COVID Communication: Academic Updates

Since school closure, the faculty has been hard at work to mitigate the implications that social distancing protocols and online learning have had on our education. You probably know all about this and likely experienced it in your own courses. Profs were, for the most part, expected to create a revised syllabus or emergency plan to crash land the remainder of the course in an online format. Alterations may have been made to your course materials, midterms, projects or exams, depending on the extent to which the pandemic affected them. Effective some time in April, the University passed an emergency grading policy that has allowed students to opt for a Pass/No-credit in place of a letter grade or failing grade on their transcript, respectively. Similar policies have been employed all over the country to compensate for the effects that COVID may have had on students’ performances. This policy was effect until May 15th, and is accessible via a tile button on mosaic. Students were advised to consult their academic advisors before using these options.

If you feel that a specific course handled this transition particularly poorly, such as the final evaluations were unjust or largely inequitable, please let me know.

Level 2 program selection will proceed exactly as it has in the past. Students’ grades will be calculated based on first term marks, and any letter grade marks reported in second term. P/NC courses will not be included in GPA calculations.

Since the end of the winter term, profs have been working hard to convert summer school classes to online delivery platforms and prepare contingency plans for the upcoming school year. Some summer school courses were cancelled due to their incompatibility with an online format (usually due to a mandatory lab component). In late May, the University announced that classes will be operating entirely online this Fall.

In light of secondary school responses to COVID-19, it is likely that incoming first year students will be slightly under-prepared for their programs compared to years past. To address and compensate for this issue, the Faculty of Engineering has created EMBER, “Engineering Membership & Bridging Educational Resources.” A two-week online boot-camp that will summarize and review some of the requisite knowledge needed to succeed in their courses come fall. It will go over concepts in math, physics, and chemistry. This program is currently being overseen by Dr. Vince Leung. It has provided a number of jobs for students who have lost their jobs at the university due to COVID-19. Each day, there will be a 20 minute break set aside for various clubs, councils, teams, and services in the faculty of engineering to engage with the first years and communicate what McMaster will have to offer them. If you or your club would like to speak during one of these time slots, a form has been made available to you via email to apply for a slot, and times will be allocated at the judgement of the faculty and the MES. As an FYI, ENGINEER 1P13 and the rest of the Pivot remain set to roll out this fall… the kinks and details surrounding the delivery of this experience in an online school environment are still being discussed.

Fun fact from your Associate Dean Academic! Profs have noticed that online lecture delivery may have resulted in significantly higher class attendance, participation, and question-asking! Who would have thought we would find a hidden gem in times like these. Do you find that you prefer online course delivery over traditional lectures? Let me know!

Research will be returning to campus slowly but surely. Note that this reopening is not indicative of the remainder of the school reopening. Research groups will be required to follow strict physical distancing measures and follow the outlines of enhanced Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). What I can say about school reopening is very similar to what you can say about it… we don’t know. It’s possible that even next winter term will be online. Contingency plans are being made for everything, and we will just have to play it by ear.

You might be thinking that there is no way to complete an Eng, CompSci, BTech or iBioMed program online. While some disciplines may pass through this pandemic relatively unscathed (we’re looking at you, Software kids), others have crucial lab components that are not only important to learn, but are also a requirement outlined by the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB), who happen to be visiting us this fall for our accreditation snapshot year. Options are being explored for how we can deliver lab content to students… Everything from virtual reality lab experiences to dramatically expanding our lab sections so that we can accommodate students in the lab (whilst adhering to our SOPs). The issue? Expanding lab sections could cost the university a whopping 1M just in cleaning bills, not to mention the extra TA’s you would need to pay and the spike in electrical bills. Some of these other technological options are already being discussed and negotiated with tech companies such as Epic Games, who made Fortnite… I sincerely hope that capstone projects do not transform into new methods of riding rockets or building structurally unsound buildings ridiculously fast. These online resources would have been wonderful to have even before COVID existed. Still, these technologies will undoubtedly take some time to develop and would likely be available for the next academic year anyway in some of our smaller classes.

If you did not yet know, co-op has been majorly affected by COVID-19. Many students’ co-op placements have been postponed or cancelled completely. While ECCS is doing its best to support its students, there is only so much they can do to convince employers to keep, well, employing us. For those of you who lost your jobs, I am really sorry to hear that and I sympathize with you greatly. If it's any consolation, please know that the Faculty intends to alleviate some of the requirements of the co-op designation. If you had a co-op this summer and lost it due to COVID-19, don’t worry. Students in this predicament will have 4 months of their co-op requirements waived, so you will only need to complete 8 months of co-op to receive your designation. If your co-op was reduced to 3 months, your co-op placement will still be considered a 4 month equivalent.

Conversations are being had about mitigating instances of academic dishonesty via third party (or maybe home-grown) proctoring softwares. As of right now, proctoring softwares are not being used by the university given the concerns over student privacy. Some preliminary test-runs of candidate proctoring softwares will be run in the summer term in select courses to evaluate their feasibility for use during the year. The bottom line, cheating isn’t cool, friends. While it may be tempting to keep some google tabs open in the middle of an exam, and while it may feel like you’d be at a disadvantage compared to students who do choose to cheat, remember that if no one cheats, that won’t be an issue anymore! You know what you know, and many people won’t be looking at COVID grades anyway, so don’t risk your academic record trying to pull a 12 in a course. Also remember that profs can see more than you think, they are profs for a reason! Cheating gets you nowhere, except expelled from Mac.

A lot of students have approached the MES with concerns surrounding our tuition for the fall. Particularly, that the price of tuition should decrease for an online semester. Please know that this is an issue being discussed at universities all across the province and is being taken very seriously by the MES. We acknowledge that the online experience is likely not to be the same as the on-campus experience we all know and love. At the same time, however, the MES acknowledges the financial burden that COVID-19 has had on the university, with everything from the closure of our research facilities to the costs of converting classes to an online environment. The MES has yet to form an official stance on this issue, but we are doing what we can to discuss this issue with the faculty and understand the breakdown of our tuition. As we learn more about what constitutes our tuition and the university’s current predicament, we will keep you informed.

Interested in helping prepare/provide academic events, support, and services for incoming first years? Have any ideas about how we can rescue Mac Eng from the fires of COVID-19, or want to shoot us an anonymous tip about how we can be more awesome and useful to our members? Please feel free to reach out! Also, be on the lookout for openings on our Mentorship Committee and Academic Services Committee :)

That’s about it for now friends, feel free to reach out to me for just about anything :)