordia President Graham Carr
June 29, 2020
By Graham Carr

Dear Concordia faculty and staff members,

I hope you are well and are looking forward to taking a break at some point this summer.

I write today to provide an update on our gradual reopening and preparations for the fall term, share largely positive feedback we’ve received from students on our transition to online this winter, and reiterate my deep gratitude for all your efforts during these difficult times.

Fall term preparations

Thanks to the hard work of so many of you, we’re well advanced in our planning for a fall term that will be taught largely online. We will offer flexible, in-person learning opportunities for students in some courses, principally those with labs and studios, while ensuring alternative options for other students who cannot, or choose not to, come to campus.  

As physical distancing measures evolve, we are also exploring how we can creatively deploy outdoor spaces and ground-floor auditoria to hold some extra-curricular activities later this summer and fall that will give our students a taste of campus life.

Gradual re-opening update

The gradual re-opening of lab activities continues. By the end of this week, 150 labs supporting more than 600 researchers, staff and students will be open. We are still on target to open the majority of labs that require onsite access by the end of July. This is very welcome news – allowing researchers and graduate students to continue their work is integral to our mission.

While the majority of non-academic staff will continue to work remotely over the summer, we now anticipate being able to grant faculty access to their offices starting during the week of July 6 for the express purpose of preparing for the fall term.

Similarly, some library services, including access to physical collections through a contactless book pick-up service, electronic delivery of documents, and e-reserves will commence on Monday, July 6. Learn more about the available services.

As has been the case with re-starting our research activities, every phase of re-opening is a learning experience. Welcoming faculty back to campus will help us develop plans for the gradual return of administrative and services staff as the logical next step in our return-to-campus protocol.

Feedback from our students

Earlier this spring we surveyed our students about their experience of the transition to online delivery of courses during the winter 2020 term, the kinds of online class delivery that would best meet their needs, and the types of services and resources they will require to succeed in their online studies. More than 6,000 students took part in the survey.

The results are instructive and, in many respects, quite positive. Here’s a sampling:

  • 91% of our students had some or all of their classes moved online in the winter 2020 term. A large majority report a positive experience – professors were understanding and prompt to respond to questions, students had enough time to complete assignments, and the online course platform was easy to navigate. That said, nearly one-third of students (31% undergraduate, 33% graduate) say they had insufficient time to complete exams. We also learned that expectations for class participation weren’t always clearly stated.
  • In their online classes, students prefer: recorded lectures, videos to watch, and offline reading. Clearly, flexibility is extremely important to our students. Instructor access through online office hours and email is also important to students to improve their learning online.
  • International students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels rate online services and resources as more important than domestic students do. They rank academic advising, IT support, financial aid and advice, tools to assist with time management, and counseling/mental health services as their priorities.
  • Overall, a majority of students say they are satisfied with the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly with respect to its speed and the amount of information provided. 

More student feedback: In a Canada-wide poll on COVID-19 and universities that Abacus Data conducted in June, more than three quarters of students said they believe online learning can be better, equal to or almost as good as in-person learning. Although we will always continue to celebrate the impact of high-quality face-to-face instruction, we cannot afford to ignore how much students value online education when it is well done.

With the fall semester merely two months away we know that some students are still considering taking a year off. But increasingly, it seems that many are also realizing that attending university this fall may be the smart option. It’s not just that job prospects and travel opportunities look bleak; more positively, many students are beginning to see that the fall term online will provide them with valuable additional skills for the new work environment.

We don’t know how long the pandemic will last, but it seems likely that the longer confinement measures are in place, the more remote-based learning and working will be needed. For these reasons and more, it’s crucial we get this ever-evolving transition to online learning right.

We’re very lucky to have an enviably strong and supportive community to help us. I have every confidence that, together, we will continue to do smart and innovative things to help our students succeed.

Thank you and be well,

Graham Carr
President and Vice-Chancellor

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