University professors are "completely overwhelmed" by changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, says the president of the organization that represents them.
Mary Lou Babineau, of the Federation of New Brunswick Faculty Associations," said her members are "finding it very difficult to cope with the workload and the changes that have happened very suddenly to their teaching circumstances."
Babineau, who teaches at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, said professors "feel very unprepared to be teaching under these circumstances."
"I have not yet heard a colleague say that they are loving this online format and that things are going swimmingly," Babineau told Information Morning Fredericton.
"Those people undoubtedly exist depending on the disciplines in which they're teaching. But I would say they would be a minority."
She said the struggles of teaching amid a pandemic is the top issue among faculty members.
"And, you know, unfortunately, the conclusion that we keep arriving at is that there's really not a lot that can be done."
Babineau said online learning existed before COVID-19 and there were people who were very good at delivering high-quality online courses under limited circumstances.
"But these are not the circumstances that we find ourselves in," she said. "Very few of us are specialized in online learning."
And yet, here we are, said Babineau, with teachers "left to our own devices" to figure out how to deliver their pre-pandemic, in-person curriculum online.
"This is not why we got into university teaching. This is not what we're trained for. And it's not what students were looking for either."
It's not ideal, she said, and "we have to try to let go of the notion that the outcomes are going to be the same."
Onus on students
Although some of her upper-level students have been doing as well — or even better — with online learning, first-year students are having a difficult time, said Babineau.
But while their first-semester experience has definitely been "compromised," she doesn't believe their overall education will be.
First-year students are "ostensibly going to be with us for four years or five years, so I wouldn't say that the quality of their degree is going to be compromised."
It just means they'll have to work harder and smarter to make the most of their university experience.
"I think that this year, more than ever before, the value that students will get out of their education depends on the effort that they're going to put in," said Babineau.
Those who are committed and put in the work will succeed, she said.
"But it will be much more based on their own drive than on me hovering and testing and making sure they're not looking at their notes. So the onus is really put more on them."
'Comedy of errors'
Babineau said university administrations are doing what they can to help professors adapt to the new learning environment and help them adapt to online platforms.
"But it's really just not enough," she said.
"We were thrown into it under a crisis. And I think that everyone is doing the best that they can."
After teaching for 24 years, Babineau said she felt "very competent" in the classroom — until COVID hit.
"And so all of a sudden I'm put into this online learning environment where, frankly, I feel quite incompetent a lot of days."
She said trying to navigate new technology has been humbling and is often "a comedy of errors."
"So it is discouraging. And I have to constantly be reminding myself that this too shall pass."