COVID Communication: Academic Updates IV

Hello folks, and welcome back to Academic Updates! My apologies, it has been a while since my last academic update, but only because Academics have been quite the party the last two months! Below is a brief summary of the months of August and September.

These past months, my goal has been to establish communication between different departments and programs to create a united front in our approach to online learning. My priorities have importantly centered around accessible resources, equitable teaching and assessment methods, financial mindfulness, mental health considerations, community engagement, and upholding student mental and physical wellbeing. Yes, this is a tall list, but one that I believe every student will need to get through this semester relatively unscathed. I understand that online and remote learning have posed many challenges to students’ learning this year, and these challenges can vastly differ. To realize these priorities and take a pulse on our faculty’s approach leading up to the school year, I arranged meetings with almost every department/program chair in the faculty–along with our department and program representatives. My goal was to make these priorities known, and hopefully have departments/programs that have not considered these priorities adopt them. I created the following list of questions in preparation for these meetings:

  • What are your overall plans for this semester and for the year?

  • What specific changes have been made in the department to compensate for COVID-9 school closure? What will students miss out on, and what will they have to look forward to?

  • What steps is the department making to field students concerns? Motivate students? And orient students through an online school environment?

  • What position has the department taken on proctoring software and how will students be most commonly assessed in the department? Has the department developed a protocol for issues with examination?

  • What challenges are still facing with the upcoming year, and more specifically what could use more of from the MES and the student community to help you inform and carry out your decisions?

  • A lot of students are questioning the quality of education they are coming back to this fall… How does the department intend to communicate and reassure students that they are still receiving a quality education?

  • What kind of accommodations are your faculty members prepared to make to help students through these times? What kind of efforts are being made to support student wellbeing?

  • How does the department plan to maintain a sense of community?

  • Have the course instructors thought of a way to ease the demands on daily screen time?

  • Undoubtedly, it's going to be harder for students to contact professors for clarification and support, and a lot of students are worried about gaps in communication with their instructors. How will you and your faculty be available for students seeking support? And how do the instructors intend to maintain open and clear lines of communication?

  • How does the department plan to maintain opportunities to get involved, engage with profs, and seek opportunities for experiential learning?

  • How will you prioritize mental health?

  • How do you plan to keep students up to date with everything going on in the department, and what initiatives have you undertaken to improve students’ experiences?

These were tough questions to ask, and there really was no perfect answer. In fact, I made these questions without having a good answer either. After meeting with each chair however, strategies to answer these questions became a little more clear, and I am sharing them as widely as I can. While there will undoubtedly be mishaps and growing pains this semester, I can also say with confidence that we belong to a truly exceptional faculty. There isn’t one department or program that is not invested in student learning, student feedback, and making the transition to online learning as smooth as humanly possible. Below is a quick summary of the meetings I have had with each of the departments and programs, in order of meeting date.

iBioMed

The iBioMed program is committed to making the transition to online learning as smooth as possible. We are fortunate to have a group of faculty so engaged, committed to improvement and receptive to feedback. They have been very proactive in anticipating problems and identifying solutions to them. Some of the challenges we predict we will have include internet and connectivity issues; live streaming accessibility issues, especially for international students with both synchronous and asynchronous learning; maintaining assessment integrity. In response to these foreseen challenges, we are looking to our instructors to develop clever methods of evaluation and to use proctoring software at their discretion and only where absolutely necessary, if at all. The program has also hired TAs to ensure that course recordings are properly closed captioned and accessible to students. In addition, the program will be checking in with students and faculty regularly, in addition to their monthly Directors’ meetings and weekly staff meetings to ensure that the program can identify new challenges as they arise. While we are aware that online learning is not the same experience, our instructors have worked harder than they ever have to prepare their content for an online course. We will do our best to accommodate technical difficulties experienced in our courses, including during assessments. If you experience issues in courses outside our jurisdiction, we will do our best to advocate resolutions on your behalf.

We want our students to feel and remain connected to one another. We will continue to hold monthly open houses where students can enjoy a fun activity and connect with one another. We will do our best to uphold our community values and make this year worthwhile. Please look out for announcements that will provide you the opportunity to provide feedback, or reach out to your iBioMed society for help. Best of luck!

Materials Engineering

The Materials department is committed to helping students through these times. It is no question that we are a very hands-on, lab-intensive discipline and we understand that an online environment will not allow for such experiences. We are doing what we can to provide these experiences wherever possible. In fact, two of our courses this fall will be available in person, specifically our steel lab and our capstone course. Students who do not wish to participate in person have the option to complete the courses online as well. TAs will be available live in some courses to walk students through a lab demonstration or clarify pre-recorded lab videos. Proctoring softwares will not be used in our department.

