C/O Travis Nguyen

While the holiday season may be welcomed, the extreme shift to total relaxation can cause us to “crash”

By: Ardena Bašić, Contributor

The holiday season is often a welcomed time off for many, especially students who face their exams period immediately prior to the break. However, given that we are exceptionally busy beforehand, the decrease or change in responsibilities can be a shock to our system. 

Although we certainly deserve the rest after busy and stressful times, we must balance that with different endeavours and activities to ensure that we are not putting ourselves in significantly contrasting environments. Such an approach will allow us to get the most out of the holiday break and return to school and work with a renewed sense of motivation. 

Many individuals become acclimated to such high levels of productivity, particularly students who must balance their school work, extracurriculars and other endeavours on top of maintaining their health and social lives. In the moment, we often fail to realize how much of our energy is coming from the sheer adrenaline of all our obligations, likely alongside copious amounts of caffeine. 

Thus, when we take a break from such a hectic lifestyle, the drastic drop in our stressors often leave us feeling drained and lethargic, a phenomenon often called ‘adrenal fatigue.’ In fact, going from one extreme to another — overworking to completely resting — could leave us feeling worse off. 

Thus, when we take a break from such a hectic lifestyle, the drastic drop in our stressors often leave us feeling drained and lethargic, a phenomenon often called ‘adrenal fatigue.’ In fact, going from one extreme to another — overworking to completely resting — could leave us feeling worse off. 

Ardena Bašić, Contributor

We need to find a place in the middle of this continuum that will allow us to recharge without radically lowering our adrenaline levels.

There are a variety of activities and methods that can allow individuals, no matter their specific interests, to find this balance. For example, some hobbies can be both restful and stimulating to the brain and body at the same time.

Reading, exercising and listening to or playing music all have beneficial effects on the body and mind, but are not as taxing as arduous readings or complex essay prompts. Moreover, social interactions can be highly energizing for some individuals, especially after being deprived of them during the pandemic. It not only has physiological benefits since humans are naturally social creatures, but it also helps abate feelings of loneliness and isolation that can be extremely draining on a person. Finding solidarity in finally getting a break after a long semester can also be a great bonding tool among students!

Of course, such approaches will vary for everyone. Some people who are more introverted may find that individual activities are a better way to stay occupied without creating overbearing stressors during the holidays. 

Furthermore, one cannot expect every day of the break to be the same. Our energy levels fluctuate constantly and we need to respond as needed. This may mean being outside and active with friends for one day and then deciding to stay in for a movie marathon by yourself on another. 

So long as we are not keeping ourselves on one end of the spectrum for a prolonged period of time, we can find a healthy equilibrium between complete rest and the hustle of our daily life. 

So long as we are not keeping ourselves on one end of the spectrum for a prolonged period of time, we can find a healthy equilibrium between complete rest and the hustle of our daily life. 

Ardena Bašić, Contributor

In sum, although the holidays may seem like the perfect time to fully recharge, we have to balance such rest with engaging activities to ensure that we do not completely crash. Given the spirit of the season, reaching out to loved ones and peers, finding new or old forgotten hobbies or simply taking what comes with the day can allow one to reach this balance. 

Take care of yourself and those around you and you will come back with a new vigour for a successful next term!

C/O Jeswin Thomas

First-years at McMaster share the academic and social impacts of “missing out” on high school

By: Zara Khan, Contributor

Exams. That’s quite the scary word when it comes to first-year students who went through online school and “quadmesters.” Although this might not apply to every first-year student, the education of more than 1.5 billion students were affected by school closures worldwide. The majority of university freshmen entered after completing two grades online, where exams and standard testing were not mandated during this time period.

So now, when freshmen are faced with double the amount of courses in addition to exams they feel at a loss as to how to study and prepare for their assessments. We all knew that post-secondary education was not supposed to be easy but because of the pandemic, university has become increasingly difficult for some students to handle. 

In Ontario high schools, having a course that was supposed to be learnt over four months was cut in half, but had students attending each course for double the amount of time in one sitting. This not only made students lose interest in the subject, but also left students not retaining much information either. A study conducted by Per Engzell reveals that this style of learning throughout the pandemic is equivalent to a learning loss of one-fifth of a school year. This left many seniors going into post-secondary education without retaining much from their last high school year. 

First-years on campus at McMaster were asked about their thoughts regarding how online high school prepared them for post-secondary. Many felt it had hindered their learning.

“Online schooling caused me to learn everything faster, that way I was learning to pass and not just for the sake of learning, which is really important to be successful in university,” explained Sandra Eldho, a first-year life sciences student. 

The idea of learning in order to get through the school year and not necessarily to understand the concepts being taught impacted first years greatly this year. They now have to study, understand more difficult concepts and handle double the course load with a flawed strategy to study effectively. 

Exams are also a major source of stress for many students.

“I’m nervous because all of [the exams] are close to [worth] 50%,” explained Kirsten Espe, a first-year integrated biomedical engineering and health sciences student.  

