This coming Monday, McGill students will return to class after a two-week suspension of academic activities caused by COVID-19. However, no one will commute and no one will congregate in classes. Instead, thousands of students will log on to their home computers and login to class to continue their studies remotely while adhering to social distancing.
It will mark a much-needed victory over the virus that has all but shut down the world.
It will also mark an unprecedented moment in McGill history made possible only by the extraordinary collaboration between University administrators, staff and professors to transition some 2,000 courses to remote learning.
Simplify, simplify, simplify
“We’re in a phase where we’re going to get as many courses as possible to a remote teaching and learning system for the remainder of the term,” says Christopher Buddle, Associate Provost (Teaching and Academic Programs).
Rest assured, this won’t be business as usual. Because of the exceptional challenges created by the COVID-19 crisis, many students from all over the world have left Montreal to be with their families, some in areas with limited access to an internet connection.
“People shouldn’t expect that we are recreating the classroom experience,” Laura Winer, Director of McGill’s Teaching and Learning Services, told the Reporter.
With students scattered all over the globe in different time zones, instructors have been asked to deliver content so that students don’t necessarily have to be present, virtually, for a lecture course given at a specific time.
“We’re trying to simplify, simplify, simplify. And that means encouraging instructors to favour, when possible, low bandwidth teaching,” Winer said. “Recorded lectures, chats and discussions within myCourses are some of the tools they can use to communicate with students.”
Flexibility and creativity
Buddle adds that instructors could choose to offer content in a number of ways.
“I think one of the key points is that remote delivery will mean a lot of different things,” he says. “One of our guiding principles throughout all of this has been flexibility and creativity, without reducing the quality of the academic content.”
Chairs, Directors, Deans, instructors and staff all rapidly bought into the concept and were crucial in helping make sure the academic term of students could be maintained.
Winer says that some form of remote delivery has been planned for the vast majority of some 2,000 courses taught at McGill in a term.
“In some cases – perhaps with certain types of internships or research courses that require a wet-lab – students may have to consider an ‘incomplete’ until they’re back on campus, but this kind of situation is going to be rare,” Buddle adds. “I think it’s really important to recognize and acknowledge this because it shows that there’s been a lot of creativity among staff and instructors to ensure that we can support all students, despite the short time frame we had to make remote delivery possible.”
An unprecedented team effort for an unprecedented challenge
Transitioning the content of some 2,000 classes to remote learning was an unprecedented undertaking – in size, in speed and in collaboration.
“One of the biggest challenges was upping our technology capacity,” Winer says. “As an example, Zoom is going to be an important tool for our remote learning, but we needed to get about 2,200 licences very quickly. and about a month ago, this kind of transition would have seemed impossible, but in just two weeks, all of the obstacles were gone. People at McGill have just been phenomenal in terms of their flexibility and creativity.”
Buddle and Winer both agree that units throughout McGill – Teaching and Learning Services, the Office of the Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic), the Student Affairs Offices, Enrollment Services, the Study Abroad office, Student Services, Scholarships and Student Aid, IT Services, Procurement Services among others – were instrumental in preparing the remote learning transition.
“The size and scale of this is unprecedented,” Buddle adds. “It really is a heartening story, how the University came together in a time of crisis.”
Resources for students and instructors
- The Teaching and Learning Services website has many resources to help students and instructors plan and adapt to remote delivery. Students can find out everything they need to know about Zoom, one of the most popular web conferencing tools in higher education today.
- New to myCourses? Sign up for myCourses Essentials, a new online resource for instructors and course designers.