Incoming UMSU president responds to remote learning survey

Last week, the Manitoban published the results of a survey gauging how students felt about their experiences during a year of remote learning. Nearly 500 students responded, offering insights on mental health, workload, accessibility, learning environment and suggestions for improvement.

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) ran a similar survey in December 2020, receiving slightly over 500 responses. Not all of the UMFA survey’s questions were analogous to the Manitoban’s survey questions, but the two had some in common.

Students and faculty reported similar numbers when asked if they felt like they never stopped working, with 55 per cent of students and 52.9 per cent of faculty saying they strongly agreed. However, students reported more extreme levels of feeling tired and unable to concentrate — compared to 72.2 per cent of students, only 54.7 per cent of faculty said they strongly agreed.

Incoming UMSU president Brendan Scott, who currently serves as vice-president finance and operations, said the survey’s data about students feeling isolated reinforced his plans for UMSU during the 2021-2022 academic year.

“One of the policies we ran on was a steady transition or seamless transition back to campus,” Scott explained.

“So, we knew that at some point during the year we were going to be back on campus […] The goal would actually be to still have some online events, but if allowed, the goal would actually be to have up to 75 per cent of our programming on campus.”

Scott said he would like to see students studying in the library or meeting up with friends while classes are still partially online, in an effort to improve general mental health and provide more of a traditional campus atmosphere.

“It just overall will help,” he said.

“Let’s say we go back fully in the winter — these students are more used to being on campus because we promoted them to come during the fall.”

However, Scott said student feedback from the survey also made him newly aware of some issues, including laboratory fees and difficulty accessing the campus bookstore for students who do not live in Winnipeg.

“That was the one thing from [the survey] that put off alarm bells in my mind — all the students who are out of town about to spend so much money on shipping,” Scott said.

“The bookstore was very much accessible during the beginning of fall and beginning of winter, but not towards people who lived out of town, and obviously with [COVID-19] more people are living out of town than on campus.

“It’s just another reason to get open educational resources.”

Scott said he loved his online learning experience and was pleasantly surprised to see students generally pleased with their remote learning environment.

“It’s just also going to be hard to justify when, come fall, we see half the universities in Canada be fully in-person, and we’re one of the other half that aren’t.”