With COVID-19 leading to the cancellation of in-person exams in most high schools last year, new university students are struggling with being thrown into exams worth almost half of their entire grade. 

“We don’t feel well prepared and don’t want to [write] it,” said Leanne Chen, a first-year integrated biomedical engineering and health sciences student. 

Similar sentiments were echoed by Hima Patel, a student in engineering. 

“I believe from my high school experience, I don’t feel as prepared as other kids may feel. I grew up in a small town and our political standings, which were conservative for 20 years, had a lot of impact on what we learned. One of the big things is that we never learned how to be responsible in settings which include partying, intimacy and drinking” said Patel.

With such a focus on the academic aspect of university, we often forget about how social university can be too. Some students from smaller towns, such as Patel, were already underprepared to handle the new social settings that come with university. With the pandemic, we can only imagine how isolation may have contributed to a decline in the social skills that come with high school. With all this said, the loss of first years’ last two years of high school negatively impacted the majority of first-years within both their academic and social environments. 

I would imagine that regardless of your high school background, all students were startled (at least slightly) by the pandemic and this impacted their academic and/or social skills in some way or another. As mentioned by numerous first-years at Mac, the pandemic and the loss of a traditional end to high school has set up the steep learning curve they must face now. 

When it comes to pre-exam stress, we must accept that our study techniques from high school are destined to evolve. Planning ahead, giving yourself more time to practice the material and fully understanding the concepts will help in lessening academic stress. Taking time for yourself periodically is also critical to the mind and we must explore methods to prevent burnout. In the end, whether high school prepared us well or not for post-secondary, we can always try and put our best foot forward when it comes to preparing for our future. 

How mental health issues and barriers look different this year during the stressful time of exams

Online learning has had a negative impact on students compared to being able to learn and study in person alongside their friends and peers. This is not simply just the opinion of some, but of many university students in Canada. 

Mental health issues among undergraduates have been on the rise for a very long time as studies show, especially as most students have spent the past semester struggling to adjust to the isolated nature of online learning. In fact, recent studies have shown that students with the opportunity to study and stay in contact with friends have much better mental health than those who remain isolated.

McMaster University is no exception to this trend. This is especially concerning given the approaching exam season. The end of the semester, with its exams sometimes worth more than 50% of a student’s final grades in a course, sleepless nights spent studying and never-ending pressure to perform “well enough,” is nothing short of one of the most stressful times in the school year for the typical student. 

The online learning environment has only made this time of year all the more stressful and challenging, as students are not able to study and learn alongside their peers as they would in previous years, creating a very lonely learning environment. Additionally, access to commonly sought resources during this time, such as one-on-one counselling or peer support as well as stress-relieving sessions and events, has been negatively affected by the shift to an online platform. This is something the Student Wellness Centre at McMaster has acknowledged as a difficulty that students will sadly have to face during this already difficult time. 

[/media-credit] Findings on mental health among Canadians during COVID-19 from CMHA Halton Region Branch

“So when you're on campus, you are able to interact with your peers,” explained Connor Blakeborough, the health promoter at the Student Wellness Centre. “[I]n the pandemic, a lot of people have been cut off from their ways of self-care and community care that they might be able to have otherwise.”

Unfortunately, given COVID-19 regulations and how programs at the Student Wellness Centre have had to adjust to the new way the university is operating this year, some will not be able to access their resources at all. In fact, those not living in Ontario cannot access any type of medical care or one-on-one counselling. This puts all those living in other provinces as well as international students in difficult situations if facing mental health issues during this upcoming stressful time as they do not have access to a resource many of their peers do. 

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“As of right now just because of COVID and because healthcare is provincially regulated, we can only offer medical and one on one counselling to students that are living inside of Ontario,” said Blakeborough. “So if they're not inside of Ontario, they will have to get in touch with their family doctor to find some type of care.”

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From student perspectives, experiencing university in person during exam season means more than just trying to have an enjoyable experience; it can mean the difference between feeling alone in the world and being able to connect with many others who are in the exact same situation as you. 

The simplicity of being seated beside someone in the lecture hall who will soon write the same exam as you can make you feel less alone and ready to take on the challenge of exams. This perspective was explored by members of the McMaster Students Union Student Health Education Centre executive team. 

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“[I]f you're on campus, you're often surrounded by a lot of other students in the library, who are also going through finals are also experiencing the same stress that you are, but being at home and being more isolated,” explained Joelle Li, a health sciences student and SHEC events and programming executive. “It's harder to connect with others who are in a similar situation as you [because of the pandemic] and therefore you can feel more alone [but] other people feel like this as well.”

However, there are also challenges that students will face in the coming weeks that have existed for far too long. Grind culture, the over romanticization of sacrificing one’s health for the sake of grades and achievements, has been a pervasive and severe issue faced by undergraduate students that has simply adapted to a more online mode given the current learning method.

“People sort of put pride on the fact that they haven't slept this many hours or they've been in the library for this many hours,” said Li. “[G]rind culture is almost cumulative. [I]f your friends are grinding, then you feel like you have to grind and overall, it leads to a toxic environment or mentality and this is quite common, I would say, among the students.”

