Advice From Students: Post-Secondary in the Age of COVID-19

2020, Education + Research, Community Building, Series Distant Not Disengaged

Post-secondary students: Distant, Not Disengaged wants to hear your ideas! What is one piece of advice you wish you could give a professor to improve your experience and learning during the upcoming online fall term?

In March, COVID-19 caused an emergency shift to online learning. Students have had to adapt to taking online courses, teaching online tutorials and doing research remotely while navigating ongoing and new challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. Institutions have also had to adapt quickly and redefine post-secondary learning experiences. It has not been easy, and a recent poll suggests 56% of prospective Canadian students do not feel reassured about their schools’ plans for fall 2020.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, students have renewed their calls for open-access resources, financial assistance from the provincial government, and tuition refunds. Students have also shared new concerns about the privacy invasion of virtual proctoring. What could your administration do to support your education and success during a pandemic?

Join us for storytelling and idea generation with fellow students and be heard by those who can make changes.

Trade school, college and university administrators from around the Lower Mainland are invited to act as witnesses to hear student advice. Outcomes from the event will be circulated to post-secondary school administrators across the province.

Guiding questions:

  • What is one piece of advice/recommendation you would give to your school’s administration?
  • What has been the hardest part about being a student during the pandemic?
  • What has been the most useful support the government or your school or student society has provided during the pandemic?
  • What could your school say or do to diminish your concerns about the fall 2020 semester?
Thu, 30 Jul 2020

12:00 - 1:15 p.m. (PT)

Online Event

Distant, Not Disengaged

Distant, Not Disengaged was created as an experimental and innovative online event series to illuminate the urgent issues and opportunities arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. The series was a collaboration between SFU Public Square, the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue and community partner CityHive.

Watch the Series Recap


Jocelyn Wong —  fourth year SFU student studying English, Creative Writing and Dialogue ( (moderator)

Melissa Chirino — International student at Douglas College, Director of Campus Life at the Douglas Students’ Union, Women’s Representative at the British Columbia Federation of Students.

Osob Mohamed — President of the Simon Fraser Student Society, representing and advocating on behalf of all 25,000+ undergraduate students at SFU

Kenya Rogers — Graduate student at University of Victoria in Political Science. Kenya’s work focus on community-based and trauma informed approaches to on campus sexualized violence prevention and response

Harrison Johnston — Student at Langara College and a social and climate justice activist. Harrison is one of the main organizers of the climate strikes in Vancouver, which brought more than 100,000 people to the streets in September.

Maiya (May-Ya) Chan — Student at SFU with a Resource and Environmental Management major and a minor in Indigenous Studies. Maiya was part of the summer 2020 Semester in Dialogue cohort (Class of Covid Canada) where she learned about democracy, youth engagement, and the power of storytelling.

Event summary from the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue

Recap: Advice From Students: Post-Secondary in the Age of COVID-19

On July 30, 2020, we were joined by more than 170 students, faculty, administrators and members of the public from across BC and Canada. Leaders and key online administrators from eleven institutions attended in a witnessing capacity, accepting the responsibility to take what we heard back into their work. 

The feedback from students was then broken down into themes and the following four calls to action were identified to better inform the structure and development of the upcoming fall semester. By including students in the conversation, we can be assured their experience and feedback are included in the process. The following themes that were identified include; stronger crisis support, realistic assessments and marking, pandemic-friendly content and delivery, and transparent consistent communication.

Stronger Crisis Support        

  • Build community guidelines with your class to create safety. Create mutual understanding emphasizing flexibility, forgiveness and patience.
  • Recognize that International students face additional bureaucracy and challenges. Acknowledge time zones, access to materials and other considerations when scheduling lectures and exams.
  • Don’t make BIPOC shoulder the burden of explaining their embodied traumas in order to get resources. Get training to support these students.
  • Professors are often a space for disclosure, seek out mental health crisis response training

Realistic Assessments and Marking

  • Think about ways you can decolonize your syllabus and ways of assessment that respect students rights and needs in this time. 
  • Pare down and be explicit about expectations around assessments and online exams, some things don't translate directly to an online context. 
  • A pass/fail option is sometimes the best option.
  • Always make instructions clear: be specific about what is being graded and what is for participation.

Pandemic-Friendly Content and Delivery

  • Keep investing in support and training for professors and students to navigate online learning.
  • Accept that online learning is different and make decisions about what can realistically be expected with virtual learning during a crisis. 
  • Mix asynchronous and synchronous learning to help students navigate the constraints of a global crisis. 
  • Students want more pre-recorded lectures, live chat rooms, zoom classes, dialogue tutorials and lessons that go beyond just presentations. 

Transparent Consistent Communication

  • Be clear and transparent from day one to grade submission day. Share what makes you nervous about teaching online and explain the thinking behind your syllabus decisions.
  • Create time for questions about written instructions. Email isn’t always the best medium. 
  • Respect the value of anonymous feedback and use it throughout the course to improve teaching. Share success stories with others. 
  • Ask students if your online alternatives for in-person student-to-student work is actually working. Ask students for new ideas if what you are doing is not adding value for them.
  • We need earlier transparency about what’s going on with the next semester, even as it develops.
  • Communication between faculty and institution may be insufficient, let's be honest about what we don’t know.

Further Reading

Distant, Not Disengaged Final Report

Learn about the series’ impact on community connection and dialogue in this report featuring testimonials, media highlights, supporting resources and more.


Distant, Not Disengaged Events