Explainer: Online learning and KPU student rights

KSA advocacy coordinator says online learning can lead to miscommunication and complaints


The Kwantlen Student Association Student Rights Centre advocates for students at KPU and helps them understand their rights through a non-judgemental and confidential support system.

This includes helping with things like appealing plagiarism claims and grade appeals, and submitting complaints to the university.

The pandemic and the switch to online learning have impacted the way students and instructors interact. Prior to the pandemic, if students were having trouble in class or some type of conflict with their instructors, they could walk into the Student Rights Centre office to see what their options were, and if they should submit a formal complaint.

The complaints are kept confidential, and students have the chance to speak with the person they’ve made a complaint about during the process. They will also be asked what their expectations are for the outcome of the complaint.

Not every student will know the outcome of their complaint, and KPU might not ultimately take action regarding what the student is complaining about. However, Student Rights reassures students that they can insist on a higher authority at the university to hear their complaints.

Since the university made the switch to online working and learning, the Student Rights Centre has been operating through Zoom.

Advocacy Coordinator John O’Brian says the interactions with students are different, now that they can no longer be held in-person.

O’Brian’s job as an advocacy coordinator involves listening to students’ concerns and helping with the process of writing complaints. Before the online format became standard, the Student Rights Centre had drop-in hours, but now students have to set up appointments. Some students might not know about the new changes, and that is something O’Brian is worried about.

“I was worried that people would get mistreated or things would go wrong, and then nothing happens,” he says.

He is concerned that students might not be willing to go through the process of working on a full complaint due to “everything going on.”

O’Brian adds that there are lots of students and faculty members who would not voluntarily teach or study entirely online due to the design of some of the courses. He says faculty members are struggling to get back to students promptly, and students are struggling to balance school and their personal lives and mental health.

Some complaints have been related to miscommunications online, and students can become upset at an instructor for not replying to an email without knowing that they may not have seen it.

When it comes to supporting KPU students, O’Brian says it can be tricky because of the size of the university, but communication and training need to be a focus. With the stress of online learning, O’Brian worries that there might be a rush to return back to campus, but he wants more work to be done to make online learning work better for students.

“There’s a lot of pedagogical and organizational work that has to be done to help make online learning work,” he says, adding that it’s “important and valuable” for students to talk about their problems before they become bigger.

Students who are experiencing troubles in their classes or conflict with an instructor can reach out to O’Brian through the KSA website to set up an appointment over Zoom.