It can be extremely overwhelming for students to face the challenges of online learning and online exams, which is compounded by the detrimental effects of the grind culture. However, services at McMaster University such as the Student Wellness Centre and SHEC have adapted their operations to make themselves more accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic and online school. These tools will likely be beneficial to many students as we all head into the upcoming exam season. 

SHEC Events and Programming executive and health sciences student, Frances Scheepers, explained how the peer-support service is now utilizing the online platform, Tawk To, in order to provide anonymous drop-in counselling from their volunteers. 

One of their iconic events that is usually widely accessed by students — #SHECares — will still be taking place this year. In the past, this has largely featured the distribution of exam care packages. However, this is not possible this year. Thus, SHEC has had to make adjustments. Scheepers said that instead of delivering in-person care packages, SHEC has opted to do online giveaways.

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Although it is unfortunate that access to resources and services has been impeded by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is encouraging that services are striving to continue offering support in whatever ways they can. However, it is also important that students are made aware of how to take care of themselves during the online exam season as this will surely look very different this year. 

“There are certain sort of self-care strategies that might be beneficial during this time,” explained Scheepers. “People are typically used to spending their leisure time on their laptop and watching TV. And so during this time, especially, when you're at home physically distancing, it might be beneficial for some individuals to spend their leisure time doing things other than [going] on their laptop.”

It is important students find ways to take care of themselves during the upcoming exam season, given the loss of key resources and isolated methods of learning and test-taking. After all, they will be pioneering the first entirely online exam season in McMaster history.

Although it’s new, it should still be organized and prepared in advance
By: Belinda Tam, Contributor

As a weird semester comes to an end for everyone, exams are approaching faster than they seem. From adapting to new technology to keeping ourselves mentally healthy, this upcoming exam season is going to be a new experience for many — especially for those with exams that are being proctored.

Currently, students’ exam schedules are not being posted on Mosaic. Normally, our finalized and organized exam schedule would be posted in early November. However, Mosaic states, “there are no in-person December final exams.” Instead, exams this semester will be take-home in an online format. This shows that a new system is being implemented by the university to see results for this semester. 

With that being said, students need to be extremely organized due to the fact that exam schedules are not being posted on Mosaic. Additionally, since professors don’t have a set date for posting exam dates on Mosaic, informing students about final evaluations has also been delayed for several classes. This puts a detriment on review time for students, especially for those who have an exam on Dec. 9, the day after classes end.

With that being said, students need to be extremely organized due to the fact that exam schedules are not being posted on Mosaic. Additionally, since professors don’t have a set date for posting exam dates on Mosaic, informing students about final evaluations has also been delayed for several classes. This puts a detriment on review time for students, especially for those who have an exam on Dec. 9, the day after classes end.

Furthermore, many of my professors delayed releasing final assignment grades to students. This leads to students not knowing what their grade is when going into finals which many find frustrating. This shows that the new system is unorganized and not well thought out — leading the students to suffer the consequences. 

On a more positive note about the delay of posting evaluation details, professors are offering more flexibility with deadlines. This may be due to the fact professors don’t know each other’s testing times.

Students also have the option to have help with assistive technology with Student Accessibility Services and are encouraged to contact SAS testing for user testing. However, this still puts the responsibility on the student’s plate when it comes to asking for extensions and accommodations.

In terms of the formatting of upcoming exams, it’s definitely important to mention proctoring. On Dec. 2, an announcement was posted on Avenue concerning the tool, Respondus, being used to proctored exams.

This tool has been incorporated into Avenue with multiple links attached to the announcement including a frequently asked questions page, the privacy impact assessment report and a link to the University Technology Services HelpDesk. Links have also been given out for the McMaster Student Absence Form and Student Wellness Centre.

As the upcoming exam season approaches, students may find the following tools helpful. To state the obvious, a calendar should be at the top of your list! A calendar is obvious, but also very necessary. With a paper or online calendar, scheduling review time will be much easier.

Another obvious one is a to-do list. A to-do list will be helpful when scheduling what material to cover on which day and when you want to finish reviewing a large topic for a class.

Next, it would be a very good idea to open a document or page in a notebook to keep the details of exams in one place for easy access. This is especially important since exam information for different classes are being posted on different links. Along with all these tips, having an organized and dedicated space for you to do your work definitely helps with concentration.

As seen throughout this article, the new system is more disorganized than we would like and the university should be much more prepared than they are, but it’s important to make the best of the situation and what we have to work with.

With multiple resources available — from friends, professors and teaching assistants to external sources outside the university, students should not hesitate to reach out for support during these unprecedented times. As the semester is quickly coming to a close, although it may seem longer than previous ones, I wish everyone good luck and happy studying as they prepare for their finals!

Students in different time zones are feeling unsupported and unaccommodated by the university

By: Aislyn Sax, Contributor and Elisa Do, News Reporter

In the Fall semester of 2020, McMaster University has become a ghost town with many students enrolled in exclusively online classes or with occasional in-person labs. 

