In April 2021, PGSS and AGSEM conducted a survey amongst McGill graduate students to measure their comfort levels and preferences regarding returning to campus for the Fall 2021 semester.
Please follow this link to find the summary of the first survey results from April 2021.
In August 2021, PGSS and AGSEM returned with another survey, asking McGill graduate students similar questions about their comfort levels and preferences regarding returning to campus for the Fall 2021 semester. 399 graduate students participated in the survey.
Below, you can find the highlights of the August survey results.
A) Masks and distancing on campus
Back in August, 41.4 percent of graduate students who participated in the survey said they would feel comfortable coming to work on campus with masks and at least 1 metre distancing;
17.3 percent felt comfortable coming to work on campus with masks and no distancing.
22.8 percent did not feel comfortable working on campus regardless of mask and distancing policies;
Only 29.8 percent of those graduate student who responded to the survey would feel comfortable working in person on campus if students were not required to wear masks when seated.
35.3 percent of graduate students who participated in the survey would feel comfortable working in person if masks were only removed for a brief moment (e.g., to drink water);
34.8 percent do not feel comfortable working in person under this scenario.
B) In-person vs remote classes
37.3 percent of those who responded would prefer that classes were fully remote in the fall semester.
35.8 percent would prefer that classes over 150 students were taught remotely, with smaller classes held in person.
Only 13.3 percent prefer that classes be held fully in person.
C) Commuting to campus
Back in August, 46.6 percent of graduate students who participated in the survey did not feel comfortable travelling to and from campus using public transit, assuming (close to) pre-pandemic levels of ridership;
37.3 percent felt comfortable travelling to and from campus using public transit;
16 percent did not use public transit before the pandemic and will not use it now.
In response to the survey results, AGSEM requests that going forward McGill prioritizes:
1) Safety (Masks and social distancing, option of online classes),
2) Mental health (Improved access to mental health services),
3) Quality of education (Improving student engagement in an online setting through better digital resources).
1) Safety: The first priority the union is advocating is in regard to safety for employed graduate students in the 2021-22 academic year. This includes the option of remote learning and teaching for teaching assistants, use of masks in indoor spaces, and social distancing measures in campus. The union requests the McGill administration to adopt these safety measures throughout the academic year given the uncertainty due to emergence of new variants of COVID-19.
Our members said:
“...switching to online learning if cases on campus spike..."
“A long-term plan for remote learning at University.”
“Option to work from home instead of the lab.”
“....the ability to work remotely and chance to keep distance if in-person required...”
“Remote teaching option when possible.”
2) Mental Health: The second priority the union is advocating is in regard to improved access of mental health services for employed graduate students. Researchers show that the pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of graduate students who are burdened by their research, teaching, and other academic responsibilities responsibilities (Chirikov et al., 2020; Zahneis & June, 2020). The survey results confirm that many McGill graduate students currently struggle with lack of mental health support. Therefore, in this context, it is very important for employed graduate students to have priority access to mental health services at McGill. This includes access to walk-in appointments, weekly access to mental health counselling, and a provision for financial aid for employed graduate students to access mental health services outside of Montreal and Quebec.
Our members said:
“Better healthcare, specifically mental health care...”
“For TAs to be financially and mentally supported more.”
“McGill is supposed to be a very good research univerity, but I do not feel like the graduate experience is at the centre of McGill's decision making.”
“The isolation caused by the social distancing measures has taken a serious toll on the mental health and general well-being of university students.”
3) Quality of Education: The widespread testimonials from teaching assistants in the survey indicate that online education, while having many logistical benefits, has negatively affected the quality of learning and teaching. A major issue raised is the lack of participation in online classes and conferences. An important part of being a teaching assistant is to encourage maximum participation amongst students. However, in an online setting, it is difficult to do the same. For this purpose, SKILLSETS has organized dedicated workshops to brainstorm ways to better engage undergraduate students in an online setting. In order to improve access to digital resources in a scenario where we return to online teaching and learning, AGSEM requests that McGill upgrade their teaching infrastructure to include 1) access to digital learning platforms (such as Glimpse) where students and teachers can interact with each other directly and efficiently; 2) access to iPads for TAs whenever necessary for an efficient delivery of the class content.
Our members said:
“It is difficult to maintain participation as well as academic integrity in online settings.”
“I find online conversations can be dominated by a few individuals, while you have zero feedback on whether other students (e.g. black screens, muted) are still understanding the material.”
“Online, communication is harder with students, they do not participate as much.”
“TA-ing online works, but the students can see a lot more on a board than on a computer screen, and cooperation among students is easier in-person.”
“Online: less engaging, especially pre-recorded lectures, and it can take longer per lecture because of technical issues, but on the positive side, online learning allows people to pace themselves and review via playback, etc.”