Concerns around access, cost emerge as U of C preps for remote learning

Pictured is University of Calgary main entrance on Friday, June 12, 2020.

University of Calgary students enrolled in remote learning courses this fall must have access to technology including a webcam, microphone and a stable internet connection, the school announced this week.

The university is

preparing for a largely digital semester

as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, with less than 30 per cent of the school’s about 33,000 students expected to be on campus at any given time.

But some U of C students worry tech requirements could present extra barriers to education.

“We’ve been worried about this for a while now, with regards to increased cost for students, especially at a time when a lot of people haven’t been able to save during the summer months,” said Frank Finley, president of the school’s Students’ Union.

“It could potentially exacerbate already existing inequalities, especially for students who have already been on the cusp of not being able to afford their education.”

Gaps in access are potentially greater for students who may be living off-campus in rural areas without full internet access, Finley said, adding that the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations is asking for more federal funding into rural high-speed internet access to help students.

The U of C said in a statement to Postmedia that study spaces on campus would be opened to allow students to access stable internet connections. But Finley said the ongoing measures due to the novel coronavirus will limit the number of school computers available for student use.

“There’s a real concern here that there’s going to be people essentially priced out of their education,” he said.

The university said financial aid is available for students in need, in the form of

a bursary

of up to $2,000.

The U of C added that webcam use will be at the discretion of instructors, but students will not be required to have their webcams active at all times when attending remote lectures. Instead, cameras will be required for learning activities like group work, lab work or presentations.

The school acknowledged increased potential for cheating in remote classes, a topic that gained prominence in June after 14 students at the school were

handed academic misconduct notices for allegedly sharing assignment answers online

.

“Instructors are aware of the potential for cheating and, through a combination of mechanisms, try to create environments which minimizes the opportunity or potential for cheating – mostly through choice of assessment methods,” the U of C said.

Finley called on the Alberta government to provide more aid to post-secondary students as a return to classes lingers.

“If we’re hoping for an adequate post-COVID economic recovery, we have to acknowledge that students will play a vital role in that, but when you price people out of the system, it will only exaggerate some of the issues we’re seeing right now,” he said.

According to

CourseCompare.ca

, 54 per cent of Canadian post-secondaries are planning for their fall semesters to be predominantly online, with another 40 per cent running a hybrid model similar to the one at the U of C.

Meanwhile, only four per cent of Canadian universities and colleges plan to mainly offer in-person courses this fall.

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