This transition has allowed many students to live away from campus throughout the school year and significantly impacted the lives of international students. With different time zones, international students now often face the challenge of writing exams at inconvenient times during the day. 

Annie Deng is a math and stats student in her third year. She decided to stay in her home country of China for the fall semester. 

"The nature of online learning amplifies the issue of my lack of social connections and support in Canada. I worry staying in Canada might not be good for my mental health,” Deng said.

"The nature of online learning amplifies the issue of my lack of social connections and support in Canada. I worry staying in Canada might not be good for my mental health,” Deng said. 

However, as soon as the semester started, Deng found that staying in China brought other challenges. Deng now has classes at 2 a.m. and realized that the Registrar scheduled her final exams at 12:30 a.m. and 4 a.m. in her time zone. 

To resolve the time zone issues, Deng considered completely changing her sleep schedule, but family duties have made this option unrealistic. Instead, she decided to change her sleep schedule just for the days of exams and tests. 

"It's simply exhausting. Even if I try to sleep four more hours during the day, I still can't function normally at those hours,” Deng added.  

Deng had contacted her professors to ask if she could write the midterm tests at a different time but was met with an unsatisfying answer.

"It seemed like my professors don't know what to say to me. [Only] one of them gave me a solid answer,” Deng explained. 

"It seemed like my professors don't know what to say to me. [Only] one of them gave me a solid answer,” Deng explained. 

When she tried to reschedule, Deng was faced with more problems. After being referred to several different places and attempting to contact people, Deng was yet again unable to seek a fulfilling answer. She heard no reply from the Registrar and the Ombuds office. She learned that the University Secretariat has an appeal form where students may submit a formal inquiry on policies. When she inquired about it, Deng was met with a reply that the appeal form only dealt with faculty-level policies, whereas time zone differences were a university-level policy. 

While each of her professors eventually accommodated her, Deng said that she would like to see clear information on who to contact to resolve time zone issues.  

According to Deng, many international students she knows are considering returning to their home countries. 

"After all, it's too hard staying in a foreign country alone during a pandemic without family around. Staring at a computer screen for lectures and knowing you can't hang out with your classmates because they are at home doesn't help," she added. 

"Staring at a computer screen for lectures and knowing you can't hang out with your classmates because they are at home doesn't help," Deng added. 

Another international student, Yifang Wang, also expressed her concerns for this school year. 

As Wang is currently residing in China, she does not have access to various websites required for their academics, such as Gmail and Avenue to Learn. Although the university offers Virtual Private Networking software for students and a network accelerator for those in China, Wang expressed that she could not get the software to work for her. Hence, Wang had to purchase a VPN in order to access the necessary tools for her studies.

Wang is currently taking a linguistics course that includes weekly quizzes and said that using a VPN has made it more challenging for them to access the quizzes right away. 

“[The professor] will give us like 10 minutes or 15 minutes, but it will take me four minutes, sometimes three minutes to load the page and he didn't care about that,” Wang said. 

Wang added that the professor would not provide her more time. The professor said there are always students who complain about the time limit. Wang believed that the professor did not consider the number of international students in the course, many of whom likely struggle with the same problem.

The university had also maintained tuition fees at the same amount as they would have had the 2020-2021 school year been in-person. This includes international tuition fees, which are extensively greater than those with Canadian citizenship.

In 2020-2021, the average international undergraduate student tuition fee in Canada is $32,019 for the year. At McMaster, Wang said that her tuition is roughly $34,000 for the year.

In 2020-2021, the average international undergraduate student tuition fee in Canada is $32,019 for the year. At McMaster, Wang said that her tuition is roughly $34,000 for the year. Despite the fact that Wang is now attending lectures that are pre-recorded rather than in-person, tuition has only increased since last year. Although recordings may be necessary due to the pandemic, Wang expressed that recorded lectures are much less captivating and motivating for her to attend. 

If international students wish to return to Canada, it is also challenging for them to do so during this time. According to the current travel restrictions, students who applied for their study permit to Canada after March 18 are not allowed to return at all, and those who applied before have no guarantee that the border will allow them entrance and can still be refused entry on a case-by-case basis.

 

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The university is rapidly transitioning its services to a near exclusively digital world for the first time. They have recently created the "Where in the world are you?" survey on Mosaic, which they say will be used to determine where students are located for the fall term. 

The survey comes eight months after the initial school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March. It was also initiated four months after the university had made the decision for all classes to be held online during the fall term. 

"I want to see the university doing something on this matter. Right now, I feel my needs are being neglected,” Deng said. 

With months in advance to plan and navigate the digital world, international students are still not receiving adequate support for their academics.

"I want to see the university doing something on this matter. Right now, I feel my needs are being neglected,” Deng said.

An extended break sounds great, but it has consequences for students

On Nov. 19, McMaster University announced that our winter semester classes will begin on Jan. 11, 2021, as opposed to Jan. 4, when they were initially supposed to begin. This change was recommended by the virtual learning task force, which consists of 31 faculty, students and staff members.

