“Compassion should be the standard”: Queen’s students reflect on remote learning

Students praise some professors for adapting courses to the COVID-19 pandemic, worry about grades

Principal Patrick Deane called the transition to remote learning a “momentous shift.”

When students logged into their OnQ accounts on March 23, the first day of remote learning, they were met with vastly different approaches to course delivery.

Queen’s students wrapped up the semester from makeshift workspaces around the world on April 3 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that saw many leave Kingston early. The global pandemic also caused the University to close its physical learning spaces on March 16 and encourage students to return to their hometowns, if possible. This was the first time all classes at the University had been moved online, making the transition to remote learning an unprecedented action completed in a single week. 

In a message to the Queen’s community on March 23, Principal Patrick Deane called it a “momentous shift” and said “faculty and staff have worked assiduously and creatively to find alternatives to face-to-face learning” so that students could resume their studies.

In a written statement to The Journal, Kathleen McDonald (Comm ’22), praised the faculty at the Smith School of Business for its transition into remote learning. 

“My professors were considerate and accommodating throughout the entire process and continued to hold office hours online if we had any questions,” McDonald said. “I think [they] understood the level of stress we were under and wanted to make the transition as easy as possible.”

When classes were moved online, she returned home to Hamilton, Ontario.

McDonald said remote delivery of course material gave her the flexibility to plan out her days. In particular, the cancellation of formal lectures in a couple of her classes allowed her to dedicate more time to her schoolwork.

Rowena Caza (ArtSci ’21) has been struggling to complete her work to the same standard of quality because of a lack of structure in remote learning. Since the middle of March, she’s been working from her parents’ house in Ottawa.

“I’m frustrated because I know my grades are going to suffer. I don’t do well with online learning,” Caza wrote in a statement to The Journal. “I’m trying to get through, but I do worry about how this will affect my GPA.”

While she’s aware the University has given students the opportunity to request a pass/fail grade after a letter grade has been posted in May, she called it a “bit of a double-edged sword” because of the negative consequences she’s heard about from other students and departments, such as how it will impact future studies. 

She also listed the unsettling state of the pandemic as a factor affecting her ability to complete work, which she feels has been addressed differently by each of her professors based on the compassion they demonstrated when modifying the syllabus to remote learning.

In the transition online, faculties and professors retained control of determining the best path forward to ensure students were able to meet individual course expectations and receive the corresponding credits.

“Some professors are in our corner and supporting us (by providing different marking scheme options and adapting the syllabus), where others haven’t changed anything on the syllabus or adapted to the situation—which has changed,” Caza wrote.

She’s seen differences in how professors in the same department have handled the transition, with some keeping group quizzes and small assignments on the syllabus and others having canceled all further course material. 

“I wish there was more continuity in the departments [concerning] what professors should be doing,” Caza wrote.

Regarding her exam schedule, Caza had one exam cancelled and two adapted into take-home assignments. However, she said one professor kept their exam as a standard three-hour test.

By keeping the formal exam structure, Caza believes professors are assuming students will be able to replicate the exam hall setting in their homes.

“This doesn’t take into account [what] a student’s home life [is like]. I’m living with my parents and my brother, and we have planned ahead that they will be as quiet as possible for those few hours. My [mother] is making sure not to schedule work meetings during that time,” Caza said.

“At this point, I’m grateful to professors who changed things around. But instead of thinking how cool and chill these professors are, I think an ability to adapt and show compassion and support should be the standard.”

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