There have been some new developments in our department programs! We have made a big change to our second year curriculum that builds on ENGINEER 1P13 and IBEHS 1P10, and will help showcase the different materials specializations we have to offer. These changes will soon be reflected in our course calendar, but if you are really excited to know, you can reach out to the department for more information. We were also able to reduce the iBioMed course load by 3 units in second year!

In response to past years’ confusions with lab requirements and outlines, the department is endeavoring to create one universal lab report scheme to be used from levels 2-4. We hope this eases your concerns and helps make report writing a little easier for you to navigate. In addition, this year we have created a third year chair/coordinator position to help keep a closer eye on the third year cohort, as we have done for many years with the second year students. Dr. Zurob will serve in this role this year. Lastly, students can expect to see that final exams and midterms have been re-weighted or converted to assignments. We hope this eases some of the stress and concerns with academic integrity. All the best in your studies this year.

Mechanical Engineering

The department of Mechanical Engineering has led the charge in helping our faculty prepare for an online semester. Mechanical engineering has drafted various protocols for an online learning environment and prepared course formats that are available for other professors to follow and model their courses after, it really is exceptional! The department has also created a bunch of student jobs to develop a new website that is dedicated to sharing teaching and learning resources. Profs will have access to resources such as avenue templates and training modules that they can use to improve their online approach and deliver their courses more effectively. We have also put together a wealth of resources on our website that you may find useful in your studies this year, feel free to check them out at: http://mechfaculty.mcmaster.ca/onlinemat/.

Mechanical engineering’s approach this year will be to focus on learning objectives: of course, labs will not be in person, but the takeaways from each lab are the important part, so online labs will focus on upholding those objectives. We believe labs may be even better than they used to be, now that everyone has a front row seat to the demonstrations and a TA will be there to answer any questions you have. Mechanical will offer courses synchronously and asynchronously. More frequent quizzes will be used to offset the weight of final exams. The department is leaving it to the discretion of the instructor as to whether or not proctoring softwares will be used.

The Mechanical Engineering Department needs your help! Please be active, participate in lectures, and bring forward your feedback. We will be working with MSME to keep tabs on our students and make sure things are going smoothly. Our goal is nip issues in the bud and prevent them from propagating through our courses, so your feedback is important. We also ask that you are patient with us as we do everything we can to navigate these circumstances!

Chemical Engineering

The Chemical Engineering department is invested in its students, and we are doing what we can to prepare our students for success. The department has identified some key challenges that they expect to face this year: Classroom engagement; providing worthwhile lab experiences; establishing community for our second year students; promoting a sense of fairness in assessments; ensuring that materials are accessible and that the internet cooperates! Our department prides itself on creating a close community, and we really hope that students work with us as we try to establish a sense of community in the online terms. We recognize that these circumstances are unfair. It will be difficult to learn and difficult to teach as well! We are preparing for online classes with technology training sessions for our teaching staff and TAs.

Our classes will have at minimum an asynchronous component that we hope you will take advantage of to manage your screen time and create a schedule that is more conducive to your own learning. While we need to meet the required number of hours to adhere to accreditation requirements, we will do our best to eliminate extra screen time where we can. Many of our courses already have open book tests, and we have no intention of using proctoring softwares this year. We encourage all of our students to come forward with any feedback or suggestions that will help us refine our approach! All the best!

Society & Management

The society and management programs are also gearing up for an online term. We realized there was a need for more management style courses, so we have added an extra unit to one of your courses to give us some extra time to teach course material. You can expect this extra unit to provide you with more information on best interview practices, Ted Talks, workshops, etc. TAs have been given extra hours to improve our accessibility. Everything will be online in our courses this year. When things need to be submitted, we will be using Turnitin to ensure the academic integrity of our students. We will provide our courses synchronously and asynchronously, and we encourage you to format your schedule in a way that best suits your needs and your learning style this year.

We are going to make a concerted effort to remain present and organized this year. We are always looking for feedback, so please reach out if there is anything you would like to bring forward.

Civil Engineering

The transition to online has been challenging for our department. Our programs have always been quite hands-on, and it has been difficult to determine how best to offer those experiences in an online environment. That said, our course offerings have been converted to an online version to the best of our ability. We are appreciative of the sacrifices everyone has made to adjust to this new reality and how we all have risen to the challenge.

