Keep learning online an option, says Carleton law professor

A Carleton University professor says universities should remain flexible with online learning, after five out of more than 30 students attended his class in person.

Ottawa universities are gearing up to offer most in-person classes this fall. Summer is also a test for in-person classes without a mask and without COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

John Hale is a defense attorney who has taught at Carleton University since 1990. [Photo courtesy John Hale]

Contract instructor and criminal defense attorney John Hale says he thinks Carleton University should keep in mind COVID-19 concerns, jobs and convenience for students who are more comfortable with distance learning.

“I think the university and other universities need to be open to maintaining some of the technological advancements that have been made during the pandemic, which injects some flexibility,” contract instructor John Hale said.

Hale enrolled 105 students in its online introductory criminal law course last summer. That number dropped to 36 students this summer, which he found out in person after signing up to teach the course.

Hale said he received emails from students who had caught COVID-19, had been exposed to it, or were concerned about catching the virus. He uploaded his online lectures from last fall to the classes page in case people can’t make it to evening classes.

Last Tuesday, he showed up at the school’s Azrieli Theater conference room, which seats up to 236 people.

“I drove two hours to get there because I was at the cabin, I got there, I paid for parking, and I have five students,” Hale said. “It’s not the students’ fault, but it’s not an atmosphere that brings out the best in teachers or students to have, in the end, six people in a huge auditorium.”

“Ironically, the course I used to teach online before the pandemic is now in person.”

John Hale, professor of contract law at Carleton University

Hale said he invited students to virtual question-and-answer sessions during his online classes during the first two years of the pandemic. He asked them if they would rather attend a lecture in person or watch the lectures online.

“The almost uniform response was, ‘In an ideal world, I’d rather be in class, but I got used to it. I like being able to watch lectures when it’s convenient for me, so I’d probably come to a few classes, but if I can watch them some other time, that’s what I’ll end up doing,'” Hale said.

Hale used to record his in-person lectures for the online section of his classes before the pandemic using Carleton’s video-on-demand service. A camera operator recorded the lectures, which would be posted online. About 15 of the 250 students would attend in person, Hale said.

This summer’s course is exclusively in person. The video-on-demand service ended after 2020.

“Ironically, the course I used to teach online before the pandemic is now in person,” Hale said.

The on-demand service costs $50 per course, per term for students, according to a university document. There seems to be a new alternative.

“Some courses will continue to be recorded, but accessible for free through Brightspace, Carleton’s learning management system,” Carleton University media relations manager Steven Reid said in an email to Capital Current. .

About 10% of Carleton’s classes will be online in the fall, Reid said. He added that it “provides some flexibility for those who do not wish to come to campus at this time.”

Immunocompromised students who are enrolled in an in-person course can apply for housing through the Center Paul Menton, which is responsible for coordinating disability services, Reid said.

Otherwise, if a class is scheduled to be in-person when students enroll, expect it to remain so unless public health advice and COVID-19 health guidelines change.

“If a student or course instructor has been exposed to COVID, alternatives can be offered given these scenarios,” Reid said.

This conference room in Carleton can accommodate more than 200 people without physical distancing. [Photo courtesy John Hale]

Flexibility with distance learning has not been a universal wish.

Last year, faculty and students at the University of Ottawa told Capital Current they were concerned about the effectiveness of having an open online conference during an in-person class. Students who go online might find it harder to participate in class, while union representatives for teaching assistants and professors said there was not enough training for the hybrid approach.

Hale says he prefers to teach in person in a perfect world.

“I love this interaction with the students – it’s what I’ve been used to for three decades,” Hale said. “I missed it when I was teaching on Zoom.”

Hale said students often go home during the summer, making it difficult for some to travel to campus to attend lectures. When most students arrive in residence or off-campus in the fall, attendance levels may increase in its criminal and youth justice and criminal justice courses, he said.

“It could be a very different experience in the fall, where students are very accepting of being on campus, so we’ll see,” he said.

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