They stated that the reason for this is to support students’ wellness and mental health and providing faculty and instructors with extra time in preparing for the winter term. Mac also mentions that with this extra week, students who went home will now have an extra week to self-isolate to limit COVID-19 cases. 

While I am thankful for an extra week in many aspects, I think it’s important to consider the consequences of this decision.

For example, not all students will be able to enjoy this extended break. Health sciences students, with the exception of the Bachelor of Health Sciences program, are exempt from this break. This means that nursing, midwifery, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, physician assistant, medical students and more are unable to partake in the break, even if they really need it. In addition, graduate students who have planned their thesis defence for the week of Jan. 4 will not have the option to have this break.

Not only does this break already exclude a large group of students, but it may have consequences on our exam period. It’s important to note that the McMaster Daily News article states that classes will be extended into the exam period, that no classes will overlap with exams and that the semester will end as originally planned.

What this means is unclear, but we may no longer have a short break between classes and before exams. An extra week of winter break may also mean that our exam schedule is condensed, which can result in more back-to-back exams.

For me, these potential consequences of an extended winter break seem like a net negative. An extra week off is always good to have, but I’d rather have a break right before exams when I’m a lot more stressed and have my exams spread over a longer period of time.

What this means is unclear, but we may no longer have a short break between classes and before exams. An extra week of winter break may also mean that our exam schedule is condensed, which can result in more back-to-back exams.

Furthermore, if this is the response to added stress from a pandemic, their solution is weak. Other universities, such as the University of Toronto, made a much clearer statement about the reasoning behind the break and also stated that they are continuing to redesign its mental health services.

They also mention that employees who are returning on Jan. 4 will get three extra paid days off which can be used now until Aug. 31, 2021. U of T acknowledged the consequences of the pandemic by noting that students have been feeling a huge amount of stress for several months and that many U of T community members have dealt with unique challenges, such as at-home childcare. 

Obviously, U of T has its own set of issues that have yet to be addressed, but it is comforting to know that they have other action items that they are working on to improve the quality of life for students.

Most of all, this announcement had me frustrated. I’m worried that because students seem happy about this break — which we’re allowed to be happy about — Mac may think that these measures are good enough to support students during a pandemic. However, a break is not enough for me and it likely isn’t enough for many other students.

The way I see it is that Mac is focusing on strategies to cope with stress when they could be focusing on how to give us a less stressful workload. After all, we wouldn’t need breaks to deal with our increased levels of stress if we had less stress in the first place.

With Proctortrack’s recent security breach, Mac should consider using alternative testing methods that don’t involve proctoring software

By: Juan Molina Calderon, Contributor

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the proctoring industry has boomed due to the need to regulate online exams and other tests in order to prevent plagiarism. Proctorio, for example, has had an increase in business by 900 per cent. Due to the increase in usage, many people have raised questions of whether proctoring services such as Examity, Honorlock and Proctortrack should even be used in the first place.

Firstly, I believe there is a problem with trying to deliver tests and exams online. The main issue comes from trying to replicate in-person teaching and test-taking in an online format. A very captivating lecture in person might keep most of the class engaged and attentive, but when it is moved online, many students mention the trouble they have focusing, including myself.

Additionally, we study and learn in the same setting day-after-day, which creates a very monotonous routine and as a result, can make it hard to concentrate. This new COVID routine is very different from walking around campus to get to your next class or having a coffee with some of your friends.

Studies show that face-to-face social contact releases many neurotransmitters which help us regulate our response to things such as stress and anxiety. Now, these interactions are purely virtual and as a result, we miss out on all these benefits. 

The environment in which students learn continues to adapt to the pandemic and so should the pedagogy and assessment methods. Instead of putting resources into creating a new form of teaching and assessing students’ knowledge, a lot of it has been put into resources such as proctoring software. 

I believe that there are far more efficient ways to have students demonstrate their knowledge without the use of tests. For example, students could create online portfolios with all the work, assignments, notes and homework they have done throughout the semester which should be complemented with projects that apply the knowledge the students should grasp. As a student in the faculty of engineering, I have yet to see a real change in the way students are evaluated since the format for my classes and tests seems to look the same now as it did before the lockdown began in Ontario.

The environment in which students learn continues to adapt to the pandemic and so should the pedagogy and assessment methods. Instead of putting resources into creating a new form of teaching and assessing students’ knowledge, a lot of it has been put into resources such as proctoring software. 

McMaster University, in this case, has given professors the ability to use these types of software including Examity which has what I believe to be an abusive policy. Examity, like other proctoring software, has the capacity to collect massive amounts of data since they have unrestricted access to your computer and its files. 

Examity’s privacy policy states that the information they may collect the following: “[a] driver’s license number or state-issued identification card number, financial account number, credit card number or debit card number with or without any required security code, that would permit access to an individual’s financial account.” 

If this is not worrying, I do not know what is. The extent of the information collected is unwarranted and poses a large security risk for students.

