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Survey of university students, faculty suggests online learning has negative impact

A survey of university students, faculty, and academic librarians in Ontario suggests that the shift to online learning during the pandemic has negatively affected the quality of the educational experience.
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A survey of university students, faculty, and academic librarians in Ontario suggests that the shift to online learning during the pandemic has negatively affected the quality of the educational experience.

The poll of 2,700 people was commissioned by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations and released on Tuesday.

It reveals that 62 per cent of student respondents and 76 per cent of faculty and academic librarians surveyed believe online learning has had a negative impact on education quality.

Rahul Sapra, president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, said that the survey's results show a meaningful engagement between students and faculty is a fundamental part of the learning process.

“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the scramble to move courses online, we have lost that human connection and educational quality has suffered,” Sapra said.

The survey also found that financial security, care demands, and work-life balance are significant stress points for both groups.

A majority of students that responded to the survey said they are concerned about their financial security as a result of high tuition fees and fewer opportunities to earn income during the pandemic.

Kayla Weiler, Ontario representative of the Canadian Federation of Students, said that a lot of the usual ways that post-secondary students save money or budget for the school year have been affected by COVID-19.

"Their summer employment was altered, their fall employment might look very different than in past years," said Weiler. "But also last year we saw $670 million cut to OSAP and we're still feeling that well into the pandemic."

Other issues students who were surveyed cited were mental health and the ability to manage non-academic responsibilities, including caregiving, while studying.

Faculty and academic librarians who participated in the survey indicated they feel they are falling short of their own expectations. 

Respondents cited an inability to adequately teach and support students, and difficulty sustaining their desired level of professional development.

Sapra said that another issue is that approximately 60 per cent of Ontario's faculty are part-time or on contract and therefore have less job stability.

"During COVID-19 contract faculty had to do additional work to convert in-class courses to online courses but received no extra pay for this work," said Sapra. "Because of the rise in the size of online courses, less courses were offered so many contract faculty lost their jobs."

The survey suggests that one in two faculty members are working longer hours, and four of five have an increased workload.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press