A seemingly sudden move to Microsoft 365 serves as a reminder that universities need to do a better job of understanding student opinions in a pandemic
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Change is hard. That is a fundamental lesson every McMaster University student has learned throughout this once-in-a-lifetime year. While we can all appreciate our ability in being able to personally overcome the transformative changes life throws at us, more often than not, our everyday lives yearn for little moments of stability.
Even though we all have our own individual definitions of what stability looks like for us, there are some facets of our life which we completely take for granted. We might only realize with great annoyance how detrimental their loss was to our day-to-day routine.
For example, when you lose your favourite metal straw, or your AirPods somewhere in your house, this seemingly small hindrance often does a remarkable job in souring your day. In a time where the fundamental truths of being a university student — such as enjoying an in-person year on campus — are under attack by our time of uncertainty, McMaster at the very least could soothe some of the unprecedented student anxiety by maintaining a small modicum of stability.
How can Mac do that you ask? By staying in touch with student opinions? By being aware of the actual, unfiltered realities of its students (especially new ones)?
Aside from the obvious cases of proctoring and online education, Mac in subtler ways has implemented some systems this year which greatly annoyed students, solely because they were so small, yet so infuriating. Mac plans on switching its primary student hub in Google over to Microsoft — as in students will no longer have a Google Drive, but an OneDrive, and instead of a Gmail, they will have an Outlook.
While the reason for this change was announced via Mac Daily News, it nonetheless faced controversy from the student body due to the impracticalities associated with accommodating the changes (like having to move several gigabytes of data from Google Drive to OneDrive), but also with the disastrous performance of Microsoft Teams this year.
In my experience, the Microsoft Teams application was so functionally inefficient with large class sizes, that instructors often took up class time in switching to alternative platforms such as Zoom. Some went as far as switching instruction to taking place only on Zoom.
This is discounting the fact that countless students heavily relied on Google services such as Gmail and Google Drive in middle school, throughout high school and university until these new IT changes were approved. For many Gen Zs, (who will soon inevitably comprise the majority of Mac’s student demographic), anything Microsoft-related is a draconian relic of the past and many of us strongly believe there are much sleeker, easier to use and more compatible options are already available to us, right at our fingertips.
This is particularly worrying as there is a very real possibility that fall 2021 might be online and if not, it may shift online in accordance with health guidelines. Online workspaces are our way of life now, and we have already made enough changes than we expected, for better or for worse.
Students have earned the right to retain one simple facet of online school, which allows them to retain some semblance of their previously normal life. A change that might seem little and from the outside appears to be nothing more than technical difficulties, could have drastic real-life implications for students in their online environment.
Mac, once again, please be mindful of the choices you make on behalf of the student body. Listening to students might surprisingly help with that.