Additionally, they state that they cannot guarantee the security of their platform and that providing data to Examity is done at our own risk. Therefore, if there is ever a security breach, Examity is not held liable because we agreed to download this program. 

Examity’s privacy policy states that the information they may collect the following: “[a] driver’s license number or state-issued identification card number, financial account number, credit card number or debit card number with or without any required security code, that would permit access to an individual’s financial account.” 

Furthermore, they state that they may share your personal data with “trusted” third parties or affiliates that help Examity provide their service. Essentially, Examity is given free rein to share our data with a third party, which increases the risk for a potential data breach. 

Clearly, this is not only invasive but a breach of ethics. This is because the data collected and stored by proctoring software is valued by third-parties who use this type of data to profile people online. Services such as Proctortrack can hold this data for up to 180 days which is unnecessary since the data should ideally be deleted after the student submits the test if no suspicious activity occurred. 

Additionally, it raises concerns regarding inequality since universities cannot assume every student has a stable internet connection and that they are able to work on an exam at home without any disruptions. Therefore, the environment is not the same for everyone as it would be in a testing room.

This level of access shares a lot of parallels with spyware and malware. Even though these types of software are not meant for that purpose, they can definitely be exploited at the expense of our privacy.

One recent example is the security breach at Proctortrack which resulted in the temporary shutdown of its services. Although an independent audit by cybersecurity company Network Intelligence stated that no customer data was breached, this situation illustrates how companies like Proctortrack and Examity can never guarantee the data will be 100 per cent secure. 

In conclusion, when using these programs, not only are we being watched and recorded in our homes by people who are not directly affiliated with the university, but a lot of our personal data is being collected. The need to prevent cheating does not outweigh privacy and security. This doesn’t even mention the anxiety and stress proctoring causes for many students. Even then, technology is not the solution for preventing cheating, as there will always be people who find ways around it.

Students shouldn’t feel the need to “hold on” until reading week in order to be okay

Fall reading week has come and gone this year and I don’t know about you, but it felt like a blur.

Many Canadian universities, including McMaster University, have introduced a fall reading week in response to increased stress and mental illnesses in post-secondary students. Although introducing a week-long break from classes seems ideal in alleviating school-related stress, a 2018 study conducted at McMaster found that supporting students’ mental health is a bit more complicated than that. The study, which was conducted in 2015 when the fall break was introduced, found that although students had fewer stressors after reading week, they felt higher levels of stress overall. 

Although introducing a week-long break from classes seems ideal in alleviating school-related stress, a 2018 study conducted at McMaster found that supporting students’ mental health is a bit more complicated than that.

Many students commented that because of the added break, a shortened semester resulted in them having an increased number of midterms and assignments that occurred right after the break. So even though there was a break from classes, reading week is often spent studying or worrying about upcoming assessments.

Although this study was conducted five years ago, much of the data is still relevant. Since first-year, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a full reading week for the fall and winter semesters, but each year I’ve felt the need to catch up on work that was either overdue or prepare for a hectic week of assignments after the break. Reading week is simply not enough to support students’ wellbeing — and it is especially not enough if instructors just condense the work we have to do to “make up” for lost time during the break.

The university has a lot of work to do in order to give us an actual, restful break that helps improve our mental health. Second-year hit me hardest in terms of stress and as a result, I deferred two fall exams. As a result, I had to write two exams during the winter reading week. This meant that on top of taking my full course load, I had to prepare for two final exams right in the middle of the semester when many of my winter courses also had midterms or major assignments' deadlines coming up. While these week-long breaks are supposed to be for our mental health, the winter break exacerbated my stress that year. 

This past reading week seemed even less restful, which was likely due to online classes and the pandemic. As our whole semester has been spent at home, spending another week — well, at home — didn’t really offer me with that mental pause in work and assignments. Yes, I didn’t have any synchronous classes to attend, but due to part of my course load being asynchronous, I already had fewer classes that I needed to attend synchronously this semester.

What I did have this reading week was a lot of work to catch up on or prepare for next week. This tends to be the norm for students every year, but with the anxieties surrounding COVID-19, being isolated from your friends and family and not being able to go out many places, this week was a lot more exhausting for me. Since in-person social interaction was limited and I was at home for the entirety of the week, every day I felt like I needed to do work and be productive.

I had a paper that was due right before reading week and four assignments due the week after — so of course, right after I finished my paper, I wanted to start working on the assignments so that their deadlines didn’t loom on the horizon.

Student mental health is more than just having a mid-semester break from classes and assignments. Many students like myself find that we just need to hold on until reading week; to simply finish our work and that as long as we don’t burn out until then, we will be okay. But once it’s reading week, we are allowed a moment to breathe before we must pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off again and continue working until we finish our exams — the light at the end of the tunnel. Then this cycle continues for the winter semester until summer break — unless you have spring or summer courses or work a job, of course. In that case, there are even fewer breaks that allow you to take a breather and actually, truly relax.

