Students balance health, grades and graduation as they consider skipping fall semester

As university administration plans for fall, self-isolating UBC students around the world are left wondering what their education will look like come September.

Many feel the pain of online classes and have concerns about health, but students are keeping in mind the credits needed to graduate. Will some courses staying online cause anyone to take a semester off? The Ubyssey spoke to four students to find out.

Far from routine

A lack of motivation and lower grades as a result are the most common concerns students share about taking classes online in the fall.

One of the biggest benefits of having classes in person is the campus learning environment. Students also reported what they will miss the most are their favourite study spots and routines with friends on campus.

“I never realized it before, but being surrounded with people who are also learning is a strong, silent motivator to keep your own mind on the course material,” said Henry Huynh, a second-year computer science major in a message to The Ubyssey.

Students like fourth-year biology, chemistry and computer science major Sameera Gumma also expect to struggle with the lack of a well-defined work routine and accountability for following course materials, especially when professors record all of their lectures and continue to rely on final exams.

“[I] found it harder to stay motivated and keep myself accountable,” wrote Gumma in a message. “I had a 9 a.m. class and so I just stopped waking up early to watch the lectures because there was no point … I started to just push things ’til my exams.”

This is proving to be a bad sign for students like third-year land and food systems student Nicole Ma and their GPAs come September.

“In retrospect,” Ma said, “my grades have been affected.”

A second-class experience

But when professors fail to record their lectures, it has major consequences for international students.

“Some profs don’t record lectures, which means not taking into account the time differences for people in other countries,” said second-year speech sciences major April Poy. “I had some classmates joining the Collaborate Ultra lectures at 2 a.m.”

This is a big deal for students who are paying tens of thousands of dollars to study at UBC.

“The biggest impact for me is the quality of education,” said Gumma. “Personally, I feel like online classes are not as good as in person classes, and it’s definitely not what I prefer and it’s not what I want to pay the same amount of money for.”

There is no easy way to fix issues that online classes may pose in the fall, but there is no easy alternative to taking the classes either. Many students are ending up like Poy, accepting that they might have to take classes online but preparing for the experience to be what she called “annoying and frustrating.”

Likewise, Huynh is not changing his plans, but hopes to grow from this experience. “On the bright side, it can really help me become more independent and better at managing my time — something I recently learned I suck at.”

‘Fingers crossed’

The decision-making process becomes more complicated for upper-year students entering their final semesters.

For Gumma, the decision about fall classes rests on finding a balance between her health, her graduation timeline and maintaining her grades. Despite the potential impact on her GPA, Gumma said she “wouldn’t take a semester off,” purely because she wants to graduate on time.

“Being an upper-year student, it really is a balance between being able to graduate and getting good grades so I can still apply to grad school,” she said.

On the other hand, the possibility of holding fall classes in person is also a cause for concern to students like Gumma, who have to decide if they are willing to risk their health to get an education.

“If the government and scientists think it’s fine to end the lockdown,” she said, “I think that I would just accept the possibility that I might get sick and go back to school.”

For now, many students await updates from university administration and share Huynh’s attitude.

“I just have to do my part in social distancing and keep my fingers crossed,” he said.