University of Manitoba students call for ‘compassionate grading’ amid online learning troubles

WINNIPEG — Students at the University of Manitoba are calling on the school to adopt ‘compassionate learning’ as students and teachers continue to struggle with online learning during the pandemic.

The U of M Students’ Union (UMSU) and the Student Senate Caucus have submitted a proposal to the university calling for a change in the grading system in the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 terms. The student groups said compassionate grading would allow students to either accept a letter grade but exclude it from the UM GPA or have their grade decided on a pass/fail basis.

“Over the past two-weeks we just had an influx of students asking, ‘are you advocating for this – we need this’,” said Kristin Smith, the vice-president of advocacy at UMSU and co-chair of the Student Senate Caucus.

“The fall hasn’t been any better than when COVID hit, and we are still facing a lot of difficulties that are harming our outcomes.”

She said while most academic staff are doing their best when it comes to online learning, there are still some gaps for students, including students who have poor internet connectivity, cannot find a quiet study space at come, or have trouble communicating with their professors.

Smith said the university had been using compassionate grading when COVID-19 first hit the province but was stopped during the summer months. Smith said other universities across Canada, including Brandon University, are using the compassionate grading system.

The student groups are asking that compassionate grading be offered for up to one of their courses.

“We are basically giving a nod to the fact that this has improved, but it is just not there yet,” Smith said.

The groups are also asking that students be allowed to pause their in-person coursework and receive a temporary incomplete grade until they can safely return to class at their discretion.

In a statement to CTV News, a U of M spokesperson said the proposal was submitted to the COVID-19 Recovery Academic Team, which discussed the proposal Tuesday morning.

They said feedback from the team will be presented to the COVID-19 Steering Committee for more discussion and consideration.

Smith said it would be a challenge to implement the changes by the end of December, but said the groups are advocating for a system that can be retroactively applied later in the year.

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