Student mental health is more than just having a mid-semester break from classes and assignments.

Giving us a reading week is a band-aid solution to a much larger problem. Students shouldn’t feel the need to “push through” to reading week and then “push through” to the end of exams. 

If McMaster wanted to ensure students had a restful break, fall exams wouldn’t be deferred to a break meant for our mental health. If McMaster wanted to ensure students had a restful break, we shouldn’t be overloaded with midterms, assignments and papers right before or after reading week.

I don’t have all the answers or solutions on how to improve student mental health. But what I do know is that if we want to truly support students, we need to do more than just providing two reading weeks.

Proctoring seen as a pro for some, but a con for others

As students and instructors find new ways to adapt to an online educational environment, methods of online assessment are something that also face major changes. The MacPherson Institute, McMaster University’s centre for teaching and learning, has shared many resources and suggestions for instructors to develop a remote teaching plan. 

On the MacPherson website, there are also resources for assessment alternatives. A final exam can be a take-home exam and student presentations can be done online using Microsoft Teams or they can be recorded and posted on Avenue to Learn

For instructors that wish to conduct final exams online through Avenue to Learn, MacPherson suggested different features, including presenting questions one-by-one or putting in time constraints for the exam.

Although not mentioned on the MacPherson website, many course outlines also state that professors have the option of using proctoring softwares for assessments. As noted on the Undergraduate Examinations Policy, instructors have the responsibility to specify the required electronic equipment and software at the beginning of the course. 

Students have the responsibility to ensure that they have the necessary equipment and software required and any questions or considerations related to online examinations must be referred to an instructor no later than 10 days prior to an online examination.

For an online proctored exam, students must ensure they have equipment such as a webcam and additional software. Such software may require students to turn on their video camera, present identification, allow instructors to monitor and record the student's computer activities, as well as lock or restrict their web browser during assessments.

It has not been made clear to all students whether proctoring will be used for some of their courses. 

https://www.facebook.com/spottedat.mac/posts/2075325055936821

Clean D’Souza, a third-year actuarial and financial mathematics student, is one of the students who is unsure if his course examinations will be remotely proctored or not. D’Souza said that he doesn’t mind if it is proctored and that he believes proctoring has many benefits. He believes proctoring can help to separate those who are actually putting in the work to get their grades and those who decide to cheat. 

Another third-year actuarial and financial mathematics student, Rimsha Laeeq, finished her first proctored examination on Oct. 5. Laeeq said that she did not mind having her examination proctored as it encouraged her to have greater focus during the test and to study harder beforehand. However, Laeeq expressed that proctoring was uncomfortable at times, including the fact that she had to show all of her surroundings to the camera and ensure she does not look away from the computer for too long. 

Kinesiology professor Trevor King has opted for online open-book assessments through Avenue to Learn.

“I'm hoping to not use [proctoring softwares] because I think that it adds a lot of stress to an already stressful situation for students, so I don't want to add that on,” said King. 

“I'm hoping to not use [proctoring softwares] because I think that it adds a lot of stress to an already stressful situation for students, so I don't want to add that on,” said King. 

King also added that although professors have to consider whether students are truly understanding the content, an open-book assessment doesn’t necessarily hinder students from learning.

“[M]y thought is that a test is not really applicable to the real world in most situations and if you go out and have a problem to solve, in the real world, you're going to be able to look things up. [The ability to] quickly and effectively look things up is a very important skill that I think that students should have when they come out of university. So I think that an open book test makes way more sense than just having to memorize things.”

Professor Jennifer Ostovich of the department of psychology, neuroscience and behavior, has also taken a different approach to assessments this year. 

Ostovich has decided that rather than a traditional approach to grading, she will use specifications grading

Specifications grading is an approach in which course assessments and assignments are broken down into pass or fail tasks. To achieve a certain grade, students would have to pass certain tasks, and for different grade levels, there will be a different combination of tasks to ensure students reach the appropriate level of understanding. 

For example, weekly quizzes are divided into two different types and to achieve a higher grade, students would have to complete a higher ratio of one type of quiz versus another. In addition to weekly quizzes, there are also assignments students can complete and a greater number of completions is required for a higher grade. 

Ostovich expressed hope that with this new approach, students can feel that they retained more of the material and stress less about achieving certain grades on their assignments. 

When asked about potential student collaboration on assessments, Ostovich expressed that collaboration can be beneficial for student learning.

"Is it a bad thing for students to talk to one another and learn that way? I don’t think it is."

“With any of the online testing options, that’s been the concern: that no matter what we do, students will collaborate. . . We have to set up a system in which it doesn't matter if students are collaborating, because you can't stop it right?. . . Is it a bad thing for students to talk to one another and learn that way? I don’t think it is. But you have to set up your assessment strategy so that that's not a big deal if it happens and that's what I've tried to do.”

 

Many of us don’t need to be reminded that there’s only a few days left before exam season starts, but we might need a reminder to make time for a nice home cooked meal. It’s easy to turn to buying lunch or dinner when you’re tight on time during these next few weeks, but there are ways to make cooking an enjoyable experience while relieving some stress too.