Our goal this year is to be flexible and accommodating for different student’s needs. We will remain attentive to students’ concerns and deal with unexpected challenges as they arise. We hope that students will take a similar approach and handle unforeseen challenges with grace and patience. If you do encounter any issues, we ask that you first approach your instructor for course-related challenges and the Associate Chair (Cam Churchill) or me for any remaining concerns. We are sensitive to the realities of zoom fatigue and the want to look after your health. A class in every course year has been used to express our gratitude to your understanding, patience and continued support. We will also hold departmental check-ins to discuss ways in which we can make this a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

Courses will remain traditional in some ways and change drastically in others. We have also left it up to our instructors to decide what platform and mode of delivery they believe is best for their courses. We are encouraging a white-board type of approach to keep things interactive when possible. We understand this may be confusing at first, but we hope that with time things will become very clear. We will be sensitive to time zone considerations, and courses will be delivered in a synchronous format. Meetings, solutions to problems, etc. will be available as asynchronous materials. Proctoring software use will be at the discretion of the instructor, but we recognize that your privacy is a priority.

Capstone software will be made available for use at home, please consult your instructors for information on how to gain access to these resources. We know that capstone projects tend to be quite diverse, so please bring forward any concerns you have as soon as possible.

Good luck this year, and do not forget to bring your feedback to our attention!

Engineering Physics

The Eng Phys department is taking several steps to facilitate an online transition. We have virtualized our labs to make them accessible from home. There will be no courses or labs offered in person this semester. Our students will be required to purchase a take-home lab kit featuring a super neat and multifunctional oscilloscope that will be used for several of our labs. The cost of the oscilloscope is ~$200.00, but it will be used for several labs, don’t worry! The kits will contain consumables like wires, breadboards, etc. We will also be sending home solar cells (depending on your courses)! Purchases will be handled through the campus store.

The department intends to maintain a sense of a community through our virtual discussion forums, which we hope you will use and collaborate with others on. If you have ideas on how to engage our community, please bring them forward! Our department will also be holding weekly town halls to collect your feedback.

Computing & Software

The CAS department has been very diligent in its approach to online learning, and we are doing what we can to meet the unique needs of our students and our community. We are actively seeking out more ways to engage our students, and we will be working with student representatives to organize some events in the near future. Students can expect an event that takes them away from the screen a bit in hopes of establishing a more healthy active lifestyle.

We know that asynchronous and synchronous lecture combinations can be difficult to navigate and are not the perfect for students attending university from different locations around the world. The department will be looking into creating more opportunities for international students with large time-zone differences to access help and ask questions live. We will be holding town halls intermittently to collect feedback throughout the semester.

If you are experiencing any difficulties in your courses, please let us know as your feedback is extremely important to us. Please contact your course instructor with your concerns, suggestions, or other feedback first, followed by our associate chair undergraduate Dr. Kahl, and finally our department chair Dr. Lawford. Alternatively, you can always reach out to your program and department reps Yasmine Jolly (Software Eng), Stephen De Jong (Tron Eng), Victoria Robinson (Comp Sci), or Tasneem Majid (Comp Sci 1). You may also contact Andrew D’Elia our MES VP Academic anytime. Contact information for these students are found on the MES website.

B. Technology

Meeting date TBD

Electrical & Computer Engineering

Meeting date TBD

I hope you found these summaries helpful! In other news, the MES hosted our annual Back2School week on the Hopin platform in the first week of school, which included our annual hatch open house–a night dedicated to meet the clubs, teams and affiliates of the MES!

As always, the MES is committed to supporting our students success through MES help sessions. First years can join us for various virtual midterm prep and review sessions hosted by our Academic Services Committee. Not only are we providing our own help sessions, but our partnership with Prep101 this year continues! Prep101 will offer prep sessions for the first CHEM 1E03 and PHYS 1D03 midterms for FREE! There will also be opportunities to score a free Prep101 voucher for second midterms or exams later this semester, so keep your eyes peeled for that!

Undergraduate Curriculum Policy Meetings have begun for the 2020-2021 cycle. This committee is responsible for revising and updating our undergraduate calendar, as well as making important decisions about what courses we take, when we need to take them, and how many electives we are granted. If there is a pressing correction you would like to make to your program calendar, I’d be happy to hear your feedback, so please let me know!

The mentorship program has officially taken off! Look for their announcements on our social media outlets!

Are your courses going well? Poorly? I want to know. More specifically, I want to know what is working and what is not working in these online courses. The faculty has been super appreciative and receptive to our feedback to this year, and I want to make sure my voice is reflecting your needs!

That’s all for now friends, time to take a break from my screen, as you should too! If there is anything else you are curious about, or if there is something you would like further clarification of, please reach out to me at vp.academic@macengsociety.ca. Also, keep on the lookout for ways to get involved in academics!


All the best,


Andrew D’Elia

VP Academic, McMaster Engineering Society

© 2020 McMaster Engineering Society

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