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First-year students discussed online teaching and learning with college leadership on Oct. 30.

Overview: First-year Student Town Hall

College leaders held a question-and-answer session on Oct. 30 with first-year students in the College of Engineering.

Dean Suzanne Kresta presented plans for Winter Term 2021 and provided guidance on how to navigate challenges in a remote environment. It was announced that all first-year courses will be delivered entirely remotely during the term.

She also advised that if you encounter problems in one of your courses, reach out to your instructor(s) first in a constructive and positive way. If you are not able to get the issue resolved, email your Department Head or Associate Dean Bruce Sparling.

The remaining time during the town hall was used for discussion, with students bringing their questions and the college getting feedback from students. Topics and questions are detailed below.

STUDENT QUESTIONS:

Question: Will all courses be on Canvas next term?
Answer: Most will be but some will still be on Blackboard. Tips on using Canvas can be found here

Question: Some students had assignments due on Thanksgiving. Is this normal?
Answer: No, this is not the norm and if this happens please let the College and/or your instructor know.

Question: Having synchronous lectures has been very beneficial. Can more of our courses in second term be structured this way?
Answer: Thanks for the feedback. We will take this suggestion to the first year instructors.

THE COLLEGE ASKED STUDENTS FOR THEIR FEEDBACK ON A VARIETY OF ISSUES: 

What do you think about recorded lectures?
Feedback: It is beneficial to be able to review and rewind but having live, synchronous sessions in addition to the recorded sessions is the ideal as students have some structure throughout the week and they can ask questions and connect with their peers and instructors. The way GE124 is being run is a good example of this. Recorded sessions are also beneficial to international students.

However, recorded lectures can take one to three days to be uploaded and ready for instructors to publish. This lag in upload time can therefore cause students to fall behind. Instructors also need to be mindful that whether the course is synchronous or asynchronous, lectures need to be kept to the allotted amount of time, otherwise this can conflict with other courses and students do not have the time to devote several additional hours to each course they take.

Have you been experiencing connectivity issues?
Feedback: The majority of people have had no issues and found that WebEx works well having recorded lectures available is a way to minimize issues. More connectivity issues may occur in the evenings when there is a higher demand on WiFi, as well as if the weather is bad. The most challenging issue thus far has been difficulty uploading content. It can take a long time as Blackboard is very slow. Additional time to upload assignments would be appreciated. Moving to Canvas should also relieve this issue.

Do you have an environment to work in that is conducive to your academic success?
Feedback: Libraries are closed in some areas so there is a lack of a quiet space to write exams or do work. Students are also finding that it is mentally challenging to live and work in one room all day. The mental break time from work is often being eroded. Usask study space is available but it books up very quickly so students need to plan and book in advance. Students were advised that ifthere is undue difficulty in booking space, they should advise Associate Dean Sparling so that a discussion with the library can occur. Study spaces can be booked here.

Are you getting the feedback you need from online grading?
Feedback: There was a mix of responses. Some students have not had any issues while others noted the following concerns: lack of comments, feedback is too delayed to learn from before the next assignment is due, there is a lack of opportunity to show work and receive partial marks, the system will automatically mark a correct answer as incorrect if it is not in the exact format expected, and instant marking during a midterm was not well received.

How are the virtual chemistry labs?
Feedback: There was an overall positive response but it was noted that there is sometimes a lack of feedback given. Some TAs have also been struggling which has resulted in a lack of teaching and direction from some TAs. The College will look into TA training and system access issues.

What’s the best way to set up office hours to meet student needs? How is the current set up working?
Feedback: Office hours are currently set up via WebEx and take place during set times during the week, sometimes during scheduled class time. This has been working well for students.

What have been your most challenging subject areas?
Feedback: GE111 and chemistry. Chemistry has been challenging as students are taught about theory but the assignments and midterm have been largely calculation based. While there is overlap with grade 12 chemistry, many students did not get to complete their high school chemistry course as it was cut short due to COVID. Math was not noted as a class students are struggling in. Positing feedback was received for the instructor and format of the course. 

Lastly, students were reminded of resources available to them such as the SESS tutor list and the facilitated study sessions. Students suggested that if GE instructors could attend the facilitated study sessions, it would assist their learning.

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