New Brunswick

Different school year, same quality, say two university officials

University students are still getting the same education, despite being forced to learn online because of COVID-19, say two university officials in Fredericton.

University students are still feeling disconnected, isolated, administrators agree

Professors in New Brunswick have been struggling with the switch to online learning, according to the president of the association that represents them. (Shutterstock)

University students are still getting the same education, despite being forced to learn online because of COVID-19, say two university officials in Fredericton.

Earlier this week the Federation of New Brunswick Faculty Association spoke out about the workload challenges members are facing trying to adapt to the new reality of the global pandemic.  

But it's not just faculty.

"Students feel like they're not fully getting a full in–person delivery, which is what they want," said Kim Fenwick, vice-president academic and research at St. Thomas University.

Fenwick made it clear students are getting the full university curriculum — they're just doing it online.

In fact, students are having more work piled on because professors are trying to keep them engaged.

Depending on the number of cases next year, Kim Fenwick, vice-president academic and research at St. Thomas University, said it's possible students could have in-person study groups. (Daniel McHardie/CBC)

Since September, professors have been handing out more assignments and more quizzes to students.

So professors have been making adjustments as they go along.

And it isn't always easy, as some professors are learning themselves how to teach online for the first time. Or they're redesigning classes.

"It's like being in their first year of teaching all over again," she said.

A different kind of university experience 

While the university has tried to have more support on hand for students, such as online study groups, it's not the same as in-person. 

"They're not getting the same university experience," Fenwick said.

Students are feeling more isolated learning from home and a lot less engaged.

"Students and faculty are missing the social interaction and the engagement that's part of a normal university experience."

Students struggling with 'imposter syndrome'

George MacLean, vice-president academic at the University of New Brunswick, said many of the students he's spoken with feel like they're suffering from imposter syndrome, where they don't feel like they're actual students.

And many of them also feel cut off from friends and peers.

"It just removes them from that connection they had with their classroom, their labs with their fellow students," he said.

George MacLean, University of New Brunswick's vice-president academic, said many students feel like they're missing out on the full university experience because of COVID-19.

The university has also been forced to hire more mental health support for faculty members dealing with the heavy workload.

But it's not all bad.

MacLean said virtual learning has allowed some students to focus more on studies because they aren't able to take part in other activities.  And they're able to have more direct interaction with fellow students and faculty.

"There's no debating the fact that the lack of an in-person contact has changed the framework and format of our teaching-delivery method," he said. 

"And that's undoubtedly been a challenge."

Safety comes first

If the number of cases reduce, Fenwick said it's still not feasible to move classes in-person in the middle of the school year.

That's because many students are taking classes from across the country and around the world. 

"That level of unpredictability makes everything confusing for professors and students," said Fenwick.

Students and faculty say the university semester has had its struggles. Vice President Academics from St. Thomas University and the University of New Brunswick respond to those challenges students and staff has been dealing with.  15:48

The two universities have considered in-person study groups for the upcoming semester. But that will fall under the professor's discretion and the number of cases in the area.

In the meantime, both universities will continue to find innovative ways to keep students engaged.

"If things get worse we're ready," said Fenwick.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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