UR Courses header remains unchanged for Fall 2020

Our digital classroom space is missing its usual fall makeover Kate Theissen

To everything, turn, turn, turn…

As a brief moment of respite from the controversial invigilation software currently lurking beneath the University of Regina’s UR Courses framework, you could contemplate trying to adjust to the new normal of a remote semester and the online learning environment being used to facilitate that. 

With the Winter 2021 term announced to look much the same as our current one, UR Courses, the University’s online learning environment, is serving as our new classroom. The software underneath it, Moodle, is open source, meaning that the code that runs the software is viewable to the public for modification, expanding upon or studying. This collaborative approach can make fixing bugs or errors, using the code in unique implementations, and creating new useful widgets for all much more accessible. 

UR Courses’ unique implementation of this software has always featured a changing photograph of some of the stunning art around our beautiful campus. The past years have featured outdoor, large-scale sculptures – a past winter semester featured a photograph of the late Joe Fafard’s Le jardin de l’esprit (Mind’s Garden). Depicting the history of the province Fafard grew up in, this bronze piece evokes the importance of building experiencing things together as a community. This theme seems especially pointed as students at the University of Regina struggle together to face the many challenges and impacts of doing our best amid a pandemic. 

Students are not the only ones doing their best in incredibly bizarre circumstances. The University of Regina IT department has been thrown a completely new set of expectations and needs from learners and teachers alike. Supporting a massive shift to remote learning and all the accompanying headaches without the benefit of in-person collaboration is no simple task. With the world buying up technology and equipment as everyone else makes this same change, and the need to adapt to the new situation before then being able to teach others how to adapt, IT is doing a commendable job being flexible and accommodating.  

However. September 2 came and went. The new semester began. In the shuffle of service outages and login problems on the first day of classes as systems were taxed with increased traffic. And the photograph in the background of the UR Courses environment remained the same as before. The UR Courses login landing page currently features a wonderfully balanced photo of Lionel Peyachew’s The Four Directions. Referencing the traditional Indigenous teaching tool of the Medicine Wheel, this industrial construction made with steel pipe and cable takes on an interesting form, becoming a curved, inflexible manifestation of a fluid form of knowledge gained from the land.

The Four Directions is no less striking this semester.

People use the seasons changing to mark the passage of time, a signifier. An opportunity for a miniature New Year, a new starting point, the re-engagement with a specific set of tasks appropriate to the months. The pandemic has created a sort of liminal space that persists in a sort of never ending sequence of days that end in ‘y’. The cues of seasonal activities and events on campus are absent and as students move forward, it seems like something is missing from the cycle of University life. 

Being disappointed by the UR Courses online learning environment background photograph not changing when a new semester started this fall may initially seem a bit silly. But being greeted with a piece of our campus every morning when logging on is an opportunity for students to identify with their community. The physical space of the University of Regina is sorely missed by all, and using a very non-flashy, standard, out-of-the-box feature of Moodle’s core functionality to remind students of their campus home is a nice thing to be greeted with when completing the nth forum post required for their class. 

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