The Sil staff have compiled their favourite recipes that are easy to make, especially when you’re short on time. We encourage you to try them out, change up the ingredients and most importantly, take the time to take care of yourself this season.

 

Hands-off tomato sauce

Shared by Sasha Dhesi (Managing Editor)

Pasta is a staple batch recipe since it’s fairly easy, delicious and lasts the whole work week. While most people don’t have time to make homemade pasta, students don’t have to rely on jarred sauces and compromise their time. 

Making a sauce at home can seem challenging, but simple recipes like this one are great for students low on time and on a budget.

I adapted this recipe from Bon Appetit’s Bucatini with Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce. I replaced a few of the more expensive ingredients with more accessible, easier kept items that make more sense for students to keep around in the house. The recipe should make about four servings and take about 40 minutes, but only 20 of those minutes are active! This is a great recipe to make while studying at home — just pop the sauce into the oven and you’ll have a great sauce in no time!

 

Ingredients

 

Steps

    1. Crush the garlic cloves, removing their skin. Cut the butter into small cubes. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
    2. Pour the can of tomatoes into a rectangular baking dish. With your hands, gently crush the tomatoes. Add garlic and butter cubes to baking dish alongside tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. roast for 20 minutes.
    3. Take the baking dish out of the oven and add the fish sauce and chili paste to the dish. If you don’t like heat, don’t add the chili paste! If you like it spicy, feel free to add more. Return dish to oven for another 20 minutes.
    4. While the sauce roasts for another 20 minutes, begin cooking the pasta. Boil four to five quarts of water, adding salt when the water starts to release steam. Once the water boils, add the pasta and cook according to the pasta’s instructions. Reserve one cup of pasta water, and drain the pasta.
    5. Once the sauce is done roasting, remove it from the oven and let it cool slightly. Using a fork or masher, crush the garlic and tomatoes into a jam-like texture. Add the pasta and sauce into one pot. Toss the pasta and sauce with tongs, slowly adding about ¼ cup of pasta water to thin the sauce.
    6. Serve while warm, garnished with parmesan.

 

Warm carrot and potato soup

Shared by Hannah Walters-Vida (Features Reporter)

In an effort to describe how good this soup is, the most a room full of Sil writers could come up with is “warm, warm soup, it hugs you from the inside”. Pretty much everyone in the office will agree that this is a great recipe for soup. I typically double the recipe and freeze the soup in mason jars for when I need a quick, filling meal.

This recipe is originally by Jennifer Segal and I made a few modifications to make it vegan friendly. This recipe yields 8 servings and takes about 45 minutes to make, but most of the time is spent letting the soup simmer. This soup can stay fresh in the freezer for up to 3 months, so it’s worth the investment in time. Just make sure to pop it into the fridge the day before wanting to reheat it!

 

Ingredients

 

Steps

    1. Heat the vegetable oil over medium heat in a large pot.
    2. Add chopped onions and stir for about ten minutes or until soft. Avoid letting the onions turn brown.
    3. Add the curry powder and cook for an additional minute.
    4. Add chopped carrots, sweet potatoes, vegetable broth and salt. Allow the vegetables to come to a boil.
    5. Cover the pot and allow the vegetables to simmer on low heat for about 25-30 minutes.
    6. Stir in the chopped apples and honey. If you have a stick blender, you can directly puree the soup in the pot until the consistency is smooth and creamy. If you have a blender, let the soup cool slightly and then puree it in batches. Segal recommends leaving the hole in the lid open and covering it with a kitchen towel while blending to allow the steam to escape.
    7. Season your soup to taste with salt, pepper, curry powder or honey if desired.

 

Black bean and chickpea salad

Shared by Razan Samara (Arts & Culture Editor)

This is my go-to recipe for dinner with friends and potlucks. It also makes for a perfect side dish alongside lunch or dinner, I personally think it pairs really well with chicken tawook tacos and panko-breaded fish. This recipe yields about 3-4 servings and was inspired by Cookie and Kate.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve found myself become quite reliant on this recipe. It requires minimal effort, which means I can throw a whole batch together pretty quickly the night before my early morning commutes. This recipe has filling ingredients, can easily travel and can be modified to meet your taste preferences. I encourage you to keep things new and interesting with every rendition of the dish!

 

Ingredients

 

Steps

    1. In a large bowl (like really large), combine all of your beans, corn, chickpeas and vegetables. Add in the lime or lemon juice, zest, olive oil and season with ground cumin, salt and black pepper to your taste! I tend to go heavy on the cumin.
    2. Mix all your ingredients.
    3. You can serve right away or cover the bowl and let it chill in the fridge for a couple hours to really enhance the flavours. This recipe can also last in the fridge for about 2-3 days, just make sure to replenish the flavours by adding in lemon or lime juice and giving it a quick stir before serving! I also like to add fresh tomatoes.
    4. Garnish with slices of lime, extra cilantro, avocados or even some tortilla chips!

 

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