Editorial – The Burning Question

For students affected by the wildfires in BC, like those in Fort MacMurray before, Athabasca University is offering help in the form of free extensions or exam rebooking fees, free replacement of materials, and even allowing full refunds for students who decide they’ll need to withdraw from their studies for a time while they sort out whatever changes the fires have forced on them. While a tremendous boon for those affected students, and an admirable act of generosity on AU, it makes me wonder if the policy is a sustainable one. When you consider the effects of climate change, making weather conditions more severe, and the global reach of Athabasca, the idea that this policy might be invoked whenever there’s a large-scale emergency anywhere in the world could be a difficult one to maintain.

Most brick and mortar universities, after all, only have to worry an emergency in their immediate geographic region. For AU, however, a natural disaster anywhere in the world could affect students. Will this policy take effect when hurricanes rip through the east coast again? Or perhaps with the tension happening in Eastern Europe, war may break out affecting students from various countries. Will this policy apply then?

I certainly hope so, of course, but it does raise the possibility that there may be multiple areas under these kind of disaster response policies at once, and what does that do to Athabasca’s business model? At a brick and mortar university, if a large-scale disaster happened in an area that would affect it, there would likely be government help made available for the university to deal with the consequences. Not so with the disasters that affect AU students. Then again, maybe this is something that must go beyond economics. Maybe It’s something that can help AU to stand out, especially as more schools start using online courses and the growth of the earth’s population means any disaster will be affecting a greater number of students. It’s unlikely many other institutions have thought about this to the extent of making it a policy. Indeed, Thompson Rivers University, based in BC, has a response page, but it appears that the support they give is being administered on an ad hoc basis. Online students there are being urged to contact the university directly with any difficulties, and the institution’s facilities in Kamloops remaining open while classes proceed as normal.

We continue to explore the wild-fire’s effects on AU students with an article by Deanna Roney, who lives in Northern BC, and, while not directly affected (yet), can’t help but empathize with those so close who are.

Then our feature article this week is our interview with recent graduate, Diana Longman. A fellow procrastinator, Diana used the flexibility of AU to combat her predilection, something many of us know very well.

Those, along with a new Fly on the Wall about educational domestication, an article about how invigilation can get personal, and, of course, news, interviews, reviews, advice, and plenty of things to make sure your own inner procrastinator has ample material to keep it occupied. Enjoy the read!

P.S. If you didn’t already know, The Voice Magazine has a Facebook page and a twitter feed if You’re into that kind of thing!

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