Dalhousie student, faculty raise concerns over move to online classes
Faculty concerned over workload while student calls for lowered fees
The decision by Dalhousie University to mostly offer its courses online this fall has left faculty and a student asking questions.
David Westwood, a kinesiology professor at Dalhousie and the current president of the Dalhousie Faculty Association, said it's the right call to keep campuses closed.
But teaching online, he said, isn't as easy as firing up a Zoom meeting.
"The idea of just recording yourself giving a lecture and that's online teaching, is not acceptable at the university level," said Westwood.
"Our faculty members know that students are paying a premium tuition to attend university and our members want to deliver the best quality education. And to do that, it requires a complete revamping and redesign of curriculum and content."
Dalhousie isn't the only university in Nova Scotia making the move online. Campuses at the University of King's College in Halifax, Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax and Cape Breton University in Sydney will remain closed once school starts in the fall.
Dalhousie has said the university is investing more than $1 million on "technology development, additional online instruction training and increased online supports for students" to make the transition easier for students and faculty.
The concern for Westwood is that the transition to online learning would take a lot of time for faculty — especially if they're working from home and taking care of family members, and they have the summer earmarked to do their research.
"Now all that time is going to be dedicated towards migrating to online teaching. And where's that time going to be found and how is it going to be recognized?" he said.
Westwood said the union is asking the university to ensure it would recognize the increased workload the change would put on professors. For instance, this could mean someone teaching fewer classes to compensate for the amount of extra work they have to do.
"Our members are more than willing and able to do this work, but it does take time, it does displace time from those other important activities. And we just would ask that those time commitments would be recognized in a fair way," he said.
International student concerns
There's also no indication that tuition fees will be adjusted to reflect the new reality.
Siam Ashraful, a computer science student at Dalhousie, believes students won't be getting the same quality of learning online as they would in person, and said tuition fees should be decreased accordingly.
He noted that international students pay more than domestic students — often at least twice as much — and believes fees for international students should at least be cut in half.
"We have all been affected by the COVID-19 situation, our families and everyone, and so we do believe that we should be given the proper support at this time as well," he said.
"For now, most of the government plans to help the students are focused towards domestic students rather than international ones. And I do feel like universities are where they need to come together to support the international students."
Ashraful started a petition asking for a fee reduction for international students that's gathered almost 1,000 signatures by Tuesday evening.
In an email, Dalhousie spokesperson Lindsay Dowling-Savelle said: "The university continues to work through tuition and fee recommendations for fall 2020 and we will be in a position to share our plans with our community shortly."
While the four universities plot their migration online, Saint Mary's University, Acadia University and St. Francis Xavier University haven't announced any plans for online learning. Those schools have said they're still monitoring the situation.
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With files from Preston Mulligan