Is there an alternative to the mid-semester exam date disclose?
By Dylan Hackett, News Editor
Signing up for courses at Douglas is a fairly uncomplicated process for the seasoned student—you mull through the relevant department lists, perhaps highlight the instructor with the highest point score on ratemyprofessors.com, and then proceed to select the courses that operate after noon before the other “Lazy College Senior” mimeograph copies do. After the second week or so, you’re sliding through the groves of what becomes your weekday schedule for the next three months. Barring your manager’s scheduling at your part-time job, a secondary duty carried out by half of Canadian college and university students, your life’s schedule in an average semester is fairly inelastic and uncomplicated—until exam period.
Students of Douglas College aren’t privy to their final exam dates until midway or even further on into their semester—heck, I was just given my final exam date early last week for one of my courses. Would student life be easier if exam dates were available at registration date?
“It would help me because during Christmas time, I’m on a schedule for work but I can’t give my work availability until I know my final exam schedule, which, in this year, wasn’t until late October, early November,” claims Justin Lee, Douglas BPEC student and Canada Post employee.
Students often have other duties beyond those related to monetary and educational investments. Canadians in the traditional college-age census brackets are the most likely demographic to spend time volunteering with a rate of 58 per cent. With time constraints cited by Statistics Canada as a primary barrier to volunteering, the niceties of many volunteering roles can be affected by schedule planning plagued by delayed disclosure in concurrent activities—in many cases of college youth: school and work.
“I coach hockey in Vancouver as well. If we’re in a Christmas tournament, which we usually are, it helps to know my exam schedule,” said Lee. “It’s a big snowball effect. I can’t coach until I know my work schedule. I won’t know my work schedule until I know my availability. I won’t know that until the exam schedule comes out.”
International students, making up 10 per cent of those enrolled at Douglas, have ready cause for contention on the matter. Studying in another part of the world is expensive, and when international students are made to book flights with limited notification in the busiest flight season of the year, costs can mount higher than they should—money that may as well be put towards future tuition. With administration placing a key focus on international education, isn’t making life for students trekking across the globe to study at Douglas a natural priority?
“I would absolutely love it if my students knew when their exam was. I have so many international students who want to go home and see their families,” said Jasmine Nicholsfigueiredo, English instructor at Douglas College. “They’re away for a year, or two, and often Christmas is the only time they can see them. They pay a lot of money for tickets, $300 or $400 more sometimes because they can’t book until November. If they book in September, it’s cheaper and they’re guaranteed a return date that doesn’t make them late for classes. We get a lot of international students who say, ‘I couldn’t make it back January 2 or 3 because all the flights were booked and I had to book later.”
Douglas faculty have a stake in the matter with others supporting early exam date disclosure. Previously, the Douglas College Faculty Association, Local 4, the union representing the instructing staff of Douglas, have discussed the disclosure of exam dates.
“Instructors understand that the students we have now are different than the students we had 15 or 20 years ago. We understand they’ve got other lives outside their school, and we do have to try to accommodate that as much as possible—and if by getting the exam schedule up and posted early, that helps them, we should probably be doing that,” said Susan Briggs, English instructor and former president of the DCFA.
In a world of perpetually rising tuition rates, with less government support to financing post-secondary education putting a burden on students, the opportunity cost of an uncertain December puts further strain on students’ personal budgeting and scheduling. Is this the case at other schools?
“I’ve taught at SFU. When you register you know when your exam is,” said Nicholsfigueiredo. “You can also, as a student, choose. If there are [multiple] classes for the same course, say one has an exam date on the 20th and one on the 5th, a lot of my students chose the one with the exam date on the 5th so they could fly home if they lived somewhere else.”
“I have one student, whose sister is at SFU, and she picked all of her exams so they’re done about December 7 and she’s flying home,” said Nicholsfigueiredo. “Because he didn’t know, he now has an exam on the 20th and he pays almost $450 more for his ticket.”
Perhaps the most competitive institution to Douglas, and the nearest to the New Westminster campus, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, gives students the option of knowing when exams will be set. Kwantlen also utilizes the same software for most administrative duties as Douglas. Regardless of that, students don’t even have to be registered to Kwantlen to peruse the exam schedule. The information is readily available of the Kwantlen website. This gives Kwantlen a noted advantage in prospective enrollment, being a similar entry-level, largely diploma-based post-secondary institute. Should this be a rally cry for the busy Douglas student? But when the option of knowing exam dates upon registration isn’t at the forefront of a student’s mind, it’s taken for granted that exam date disclosure happens halfway into the semester—the alternative isn’t considered.
The issue of exam date disclosure is one that I reckon, armed with only my own conjecture and anecdotes I have provoked or probed into, a majority of students hold a consensus view on. But without being exposed to a ready alternative, it’s unlikely a position will be affirmed with rally cries, pamphlets, and cardboard signs—yet alone, casual discussion.
“We’ll always listen to students. If students come to us with concerns of the exam scheduling and the length of time that it takes them to get noticed, then we definitely bring that up to the administrative attention,” said Jenelle Davies, Women’s Liaison at the Douglas Students’ Union. “As of right now we don’t have a formal stance on it because we haven’t heard of an issue, but definitely if students have a problem they should come in and talk to us about it and that will definitely help them get their question or concern into the proper person’s lap, so to speak.”
Concerns on exam date schedules are not at the forefront of discussions on how Douglas could better itself for the sake of students. It should be. Important issues for students like the need for lower tuition fees are known, discussed, and politicized but aren’t as elastic to change at a local level. I encourage you, reader, to think about how a better planned semester schedule could benefit you and your peers.
With files from Steven Cayer.