The University of Ottawa’s plan for a gradual return to campus in the fall of 2021 raises more questions than answers about how courses will be delivered. The University plans to offer a wide range of courses in a bimodal format. This raises the question: what is a bimodal approach?
The Teaching and Learning Support Service defines this approach as “a combination of two distinct real time (synchronous) teaching spaces. One physical space in a classroom on campus where a professor is there with a reduced number of students (to meet the physical distancing measures established by Ottawa Public Health), and a second virtual space using a videoconferencing technology (Zoom or MS Teams) for students who choose to take the course remotely.”
Those responsible for this delivery must be able to interact simultaneously with both groups of students (in person and virtually) in real time. As we have witnessed in the past year, online or distance learning requires very different pedagogical approaches and strategies than a traditional classroom setting. It is not surprising, then, that the bimodal approach requires a unique approach in order to provide quality and effective education.
The bimodal approach is widely regarded as a form of experimental learning, and is most often used in small classes with teaching assistants to ensure the same quality of distance learning as in person.
The various groups of the Inter-Union feel that the Central Administration is seeking a simple, quick, and cost-effective solution to a complex challenge created by the extraordinary circumstances brought on by the health crisis with little regard for the quality of education and the health and safety of those involved. Students have also raised issues of equity with the current Central Administration plans. The Student Union notes that the learning experience will likely be incomparable from student to student. Yet all students will pay the same high tuition fees for what will likely be an impoverished learning experience.
As an alternative, the Inter-Union Coalition proposes that the University commits to smaller size classes, some of which could be taught entirely in person while still meeting public health guidelines, and others entirely online to accommodate those who may not be able to return to campus. The Central Administration has refused to meet with the Inter-Union Coalition to address their concerns or to work collaboratively to ensure a safe and pedagogically sound return to campus. Some members of the Central Administration have gone so far as to say that a more democratic decision-making structure for planning the partial return to campus in the Fall 2021 term would not benefit the entire university community. Instead, the Administration prefers to communicate with unions on an individual basis rather than as a group.
During numerous meetings of the Inter-Union Coalition, the unions and associations involved have recognized that the information provided to them by the Administration on an individual basis is not consistent.
In our last communications with the Administration, our requests were clear:
- Democratize the decision-making process for a partial and eventual full return to campus by establishing a joint committee, with representation from all members of the inter-union coalition.
- Cancel plans for introducing bimodal/hyflex/hybrid teaching on a large scale for the Fall 2021 semester. Instead, create smaller course sections to provide community members with the main options of in-person or remote learning, with the bimodal/hyflex/hybrid teaching format being limited to a maximum of 10% of course offerings in order to allow for experimentation and learning.
- Create a Special COVID-19 Recovery Mental Health Fund to support community members seeking the care they need to restore their overall wellbeing.
The Inter-Union Coalition remains in solidarity as we await a favourable response from the Administration. After all, we are the University of Ottawa.