Undergrads in Canada had a challenging time studying during COVID 19

Une version française courte est ici.

Results of an online survey of over 300 undergraduates in Ontario & Quebec paint a picture of classes, exams, jobs and concentration levels during the March-April 2020 lockdown.

Tech for Good Canada, a young coalition devoted to advocating for the design and use of technology that benefits our well-being, administered the survey online between May 4th and May 15, a couple of weeks after the end of the winter term at Canadian Universities and colleges. We continue to have responses coming in but have performed an analysis of the data until May 15.

Our goal was to assess how the crisis impacted students financially and emotionally and how institutions adapted teaching and care of students using technology, given the newly imposed physical distancing.

Major Survey Findings & Next Steps

Each finding is detailed below, along with verbatim from students.

* Studying from home during Covid 19 was detrimental to learning

* The financial impact is great on many students

* International students who had to leave residence or rentals within a few days were hit hard

* Classes that converted from in person delivery to online lectures got merely a passing grade from students

* In person classes that did not offer at least online lectures on average failed to deliver, in students’ eyes

* Efforts to modify grading and exams were appreciated by students however

* Students surveyed wish they had gotten more mental health and financial support

More detailed findings by institution, by major and about future plans are available upon request.

You’ll see below an invitation to the online discussion Tech for Good Canada is planning June 10, 2020 to think through the future of higher and secondary education with distance learning as the new normal.

Student Population surveyed:

We sought out 314 college and undergraduate university students in Canada, more specifically in the Eastern and densest provinces of Ontario and Québec, who were not graduating this year, in order to study the impact on their future plans to study.

We offered 25 C$50 cash prizes to be drawn among participants as a non bias inducing incentive to respond to the 4 minute survey. We are announcing the winners May 19, 2020, as we release survey results. Find more details here on the student population we surveyed.

Below are details of some of the key findings.

Studying from home during Covid 19 was detrimental to learning

Here’s what some said on this:

I really appreciated the fact thay many of our professors tried their best to accomodate during the lockdown. However, I still had so many major assignments all due in the span of 3 days. But I was also in the processes of moving out of my rented place and I was dealing with previous mental health issues. So the pilled up work really took a toll on me. Also, not being able to really acquire a quiet place to study, also made it difficult. I kind of wished they had extended the school year till the end of april to accommodate -Aaliyah, Ontario.

The end of the semester was hard, having to teach yourself new material is much more difficult than having someone else lecture material to you and then reviewing your notes later on, it is also difficult to have the motivation to do work and study when you can’t leave your house — Allegra, Ontario

If it is announced that the fall semester will be online, I will take the semester off to work because it is not worth the money even if they lower tuition because of the difficulty I have learning and studying on my own — Emma, Ontario

The financial impact was great on many students

Student verbatim:

The student benefit is lower than what I would have made full all summer and I’m unsure how that would impact my financial situation in September. And the job that I could take would put my two immunocompromised family members at increased so I cannot even look for a job. Meaning I may not be able to even qualify for the benefits thanks to the Conservatives adding that the student must be activity looking for work. — Caroline, Ontario

International students who had to leave residence or rentals within a few days were hit hard

Those students sometimes had to abandon their rentals mid-March and were, in some cases, forced to follow lectures or take exams programmed for the Canada time zone. Many professors did allow a few days to take exams however.

Student Verbatim from Tech for Good Canada Canadian students during Covid 19:

As an international student, I think it is important to recognize that the modified delivery formats due to COVID-19 cannot compare to that of in-person learning. As such, I strongly believe that the fee structure should be modified to account for these changes. Additionally, I think organizations both internal and external to the university should advocate for the publication of fee breakdowns for ancillary and tuition fees so that students can understand where their money is going.- Leslie, Ontario

I think the decisions made my universities were good. But we should have gotten 1 week grace period for students that had to travel back home to adapt to the system.-Tahsin, Ontario.

