Opinion: McGill’s Online Learning is a Disgrace

The absence of co-curricular support and a 35% tuition hike is setting students up for failure.

Tired, confused, behind schedule, mentally exhausted, glued to a screen all day yet accomplishing nothing: this is what people are saying on McGill’s subreddit, where the online learning experience has received overwhelming criticism. Bringing classes online without adequate co-curricular support is setting students up for failure, and that is exactly what McGill’s remote learning has done six weeks into the new semester.

There’s a number of factors contributing to this sense of frustration: discussion posts bear little resemblance to the live conversations they are supposed to replace and seem more like a short essay in disguise. The upload of recordings in some classes is often irregular as technical difficulties sometimes prevent instructors from putting them up on-time, causing frustration to students and faculty alike. Talking to unfamiliar faces on a screen can also be a daunting experience and yet, the university is not providing professors with the necessary tools to mitigate “Zoom anxiety.”  

But for many students new to McGill this year, online learning poses a special kind of challenge. Too many different types of assignments that take place on too many different websites become very easy to lose track of. They left high school well prepared for live classroom learning, but now they find themselves staring at computer screens feeling lost, upset and discouraged: seems like a bad start for college. 

Merely moving lectures onto Zoom and classroom participation onto discussion boards is no different from Google translating a 500-page document and magically hoping it will work out– online platforms rarely make good substitutes for human interaction. The internet is a chaotic place, full of distractions and technical difficulties. MyCourses and emails are great tools to supplement traditional in-person classes, but on their own they are terribly inadequate at keeping students engaged. 

McGill’s online learning has received overwhelming criticism on Reddit

Make no mistake online learning is necessary to comply with COVID-19 preventative measures.  But among Canada’s top three universities, which are most commonly understood to be University of British Columbia (UBC), University of Toronto (UofT) and McGill, McGill is the only one to turn its back on students who are struggling with remote learning. University of Toronto (UofT) knows that online learning must be accompanied by co-curricular support, which is why they’re organizing “recognized study groups” to simulate the social aspects of in-person learning in an online environment. There are also learning strategists in each college ready to help should students experience difficulty with remote learning.  McGill offers none of these as of date.

McGill is the only one among Canada’s top three universities to turn its back on students who are struggling with remote learning.

Out west in Vancouver, UBC has set up an informative “Keep Learning UBC” to guide its students through the uncharted waters of Zoom university, with detailed instructions on seeking academic accommodation and on provided concessions. UBC refers to deferred exams, later deadlines and late withdrawals as concessions. 

At McGill, no such information is clearly provided on the university’s COVID-19 information page

To add insult to injury, according to CTV News, McGill has implemented a tuition hike of 35% for international students in certain graduate programs, all in the middle of a pandemic.  Most other students, both domestic and international, will find their tuition rates inflated from three to seven per cent. The tuition increase was indeed communicated before the pandemic, but it was clearly poorly executed as the surprise bill of $14,000 caught many graduate students off guard. 

A tuition hike in the middle of a pandemic is inexcusable, no matter how you look at it. College education is a popular path toward potential class mobility. By cutting off this possibility to students from marginalized backgrounds, McGill is pushing them down the social ladder while they’re climbing it.  There are 39% of post-secondary students on student loans today. There are also agents and banks overloading international students with predatory loans at unprecedented levels. Either by taking out loans or working on the side, students are still going to universities in pursuit of a common dream a degree, and the promise of a better future. Then, COVID-19 hit, and with it came the worst recession since the Great Depression, and the highest unemployment in decades. But instead of offering compassion and support, McGill is moving forward with a tuition hike that ranges from anywhere between 3% and 35%.

Students have made repeated calls asking the university to put the price hike on hold, if not reverse it, and to stop treating international students as cash cows.  They did not listen. The fact that McGill can single-handedly destroy people’s hopes and dreams by raising the tuition however they like is devastating. Consider those international graduate students pursuing their dreams: some of them won’t be able to foot the bill this year and must leave their studies unfinished it’s heartbreaking.

To them and to all those first-year and returning students struggling with online learning, it’s not your fault. McGill has failed you.