An eConcordia class is continuing to use online course content developed by late faculty member
Concordia student Aaron Ansuini was left shocked and confused last Wednesday when he tried to search for the email address of the man he believed to be his professor and instead found an “In Memoriam” page.
Ansuini is enrolled in “From Realism to Abstraction in Canadian Art,” an eConcordia course. The instructor for the course is Dr. Marco Deyasi, a current assistant professor of Art History, but the pre-recorded video lectures are by Dr. François-Marc Gagnon, former affiliate professor in the Department of Art History and founding director of Concordia’s Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art.
Gagnon died on March 28, 2019.
Deyasi describes his role as “an instructor helping students learn from the pre-recorded material by giving them individualized feedback on their written work.”
Ansuini claims that he was never told that the man whose video lectures he had been admiring was deceased. The only email he had received in relation to the course was unsigned, and from a “do-not-respond” address, he said. At the time, he assumed that the emails were from Gagnon. Although the course outline says that Deyasi is the instructor of the course while the lectures are by Gagnon, it would still be possible to assume, as Ansuini pointed out, that the two educators are both alive and reachable, currently working together to co-teach the course.
When Ansuini wanted to ask Gagnon about an art collector that he had mentioned in one of his lectures, he found himself unsure how to reach him. This led to him searching the internet for Gagnon’s email and discovering that he was dead.
“It was one of those moments where you’re like, ‘I can’t believe this,’” Ansuini said. “Like, am I being pranked? This is obviously not okay.”
Ansuini values communication with his professors.
“I really like engaging with my teachers,” he said. “I tend to just need that connection to the teachers so that they know what I’m communicating to them.”
“Not being neurotypical doesn’t always compete well with having multiple evaluators that you’ve never met,” he added.
“I definitely don’t think it’s very okay,” Ansuini said, addressing the continued use of Gagnon’s content after his death, without students being informed that he is deceased.
“Teachers aren’t comparable to textbooks or other reusable objects, and to compare the teacher-student relationship to something like that is pretty minimizing.”
After discovering that Gagnon was dead, Ansuini, stunned, tweeted about it. His tweets received attention from many people who were disturbed by the situation, including many university professors, teaching assistants, and other university and college students. His original tweet about the situation currently has over 23,000 retweets and over 1500 replies.
Ansuini says that the replies on Twitter helped him realize that it was important to bring the situation to people’s attention.
“[The] knee-jerk reaction is to feel a little scared, because, you know, I’m an ant in this enormous institution that’s probably not very fond of me,” he said. “The added perspective of other educators helped.”
Concordia spokesperson Vannina Maestracci told The Concordian that Gagnon developed the course some time before his death and that eConcordia courses were made to last a long time.
“Dr. Gagnon was an expert in his field and this course uses his lectures as a teaching tool — as other courses use textbooks or other educational material to support teaching,” she said.
Johanne Sloan, chair of the Department of Art History at Concordia, says that a biography of Gagnon, informing students of his passing, has been made available to students in the class within the past few days, since Ansuini’s discovery and subsequent tweets.
“[Gagnon] was an extraordinary teacher … he was so able to immerse you in the topic, and he loved it,” Sloan said.
“It’s such a great benefit to be able to continue to offer the results of Professor Gagnon’s pedagogy and knowledge … it’s a gift, really, it’s his legacy that exists in this form.”
Graphic by Chloë Lalonde @ihooqstudio