Two major universities in Quebec say they will hold most of their courses online this fall, as they try to balance health and safety concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic against the complexities of running a campus.
McGill University and the University of Montreal have both informed staff and students that most courses for the fall semester will move online.
“High-quality programs and courses … will offer the needed flexibility to all its students during the fall semester,” McGill said in a statement to CBC News on Monday.
The Montreal school is also looking at how students can resume extracurricular activities, whether online or eventually in small, in-person groups.
At the University of Montreal, “the courses that can be held remotely will be held remotely,” spokesperson Geneviève O’Meara said in an interview.
“As for the rest, we will plan some courses in-person on the campus.”
She said the university will contact faculty in the coming weeks to figure out which courses need to be held in person.
O’Meara said the school will continue to monitor the situation. She said the school made the decision so soon because it poses a logistical challenge.
She says the university has 65,000 students on campus, including those of its affiliate schools École Polytechnique and HEC Montréal.
“And that doesn’t take into account the professors and other employees, so it’s like a small city within a city,” O’Meara said.
Universities are among the organizations most challenged by the pandemic, because of the many people living and working in close quarters.
But some students are unhappy with the decision. McGill student Emma Walsh, who recently finished her first year in a law program, said online courses cannot compare to face-to-face learning.
“It’s a lot more difficult to have such a rich and personal interaction between you and the professor, and also your classmates, online. I think most students would agree, it’s kind of awkward,” she told CBC News.
“Oftentimes, here are your expert professors who you really respect, and they are struggling to share their screen and it’s going to take five minutes to get that sorted out.”
Walsh said it is difficult for students to focus when attending courses from home and some might have trouble with the technology it takes to attend courses from home.
Walsh herself moved from New Brunswick for her education and that poses a whole other set of concerns.
“I’m just looking at basically pouring thousands of dollars into this apartment when it’s not necessary for me to be here, and also receiving a level of education via online classes which traditionally would be less expensive than in-person classes,” Walsh said.
Concordia University yet to decide on its fall semester, but in a statement Monday, said it is also looking at holding courses online. The university has developed a working group to look at the situation.
The University of Quebec at Montreal is also weighing its options, it said.
In his daily news briefing Monday afternoon, Quebec Premier François Legault said it is too soon to advise universities on whether they should be holding fall courses in-person or not.
“We hope that there’ll be some teaching done physically in universities and colleges and schools but we cannot confirm if it will be possible,” he said.
“Probably during the summer we’ll have an announcement on that.”
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