Universities, colleges grapple with challenges of online courses
WINNIPEG -- Universities and colleges are grappling with moving courses online in the midst of a cash crunch.
Schools are facing reductions in provincial funding and revenues have taken a hit.
While professors and staff have adapted during the immediate crisis, they’re now going to have make it work for a little bit longer.
University of Manitoba assistant professor Lukas Neville’s first remote lecture focused on online negotiations.
He teaches organizational behaviour at the Asper School of Business and — like other professors had to do across the province and the globe — moved his classes online due to COVID-19.
“Part of it is trying to figure out how to bring some of the things that really work in the classroom, and suddenly bring them into an online environment,” said Neville.
The University of Manitoba announced classes will stay online come fall with some exceptions for in-person instruction for courses requiring physical interactions, such as labs.
For the most part, lectures will take place online, many happening on the video conferencing application Zoom.
“There’s going to be a lot of technology challenges, logistical challenges, pedagogical challenges and for the students it’s disrupting the classes, it’s disrupting their study routines,” said Neville.
While professors like Neville are finding ways to make it work, post-secondary institutions are facing increased pressure because of provincial budget cuts and falling revenue from parking and student housing — making the transition to online learning, more difficult.
“We need to get up to speed with the technical infrastructure. That’s going to cost money and our budget has taken a serious hit,” said Scott Forbes, president of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations and biology professor at University of Winnipeg.
Amid growing criticism, Premier Brian Pallister Thursday promised more support for post-secondary institutions, in the new year.
“Because of the realities of new services having to be offered by them and so that dialogue is underway as we speak,” Pallister told reporters.
Students understand schools are in a difficult position but they say some costs during online learning should be waived.
“So services that are no longer being offered or utilized. For example, the gym recreation fee,” said University of Manitoba Students’ Association president Jelynn Dela Cruz.
“They’ve made it as hands-on as it can be given the circumstances,” said Dale DeMarco, a Red River College student.
DeMarco said on top of tuition, he was still charged more than $400 in lab, supply and recreation fees for the spring term which runs from May 4 to Jun. 19. This despite all of his classes in medical laboratory sciences being moved online.
“They’ve made it as hands on as it can be given the circumstances,” said DeMarco. “There’s services that just aren’t being provided — and again that’s not the college’s fault, they’ve done a great job of transferring to online.”
Red River College is still deciding whether fees like those will be refunded.
The University of Winnipeg said it’s waived some fees for services that are no longer available, but expects to increase the level of access to the school in the coming months if public health restrictions are eased.
U of M said tuition fees are still being determined for next year.
“Our commitment is to make sure we minimize any negative impact on students,” said vice-president John Kearsey.
From his online classroom, Neville is just trying to give students the best experience he can through the crisis and beyond.
“Now we have to think about, how do we support students at a distance,” he said. “There’s all sorts of work that needs to be happening and if anything that’s more resource-intensive not less resource-intensive.”
While U of M has confirmed classes will stay online. Red River College and the University of Winnipeg have yet to make anything official. Both schools have said they’re looking at a mix of online learning with some in-person instruction, depending on what public health guidelines allow them to do.