U of W provides grading options during pandemic

Students can opt into one of two alternative grading systems

Students at the University of Winnipeg (U of W) will have multiple options for how course marks will appear on their transcripts in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, following a motion from University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA).

The motion was brought forward by Mahlet Cuff, the UWSA’s vice-president external affairs, after receiving feedback from students who were concerned about their marks.

“We know that students are struggling right now,” Cuff says. “I’m really hoping that this option is helping students and making them feel less anxious about the end of the year and how they’ll finish their school term or maybe even their degree.”

The move comes as many universities have adopted pass/fail grading systems instead of letter grades for courses impacted by the pandemic.

The UWSA’s motion gives students two alternative options. The first option allows students to keep their letter grade but have it removed from their GPA. The second is a pass/fail option, by which students will either receive “standing” or “F” on their transcript in lieu of a letter grade. Students have until May 28 to choose one of these alternatives. If they select neither, their grades will default to being shown as usual. 

According to Cuff, the U of W delayed updating the grading system to reflect COVID-19-related changes, even after the University of Manitoba had introduced their own pass/fail option. 

“There was nothing put forward (before this change),” Cuff says. “It was ... early April, and we were really confused as to why there wasn’t anything in the works.”

For Sonny Rothman, a fourth-year neuroscience honours student, the first few weeks of the pandemic were filled with uncertainty, especially in awaiting updates from the U of W. 

On March 13 “my friends got (a statement from a professor on Nexus) in the morning saying there’s zero per cent chance that we will be moving courses online,” Rothman says. “Then later that afternoon, they were closing everything down, so it was very shaky.” 

Rothman, who completed most of her coursework before COVID-19 caution mounted in mid-March, says accepting either alternative option would undercut the work she’s already accomplished toward her final marks. 

Despite this, she appreciates having been given the choice. 

“I would definitely be disappointed if the option was mandatory,” Rothman says. “But I know it is going to help some people who might be less privileged than me and might not have access to a computer at all times during this lockdown or just don’t have the same accessibilities that I do.”

Rothman says she and her classmates have felt supported in making the right decision for themselves and their personal paths, shouting out instructor Heather Patrick for providing ample guidance. 

For Cuff, a second set of eyes – whether it be a professor or an advisor – is essential for students in determining what’s right for them.

“Students still have a month left if they’re unsure about what they want to do,” Cuff says. “Just be super informed, read over the motion on our UWSA website blog, talk to friends about it and see what they’ve been doing as well. I think it’s great, and it is an option that’s there, but also be very cautious of what this could look like in your future.”

To access the alternative GPA options, students can visit uwinnipeg.ca/covid-19/final-grade-options-faq.html.

Published in Volume 74, Number 25 of The Uniter (May 1, 2020)

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