Here’s the good news: After much discussion at Senate and behind-the-scenes lobbying, the Registrar’s Office is now scheduling synchronous meet times for fall 2020, as they normally would.
Synchronous = students and instructor interact online in real time.
Asynchronous = weekly tasks and deadlines exist but there is no set class time.
The bad news is that at least one Faculty (maybe more) has opted not to use the Registrar’s Office (RO) to schedule synchronous activities, without appropriately engaging collegial bodies such as faculty council. FAUW believes this needs to change.
Why not scheduling synchronous activities centrally is a problem
- It’s bad for students. When scheduling synchronous activities is left to individual instructors (as in at least one Faculty), it’s very easy to create conflicts for students. That’s one big reason we have centralized scheduling in the first place. In an already confusing, difficult time, it is also unfair to expect students who are enrolled in more than one Faculty to navigate different scheduling processes. Further, instructors surveying students about their availability may inadvertently violate student privacy and confidentiality in a way that the RO won’t because the RO has existing systems in place to optimize scheduling without compromising student privacy.
- It’s more work for instructors. Instructors are already working as hard as they can so let’s not ask them to do scheduling work that others normally do on their behalf (and are still employed to do).
- It violates academic freedom. We are concerned that withholding central supports from instructors with the aim of constraining their pedagogical choices sets a worrisome precedent and risks violating instructors’ academic freedom to teach as they judge fit using the resources that are available.
- It undermines collegial governance. Academic decisions of this type need to be made collegially through bodies established for such deliberation and decision-making. This circumvention of collegial governance is even more concerning given the substantial debate that colleagues had about this matter at Senate—the University’s highest collegial body and indeed the body charged in the University of Waterloo Act with making academic decisions.
What you can do about it
A robust Senate debate that resulted in a change of mind by University of Waterloo’s most senior administrators must not be disregarded at the fiat of associate deans. If you agree and are not happy with your Faculty’s approach to fall scheduling, you need to email your dean and associate dean undergrad now and voice your displeasure. If you don’t know what to say, here’s something to start with:
As discussed at the May University Senate meeting, there is significant value in holding optional synchronous sessions for remote courses. I understand there are concerns about access, but these interests can be appropriately balanced. The Registrar’s Office is providing centralized scheduling support as usual and instructors in our Faculty should have access to this support. The decision to withhold this support without even discussing it at Faculty Council violates the collegial governance principles this university is built upon and is unacceptable.
To sync or not to sync?
The university has discouraged synchronous course sections for two good reasons: students will likely be in different time zones, and many will not have sufficient internet access to participate fully in synchronous activities. As an instructor, you need to balance these limitations against the benefits gained from greater engagement with instructors and TAs in addressing some learning objectives. Through our Board (which has representation across all Faculties and ranks, and even program directors and associate chairs), we’ve heard that the current fully asynchronous courses are leaving students feeling very disconnected.
If you have synchronous activities, the content of these activities needs to be made available to students who are unable to participate at the set time. Good advice from the Faculty of Arts includes limiting the number of synchronous hours (e.g. only one hour per week compared to the traditional three contact hours) and not using synchronous activities to assign participation grades, as not all students will have the same opportunity to join. You may wish to have more than one session scheduled per week covering the same content, though that increases your own workload.
Faculty scheduling reps need to provide details on synchronous/asynchronous teaching for fall 2020 to the Registrar’s Office by June 24. FAUW isn’t going to tell you whether you should hold synchronous sessions or not, but we firmly believe you should have access to the usual scheduling supports if you do.