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We Spoke With Two Montreal Professors On How School Closures May Affect Students’ Learning

And they offered advice to all students currently facing this situation.
Contributing Writer
We Spoke With Two Montreal Professors On How School Closures May Affect Students’ Learning
  • MTL Blog got the chance to discuss Quebec school closures with two local professors, Dr. Jim Kanaris of McGill University and Dr. Sevak Manjikian of Vanier College. 
  • We spoke about the potential benefits and downfalls of virtual learning, and they offered advice to every student currently facing these circumstances.
  • Read what they had to say below.

On March 22, Premier François Legault announced that all Quebec schools would be closed until May 1 as a protective measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the province. With this, Legault confirmed that all CÉGEPs and universities would switch to online courses in order for students to be able to finish their semesters properly. 

For students who thrive off of in-class interactions, this news likely came as a hit. While the idea of online classes may be exciting for some, it can be a nightmare for others.

From the loss of jobs to the need for certain technologies that not all individuals may have access to, students face many different realities when it comes to virtual learning. And professors, too, must now adapt to new teaching styles.

So, I spoke with two professors, Dr. Sevak Manjikian of Vanier College and Dr. Jim Kanaris of McGill University, about the government's decision to extend all school closures until May 1 and how online classes may affect students' learning.

Read my interview with these two professors below!

What are your general feelings towards the Government of Quebec ordering school closures until May 1? 

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Dr. Kanaris: [It]'s a prudent one and hopefully will be extended if that's what it takes to "flatten the curve."

Dr. Manjikian: It was the right decision given the scope of the situation we are facing right now.

How do you think online courses will affect students' learning? Does a student's education benefit more from online or in-person classes?

Dr. Kanaris: It goes without saying that online teaching, under the present circumstances, is a necessity, however one feels about it. Overall, it will help students complete a process they've invested in (intellectually, financially, etc.) since the beginning of term.

In principle, it affects all students' learning positively, although in life equal opportunities aren't afforded to all. Some students will be at a disadvantage when it comes to technologies and to so-called minimal luxuries, as quiet surroundings, to ensure the best possible learning outcome.

Not all have the latest electronic equipment and unlimited high-speed internet assumed to work seamlessly with current communication platforms. The playing field won't always be level. 

My hope is that such instances are the exception and not the rule. Our institutions should be doing what they can to flatten this curve as well.

Dr. Manjikian: There will certainly be changes in the way students learn in the coming weeks as we move to online teaching and learning. My lectures will be shortened, they will transition into a mixture of podcasts and YouTube videos.

I have also eliminated the final test at the end of the term. I don't think the student will suffer any loss by not having to write a final test. The students are facing a global crisis right now, I don't think I need to add to their anxiety demanding anything beyond a basic understanding of the course competencies.

My main goal is to make sure my students get through the term.

I believe that in-person education is a better format for most students. There are certainly cases like our current predicament where online education is beneficial; but on the whole, I feel that in-class learning is better — call me old-fashioned.

The discussions that take place in class complete the learning process. You can't do this effectively online as you would in person. I am sure people can do it, but I don't have the patience to deal with then endless technical glitches that seem to be part of the online experience at this point in time.

Do you see any benefits to virtual learning?

Dr. Kanaris: There is no question in my mind that virtual learning is a boon. Set aside the current crisis, the education of society is probably at an all-time high thanks to the information superhighway and its multifarious forms of wizardry. The world is simply not the same since the advent of, for example, AltaVista (replaced by Google) and Skype (replaced by Zoom).

Since the '90s, educators have been becoming quite adept at using such technologies in aid of the self-determination of individuals and societies. Am I being too wide-eyed? Probably.

Dr. Manjikian: Yes, there are benefits of virtual learning... I would argue that many teachers are using online resources to complement their in-class teaching right now.

The students are already immersed online; it makes sense that educational systems will follow suit.

One thing is for sure, for me at least, online learning will never replace the feeling of being inside a classroom with actual students.

In an online setting, I can't tell if I need to slow down, repeat something or if students do not understand a particular point I am trying to make. In a classroom setting, I can pick up cues from the students' faces and body language and adjust accordingly.

Is there any advice you can offer CÉGEP and university students during this time?

Dr. Kanaris: Beyond the usual platitudes, no. Stay calm! Which doesn't mean compromise vigilance. You will get through this! And if you don't, fuck it! It's not the end of the world.

Be happy you're alive (if you're still relatively healthy). Learn to roll with the punches. The institution is doing what it can to help you. Do what you can with the means they provide and the tools you possess.

Beyond all else, care for your health and your family's. Consider the well-being of society, too. Selfisolate. Practice social distancing. Don't hoard, don't panic!

Go for a walk. Dust off your bike. Study! Life, when it sees fit, will likely return to "normal," even if your memory, for whatever reason, gets scarred.

Consider this a time to self-transcend, to work on yourself, to appreciate what is valuable, what is lovely. Courage!

Dr. Manjikian: The next few weeks will be challenging for a number of students, teachers and college administrators. We are going through a crisis that is cutting short the normal ways we go about our daily lives.

At times, for some students, schoolwork will seem utterly unimportant if someone's life is directly affected by the virus.
What is often unsaid is that a number of the front line workers at pharmacies and grocery stores are in fact CÉGEP students. I see them all the time when I go shopping. These students, who earn minimal wages, are effectively helping society navigate these difficult times.

Then there are students who have lost jobs right now. Completing assignments for all these students will certainly be a challenge without the structure of attending classes and getting help from their teachers in person.

So I worry about them in terms of their health and well-being as well as their academic progress.

Students should know that they can reach out to teachers the moment they feel stressed about their academic work. If a student is in distress they need to reach out... They are not alone.

To all the students out there, I wish you the best of luck with the rest of your semester!

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