Students at University of Manitoba report enduring problems with online learning, push for compassionate grading scheme

Press Release Graphic

Winnipeg, MB –  On November 20, after months of hearing about unresolved issues around the delivery of online learning at the University of Manitoba, student senators at U of M submitted a proposal to the university’s COVID-19 Academic Committee to adopt a compassionate grading scheme for the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 terms.

The proposal advocates for the U of M to reinstate an alternative grading process similar to the one that was implemented for the end of the Winter 2020 term, with some revisions and additions. In place of simply accepting the letter grade received – which would remain an option – a compassionate grading scheme as described by student senators would also allow students to choose one of two options for up to one course in each term: accept the letter grade received but exclude it from UM GPA calculations, or, choose to have final grades determined on a pass/fail basis.

In addition, the Student Senate Caucus is asking for the University to allow students who are completing in-person coursework to temporarily halt such activities, receive a prerequisite waiver from the faculty, and, claim an Incomplete (I)* grade until such a point that the in-person activity may be safely resumed by the student at their reasonable discretion, as opposed to the options that are currently being offered to students variably at the discretion of academic units.

The proposal ends by encouraging the University to provide messaging to instructors encouraging an all-around “culture of compassionate consideration” for students amid COVID-19, which is to be carried out on a case-by-case basis.

The original scheme – introduced in Winter 2020 but abandoned for the Summer and Fall terms – was meant to protect students from facing academic difficulties due to the abrupt transition to online learning at U of M, which happened almost immediately after Manitoba’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 emerged in Winnipeg on March 12.

In their proposal, student senators argue that students at the U of M who enrolled in courses for the Fall 2020 term had reasonable basis to believe that the online learning system would have significantly improved from what students experienced in the Winter 2020, at least insofar as that online course delivery and exams processes would be better understood by professors, and be delivered in a more organized manner.

However, according to survey feedback from thousands of undergraduate students collected in October by the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU), that has not happened. Instead, students report heightened anxiety due to webcam surveillance and browser lockdown software during exam taking, trouble finding quiet, suitable study space in their home environment, and increased difficulty communicating with professors, among other issues with course delivery.

Carleton University in Ottawa and Brandon University both recently announced the use of flexible grading options for their undergraduate students. Carleton is offering students the option of selecting satisfactory/unsatisfactory for one of their classes in the Fall 2020 term, while Brandon University announced on November 19 that it would extend its pass/no credit grading options for both the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 terms.

Said UMSU’s VP Advocacy, Kristin Smith, who co-chairs the U of M Student Senate Caucus: ” Ultimately, this term has been full of trial and error – and while trial and error is often the best way to develop better solutions, it is being carried out at the expense of students, and harming their outcomes. The grades and wellbeing of our students shouldn’t have to suffer because of a system that come the Fall still wasn’t ready to provide a fair, high quality learning environment, which, I might add, students paid higher tuition to access.”

Added Rubel Talukder, VP Academic for the U of M Graduate Students’ Association (UMGSA) and other co-chair of the Student Senate Caucus: “It is time for compassionate grading. Graduate students are already going through a lot of uncertainties and stresses due to COVID and lockdown. They need some academic flexibility from University Administration to come out of this challenging time.”

For media inquiries:  

Kristin Smith, UMSU VP Advocacy – vpa@umsu.ca 

Rubel Talukder, UMGSA VP Academic – vpa@umgsa.org

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