Are students ready for a full transition to in-person learning?

Graphic by Sarah Morassutti

In an email sent to University of Waterloo students and staff on Jan. 21, Vivek Goel, president and vice-chancellor, UW, announced a transition to in-person activity starting Feb. 7. After almost two years of online learning, returning to campus can be both daunting and exciting. There are certain elements of online learning that could be kept intact even when in-person activity is in effect.

Imprint reached out to students to find out which changes made due to COVID-19 they would like to keep as UW goes back to in-person instruction.

  1. Sanitization and masking

Students feel that we must continue to sanitize all surfaces and follow mask mandates as well as social distancing regulations. “Mask mandates, social distancing and sanitizing must continue,” said Shreya Bobbiti, a Master’s student.

Vishal Lilman, a geography and environmental management student, also expressed an interest in maintaining masking practices. “Normalize wearing masks, especially when it is cold,” Lilman said.

In an email sent to students and staff on Jan. 31, Goel and James W. E. Rush, Vice-President, Academic and Provost, acknowledged “some of the most pressing concerns that have been shared with us” regarding the return to in-person activity. The email directed readers to the university’s COVID-19 information site, which provides the “current assessment and plans” related to masks, rapid tests, ventilation strategy and other COVID-19 safety measures.

2. Less intense exam periods

Online learning has radically changed how students write exams. While some online courses ended up having no final exams, instead evaluating students through projects, reports and other assignments, some classes developed online exams.

Akshay Saxena, a software engineering student, feels that final exams should continue to take place online. “Writing exams at PAC [the Physical Activities Complex] is intimidating and sometimes leads to a lot of pressure,” Saxena said. “Online exams relieve some pressure and allow me to focus more.”

Sometimes, even when courses had virtual exams, the exams were worth less than they had been pre-pandemic. Amay Shah, a systems design engineering student, believes that engineering instructors should not return to final exams worth 50 per cent of the students’ total grade. “When we switched to online learning, we stopped having final exams worth 50 per cent our grade,” Shah said. “I would like that to continue.”

3. Recorded lectures

Since March 2020, course instruction has been done online through LEARN, Teams, Zoom, and similar platforms. UW professors record lectures that students can view on their own time, allowing them to have a more flexible schedule considering their locations and time zones.

“When we do return to in-person activity, I would like recorded lectures to stay,” said Riya Pathak, an electrical and computer engineering student. “I like being able to review lecture recordings and clear any questions I might have.”

Nimisha Assudani, a biochemistry student, believes that a hybrid model can be advantageous. As such, she feels that lecture content should be posted online while in-person classes should focus more on problem-solving. “I like the fact that many courses started to focus on problem-solving in classes and using online platforms to post lecture content,” Assudani said. “It really allows us to focus on the application of concepts in class.”

Zofia Washington, a psychology student, added that recorded lectures would be beneficial for students who have to miss class for illnesses, including, but not limited to, COVID-19. “[Recorded lectures] would be so helpful when people have to miss class because they get sick,” she said.

In an update shared on Dec. 17, 2021, WUSA announced that they were “currently advocating for [students] to the University to ensure a continuous learning experience for students who can’t consistently be on campus,” including requesting that “all courses record lectures, post all class materials (like slides and handouts) online, and provide equal opportunities to earn marks remotely (participation, final projects, and everything in-between).”

WUSA explained that “this would mean all students can participate in their classes whether you’re on-campus all the time, have to miss a few classes, or are accessing everything remotely.”

However, WUSA noted that UW may not act on these requests and encouraged students to maintain safe practices like masking and physical distancing and to register with AccessAbility Services if they need disability-related accommodations.

Most course-based instruction, including labs, seminars, groups, lectures, tutorials, and more will resume in person on Feb. 7. However, large lectures will continue to be delivered online until Feb. 28. More details about the transition can be found here on the UW website.