By Romy Shoam
On Tuesday, May 12th, Dawson followed several Montreal schools in announcing that its Summer and Fall semesters would remain online. This decision was made with respect to the direction of the Ministry of Education. It cited reasons such as the inability to maintain social distancing on campus, a busy public transit system, and no vaccine. Some classes will still happen on-campus, but with fewer students and for a shorter amount of time.
Students and faculty were not prepared for the abrupt closure in March. The transition to online schooling was often unclear and subject to constant change. Some professors decided to cut certain activities out of their curriculum, while others simply substituted in-person lectures with recorded ones, class discussions with Léa Forum chats, and kept the same assignments.
Social science classes that are mainly lecture-based may have had an easier transition than certain science classes. Science professors must complete the more complicated task of administering lab testing online. A graduating Health Sciences student who chose to remain anonymous describes how their “workload has increased exponentially” as a result of the change to virtual courses. Many of their professors have opted for “various different platforms” to submit “multiple online assignments,” which seems to be a rather complex and chaotic solution. Despite the cancellation of most of their final exams, the increase in assignments has left them “frustrated and overworked.”
How may physical education classes happen? Will clubs still be active? How will certain student services carry on without suffering a great loss of in-person contact? Such questions have not yet been answered, although a task force has been established to enable the partial re-opening of the campus. First-year Pure and Applied Science student Jenna Kliot is “hoping that next semester [she’ll] get to go in for labs,” for Biology in particular. Kliot explains the loss of her “interactive” classes that incorporated “smart learning.”
“Online courses are detrimental to the development of human-centred learning communities”
Mark Beauchamp, history professor and coordinator of the Indigenization and Decolonization Studies certificate, expresses his concern with the upcoming semesters remaining online. In no way does he undermine these “exceptional times,” but he identifies the necessity of remembering that Dawson College is a business that ultimately has the goal of turning a profit. In an attempt “to return to a sense of ‘normalcy,’ institutions like Dawson will seek out whatever ‘solutions’ present themselves to allow business to run as usual.” Its great investments in online learning platforms like Zoom, Moodle, and other A.I. platforms will lead “to an increase in surveillance of all participants, with corporate and governmental interests at the core.” Beauchamp points to a potential loss of vigilance of defense of our rights in this time of “fear and uncertainty.”
Beauchamp says that Dawson is responsible for “[ensuring] that students continue to be able to study,” but it also needs “to be vigilant about ensuring equitable work conditions for teachers and pedagogically sound learning environments for students.” Its current focus on “logistical questions” excludes “teachers’ work conditions and students’ experiences” from “the centre of planning.” In fact, “online courses are detrimental to the development of human-centred learning communities” according to pedagogical research and student testimonies. As soon as the number of students per teacher increases, as it happens with online courses’ profitable “assembly-line teaching models,” student success decreases. Beauchamp says that both teachers and students must “take a united and collective stance that demands that capital investment in educational institutions be made in humans and not in technologies.”
Nevertheless, the continuation of online classes is inevitable. As history professor Julie Johnson puts it, “the shift to emergency remote teaching this semester has been a challenge,” and although she prefers in-person activities, she “[recognizes] the need to find a balance between public health and safety and providing students with the best possible education we can.” Johnson calls for professors to adopt “compassion” and “equity” to best “engage with all of [their] students in meaningful ways, even from a distance.”