Photo of a McMaster sign and the campus covered in snow.

Fall semester has been rough for students, yet it doesn’t look like Mac will be adjusting anything for the winter semester

It’s no surprise that lots of students are feeling the stress of an online semester. That’s because it’s not just an online semester — it’s an online semester during a pandemic. 

A friend recently reached out to me to see how I was finding this semester. I told him that it has been challenging in more ways than one.

I have found it very difficult to focus on studying, work or even to do things that I enjoy doing, such as reading and drawing. As someone who has a disability that affects my ability to concentrate, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise for me. But with the pandemic, not only has my concentration gotten worse, but it has also been difficult for those without disabilities to focus as many are feeling heightened stress and anxiety due to COVID-19. This constant state of worry detracts from our ability to focus on tasks and as a result, shortens our attention span.

Furthermore, our homes have become the place that we now do everything. I attend doctor’s appointments, talk to my therapist, do my homework, attend work meetings, and partake in hobbies — all from my room. Not having a change of scenery can be difficult.

My friend mentioned that he also found that many friends at school — specifically, ones taking a full course load — have found it incredibly difficult to study and focus during this semester. He told me that he wanted to gather information as to how different students feel about this online semester and what would help them for the winter semester if things were to change.

That’s when the metaphorical alarm went off in my head. Yes, we all know students have been struggling with school this semester — but is McMaster University going to do anything to help us?

I can tell you that both my friend and I realized that Mac probably isn’t going to change the way things are being run for next semester. Currently, many issues have been brought up by students regarding an online semester that have not been addressed.

For example, students at Mac and other Canadian universities have raised their concerns about proctoring software being used for testing. While proctoring software can put our privacy at risk, it also puts students who have concentration issues, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, at a disadvantage. Proctoring software can track your eye movement and many students with concentration issues cannot manage to look at a computer for several hours on end. In fact, I would argue that most students would have trouble doing that.

I don’t blame McMaster for the rocky start with the fall semester. They had to adapt quickly over the summer and I understand that must have been difficult. But if they keep running things the way that they currently are — despite many students struggling and complaining about the semester — then there’s an issue.

In response to some of the recent beefs on here: Yes of course McMaster staff are having a hard time as well, that’s…

Posted by Spotted At Mac on Friday, November 20, 2020

On a lighter note, a few ways that some of my courses have run have really improved online school for me. For one of my courses, we have unlimited time to complete a quiz, so long as it is completed within a timeframe of four days. In addition, this course has a take-home exam instead of a timed exam. These methods of testing help students spend as much time as they need to succeed without having to worry about not being able to concentrate or having wifi connectivity issues during the test. 

However, I know that this is not the norm for many courses and definitely not standardized across courses. This is something that Mac could look into for the following semester, but I doubt anything will be done about it.

Another thing that has benefited me is that most of my instructors have been very lenient with providing extensions. It’s important to note that sometimes students may need an extension even if they don’t have proper medical documentation. Maybe they’re sick but are finding it difficult to get a doctor’s note due to the pandemic or maybe they’re just having a bad day.

Either way, it is important for instructors to be compassionate during this hardship we’re all experiencing. However, instructors are currently not mandated to provide extensions and I can tell you from experience that there are definitely professors out there who are less than willing to provide an extension.

But at the end of the day, is Mac going to listen to our concerns? Will the university listen to our feedback and adapt accordingly? I really want to say that they do care about us, but the more I think about it, the more I believe that Mac will run the next semester as business as usual.

Image courtesy of C/O Silhouette Photo Archives

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