U of A international students say attending class in middle of the night is taking a toll

International Students at the University of Alberta are waking up at all hours to attend lectures and complete exams, and that's taking a toll, according to the International Students Association (ISA).

International Students' Association calls on university to make recorded lectures mandatory

The International Students Association is calling on the University of Alberta to mandate recorded lectures and eliminate participation marks for international students who, in some cases, wake up in the middle of the night to attend classes. (David Bajer/CBC)

Thousands of international students at the University of Alberta are studying remotely from their home countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Due to often drastic time-zone differences, they're waking up at all hours to attend lectures and complete exams. 

According to the International Students Association (ISA), it's taking a heavy toll. 

In an open letter Thursday addressed to the university's president, provost and academic administration, the ISA called on the university to mandate professors to record lectures and eliminate participation grades for international students.

Gurbani Baweja, vice-president external of ISA, said that of the university's 9,000-plus international students, more than 6,000 study from abroad. 

It's currently at the professor's discretion to offer recorded lectures or a participation grade. 

"They want students to catch up with the pace of class and be attentive to what's happening in the class, which we feel is discriminatory, because if someone is waking up at 2 a.m., they are not attentive anyway," Baweja told CBC's Radio Active.

"They're sleepy. So they're still not catching up and they're still sacrificing their sleep. So if … the lectures are recorded, they might actually catch up with the class and do better."

The association also raised the issue of remotely proctored exams. 

"These softwares require a stable Internet connection and have lighting requirements, which are not available to every international student studying around the globe," the letter stated. 

'I sleep in the morning and stay up all night' 

Dr. Charles Samuels is the medical director at the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance in Calgary and a professor at the University of Calgary in the faculties of medicine and kinesiology. 

He says waking up in the middle of the night for school could be detrimental to students' physical and mental health, impairing their ability to perform well in class. 

"The brain needs to get the right amount of sleep at the right time of the day with the right quality to give optimal performance. The human adult brain requires a range of seven to nine hours of sleep for optimal performance and that --generally speaking — for most adults, is between the hours of 10 pm. And 8 a.m.," he said.

"Any disturbance of those three things — amount, timing and quality — will disturb sleep and result in cognitive impairment, and changes in behaviour and physical consequences."

Tarush Raiwani is a mechanical engineering student in Dehradun, India — 12.5 hours ahead of mountain standard time. He is taking six courses and most of his lectures are not recorded.

"I sleep in the morning and stay up all night. It does not feel normal at all. During the live lectures, I encountered technical difficulties multiple times and it led to me having to rely on YouTube for learning."

Raiwani said he doesn't know how long he can keep it up. 

"I have mechanical engineering labs where I can't even see the instruments properly due to network issues. There are no recordings to go back to," he said. "My grades have dropped this semester due to missing lectures due to network issues. I now feel I'm hugely disadvantaged for being outside of Canada."

University will not commit to recorded lectures

In an emailed statement to CBC, the University of Alberta would not commit to making the recording of lectures mandatory.

"Out of consideration for aspects such as privacy, we currently do not require instructors to record all of their lectures," said Andre Costopoulos, vice-provost and dean of students.

Costopolous said the university acknowledges that learning from different time zones can be stressful and that supports are available for students. 

"We want students who have been challenged by time-zone issues and other complications brought on by the pandemic to reach out to my office (Office of the Dean of Students) for support. Our student affairs experts can help modify the learning environment for those students who need modifications to help them access learning materials and participation opportunities." 

I sleep in the morning and stay up all night. It does not feel normal at all.- Tarush Raiwani, mechanical engineering student

Participation grades may be necessary for certain classes, Costopolous said, but professors and students should be flexible.

"The reality is that while some students would benefit from more asynchronous interactions with their instructors, there are still a considerable number who do need those live interactions too. Instructors are encouraged to find the balance that best meets the needs of their students. For many, participation marks may be based on interactions that happen on discussion boards or other engagement options that are not dependent upon live interactions."

If that flexibility and support isn't enough, Baweja thinks potential scholars might look elsewhere. 

"If this continues to happen and international students don't see support from their own university in times of the pandemic, then for sure, there will be a loss of international students at the U of A," she said.