Make life easier for UON students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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This petition is an appeal to the University of Newcastle to consider major changes regarding the academic outcomes of Semster and Trimester 1 2020 (and hypothetically further study periods affected by the contemporary Novel Coronavirus pandemic). Although the university is voiding "fail marks" from students' academic records, I believe that this is not sufficient to relieve the stress induced by a sudden change to the education structure that is normally in place. This calls for the consideration of various outcomes to be considered for implementation at present. A few EXAMPLES of how UON can improve the experience of students during this pandemic include: 

1. Void Semester 1 and award a pass mark to all students (As has already been done by some universities across the world)
Though not preferable, it is worth bringing the idea up for discussion.

2. Change the assessment criteria such that any student that makes a valid attempt at any exam or other assessment item recieves a mark of "pass" or "fail". Alternatively marking criteria could be changed to be SIGNIFICANTLY more lenient, or could work on a system where the lowest mark is a "pass" (so that students may still be able to achieve distinctions and HD's- in essence, this is also changing the marking criteria however it allows for a more level playing field while allowing students to obtain greater than a passing mark for courses thay may require this)

3. Allow for students to re-attempt their exams unconditionally (i.e. unlimited supplementary exams) 

**********NOTE: Since the news coverage on this petition, I need to make one thing clear: the petition is requesting these changes as a GENERAL IDEA/CONVERSATION STARTER to give students a platform to voice their concerns. There are other ideas that we have considered adding to the petition, but I think it's self explanatory that if UON does address this matter, it will be heavily discussed and negotiated. Just because we're asking for a specific set of changes as an idea, that doesn't mean that these things are rigid and not subject to change/compromise. THANKS. 

The rationale behind these requests is extensive. As classes and tutorials have been moved online, and temporarily including laboratory/practical sessions as well as course-related placements, there is a general presence of heightened anxiety and stress for many students. Online classes do not effectively emulate or deliver the quality of education desired in comparison to face-to-face education as was carried out before the pandemic affected the university's schedule. This is why I believe that marking criteria should be modified significantly during the affected semesters- learning is just not the same online. 

To address one example of how students are affected by these changes to education structure, I'd like to look at this situation in the context of my own experience. I am currently in my second year of the Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honours) program offered by UON. As someone undertaking a degree within the Faculty of Health and Medicine, I can imagine that other students within this faculty share my disappointment with the current 2 week cancellation of face-to-face laboratory and placement sessions. I believe that it is difficult for students like myself to gain a complete understanding of various learning objectives in these activities- such as learning laboratory techniques that are hands-on. Without the hands-on element, online practical/laboratory sessions may not sufficiently demonstrate these activities to a degree that students would be able to fully understand and replicate in a real-life situation. 

Moving on, I'd like to address the concerns of the lecturers pertaining to students cheating during their online examinations by accessing their notes and using the internet to search for the correct answers. It is inevitable that students will take advantage of the online assessment format's cheating-conducive nature. However, a modified marking criteria (as outlined above), or an automatic pass award would remove the motivation to cheat during online exams as the ranked marking system is removed. 

Furthermore, it is imperative to highlight that the online learning format is detrimental to students that may have learning difficulties, as well as other mental health conditions, disabilities and adverse circumstances otherwise. This mode of learning may be conducive to decreased motivation to study, difficulty concentrating and completing work due to a comparative lack of structure as well as routine and change in learning environment, in general. It is important to consider that these issues are amplified for students affected by aforementioned circumstances. As someone who is part of this demographic, I can personally say that this serves as a massive source of stress, which is not only a trigger for many mental health disorders but also conducive to the worsening and potentially even the development de-novo of such conditions. If the implementation (partially or completely) of the academic decisions that this petition calls for were to occur, students within the aforementioned demographic would most certainly find themselves much less stressed during this already stressful pandemic.

In addition, the anxiety caused by such changes is overwhelming to those outside of this. Even if a student doesn't have any learning difficulties/mental illness and similar conditions, they may suffer from respiratory issues, diabetes, and other strenous medical conditions, or simply live with someone who does, that may be more likely to suffer from covid. Students in those situations would need to be more cautious and more on edge about their actions, if they are forced to go to work regardless of the care they need to ensure when at home. This certainly adds to their stress levels, and stress takes from your learning capacity. I also imagine special consideration notes (letters from your GP) will be overloaded with all universities, . 


I hope that everyone who sees this petition can understand why the online learning format is such a detrimental situation for students and lecturers of all backgrounds and faculties, and why it is imperative that we can get as many signatures as we can to bring forward our concerns to the University for consideration.