Concordia University pivoted quickly to virtual education

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      Like all Canadian postsecondary institutions, went into crisis mode in March. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of all classes, creating a mad rush to deliver courses and exams online.

      But according to Concordia’s manager of student recruitment, Cindy Tam, it went far more smoothly than some might have expected.

      That’s because the Montreal-based university could rely on its , which promotes evidence-based approaches to everything from decolonizing the curriculum to promoting effective digital-teaching approaches.

      “Some professors were really tech-savvy and were already into flipped classrooms,” Tam said “And then some of them were maybe a bit more traditional, but we’ve had a lot of support for them through the Centre for Teaching and Learning.”

      One section of its website advances best practices for virtual learning. It encourages professors to include captioning in videos.

      It also urges a wide range of student-engagement activities to minimize their data usage while maintaining a teaching presence. Then there’s advice on how to protect students’ privacy and instructors’ intellectual property.

      “For example, just having live sessions during your regular class time in lieu of an in-person lecture isn’t good enough,” Tam explained. “How are students from different time zones going to access it?”

      Last year, the Times Higher Education (THE) Young University Rankings named Concordia the top university in Canada among those that are less than 50 years old.

      The 2020 THE Impact Ratings ranked Concordia first in the “quality education” category, which measured such things a lifelong learning, pedagogy research, and commitment to inclusive education.

      Concordia was created in 1974 by the merger of Loyola College and George Williams University.

      Engineering, computer sciences, and the are some of the programs offered at the downtown campus in Quartier Concordia. Journalism and athletics are two programs housed at the historic Loyola campus.

      Concordia's Loyola campus is in the tree-lined West End neighbourhood of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce about seven kilometres away from the downtown campus (see top photo).

      Concordia takes pride in small class sizes

      In the pandemic, it's feasible for B.C. residents to enroll at Concordia, enabling them to take advantage of Quebec’s lower tuition fees. Then they can move to Montreal when more classes are offered face to face.

      “A lot of our French courses are subsidized at the Quebec tuition rate, so they’re even lower,” Tam said.

      Even though Concordia is a large university, it prides itself on its small class sizes to ensure greater interaction between students and instructors.

      In fine-arts programs, there will be some hybrid offerings. For example, sculpture students will observe instructors doing demonstrations.

      But in photography, students will be able to submit all of their work online.

      Tam noted that surveys have shown that about 80 percent of students have said that the university’s transition to digital learning has been “really seamless”.

      “They were still engaged,” she said. “They thought it was still a quality education. That’s what we’re focusing on.”\

      When next year’s Times Higher Education Impact Ratings come out, she hopes that Concordia remains first for "quality education" notwithstanding all that's occurred since the last evaluation was released.