It would be nice if it was announced if classes were going to be held in class/online/ or both soon, it is making it hard to plan for the future as an out of province student. In the upcoming semesters it would be nice if out of province students had the option to do their schooling online so that they can go home if needed.- Darian, Ontario

Classes that converted from in person delivery to online lectures got merely a passing grade from students

Student Verbatim:

I found that some courses were not organized/responsive and took nearly one month to respond to our inquiries regarding changes. Some professors also uploaded their lectures a week before finals and so we had way less time to study for them — Dorsa, Ontario

Making an easier to navigate online learning platform would be great. The one I used wasn’t horrible but the layout of the website could be improved to be more organized and easy to navigate — Harper, Ontario

In person classes that did not offer at least online lectures on average failed to deliver, in students’ eyes

Student Verbatim :

Certain courses became asynchronous, while in others classes met through zoom. Asynchronous classes are incredibly difficult to manage as a student. But also there was ‘zoom bombing’ in the courses which has meetings, where hackers spammed our online class with racial slurs and lewd content — Kat, Ontario

The very large autonomy given to professors and departments was possibly unfair (eg: econ department being very harsh and inflexible VS poli sci one much nicer) AND left professors probably with a lot more work than they could adapt to well, which was felt by students — Allie, Ontario.

Efforts to modify grading and exams were appreciated by students however

As a student, one of the most important things that I believe my university (***) did well was introduce new policies that made students feel supported, such as having a later drop deadline and letting courses become P/F. While it’s depressing to think that classes in September might be online too, I’m impressed by how fast the school has adapted.

Some of my professors were accommodating to the stresses caused by Covid 19, while others weren’t. The university did not intervene in situations where the professors were not accommodating — Haley, Ontario

Students surveyed wish they had gotten more mental health and financial support

Student Verbatim

(***) was one of the only universities across Ontario that continued their final exams in an online format, which included being filmed with a webcam while writing it, while other universities switched to take-home exams or re-weighted the course. As a student, this impacted all our grades and the professors I tried to contact regarding my mental health at the time were not considerate.

I was supposed to start working my summer job in April and couldn’t do that so I couldn’t afford my rent for May. I have been rejected the university’s COVID-19 support fund as I had a $1000 scholarship on my account that was granted to me in February to help with financial relief for my Fall 2020 semester. I informed them on my situation, saying the student relief fund of $500 would enable me to pay my rent and I rely on that scholarship in order to continue my studies in the fall and they told me there’s nothing they can do.

It honestly broke my heart to see how much (****) did not care about their students during this pandemic and I will never be proud to be a (***) again. I am staying for my friends and my student housing — Taylor, Ontario.

Due to the current extraordinary circumstances of the world right now, it has been difficult continuing the academic term. It’s been especially taxing, as we are expected to finish the term in good academic standing as if there is not a world wide pandemic going on. I have specific professors who have been very understanding and empathetic of the current situation. I also have professors who have shown no leniency or sympathy of the general student body — Passang, Québec.

74% of Students Planned to stay in School

More responses and student feedback are available upon request. These include how many wish to pursue their studies.

In conclusion, despite the draw to stay in school when jobs are scarce, it seems Canadian universities and colleges in Ontario and Quebec have a busy summer ahead to regain the hearts of students and offer learning and support opportunities on par with the high standards students place on them.

Policies towards international students will need to be differentiated, as some of them may choose to remain in their home country in the fall or pursue other options if they do not receive the Canadian university experience they pay such a premium for.

The “New Normal” in higher and secondary education

To pursue its analysis, Tech for Good Canada is inviting experts, and all concerned, on June 10, 2020 for an online discussion on “ The New Normal in Higher and Secondary Education ”.

Some of the challenges we will discuss:

  • Offering adequate counseling and financing solutions for students
  • Adapting to online teaching for professors and teachers
  • Competition from online “pure players”, who have appealing, well designed and lower cost solutions. They may present privacy issues for students who could be mined for data (and targeted ads) in exchange.
  • The biggest online players are American-based giants like Google. They could increase their share of the “ Ed Tech” market through course content like the “Teach from Home” it has started advertising and reduce content culturally unique to Canada.

Register here to participate in The New Normal in Higher and Secondary Education online discussion.

From Digital Marketing to Digital Well Being. Tech for Good. / Pro du marketing digital passée à la Tech4Good. TechforGoodCanada.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store