Classes this fall are online. Instructors were told in May to prepare for online teaching although there were still questions about whether some in person teaching would be encouraged/allowed. There were some efforts to hold some in person classes earlier in the term, mainly to give our 1L students at least one chance to meet with some classmates. All in person meets had to have options for those students who are attending from elsewhere or who preferred not to attend in person.
As COVID19 rates rise in Toronto in what may be a “second wave” which apparently may peak in October, it seems unlikely that requests for in person classes will be granted (as opposed to late August when rates had only just begun to rise). The campus is closed for Faculty and Students and has been since March. Access to faculty offices requires special permission which takes weeks to obtain. The library is closed at this point although that could change. Curbside pickup of materials can be arranged and library staff have been working hard to assist with teaching materials. Graduate students in the Research Program are also attending online only. Students in intensive courses and clinics are also online, and some of these programs have considerable challenges as they are built around a full day schedule, and often involve community partners. These are much more complex to “move online” than a two hour lecture two times a week. Faculty and community partners have worked hard to develop online plans for all of these programs. Some funding was available for the purchase of technological equipment for Faculty for use in online teaching.
Faculty members did not receive any teaching relief in relation to preparing for online teaching. No such relief is on the table for the future. Syllabi, included learning expectations and evaluation approaches (which cannot be changed once in the syllabus) had to be turned relatively early in the summer for all upper year courses.
Online teaching at Osgoode happens via eClass (a Moodle platform) and Zoom. Instructors can choose synchronous or asynchronous approaches, or a blend of the two. In August, students were hired to work as Remote Synchronous Learning Facilitators (available on request for large classes). These RSLFs can help with e.g. attendance, breakout rooms, and recording. They do not use eClass, however; their work is limited to Zoom. Faculty Assistants can help with eClass if requested.
The Dean’s Office arranged workshops on remote teaching facilitated by York Teaching Commons staff, held in the summer, including workshops focused on accommodation and on first year teaching. An expert at Osgoode’s Professional Development also provided some advice about tips and techniques in online learning, and our Associate Dean Students is also available to consult on matters related to teaching.
In an effort to mitigate the many kinds of disruption caused by the pandemic, Osgoode now requires that all lectures be recorded and available to all even if the lectures are synchronous and the instructors expectation is that students are in attendance. Seminars do not have to be recorded, given that many are not pedagogically suited to it and for privacy reasons.
Instructors therefore have options in terms of how they have adapted their teaching for the circumstances. While some have adopted a “podcasting” model, others are teaching synchronously. Some have altered evaluation methods in efforts to ensure some engagement between students despite the online environment. Osgoode continues to have Dean’s Fellows (upper year peer mentors) assigned to every first year class.
No substantial changes designed to mitigate the effects of the pandemic were made to class sizes or the way that classes are assigned and scheduled. Examination schedules are published, and the clear assumption is that examinations will be held online. There is no indication that any proctoring approaches are being considered.
York University announced on August 12 2020 that the Winter Semester (Jan-Apr 2021) would be run on the same principles as the Fall. This means that even if there is more opportunity for in person meets for Osgoode classes, those would still have to be requested and then approved (and of course, would be subject to any overriding orders from provincial or municipal public health). We are preparing for online teaching. If some in person meets are approved, instructors will have to ensure that students who are not able to come to campus can also fully participate.