How an eConcordia lecturer is still teaching, even after his death

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


Concordia’s fall semester is moving online

Concordia will be following the lead of universities across the country

Concordia University has officially announced the upcoming fall semester will be almost entirely online.

In an official statement made this afternoon, the administration said the decision was based on public health recommendations regarding social distancing, and that an online semester is the “responsible choice.”

Some exceptions will be made for courses that require hands-on learning, such as studio work, biology labs, and research labs. Concordia students involved with courses that are deemed an exception should expect big changes to how the courses will be taught in person. 

The administration said the in-person classes will be taught with “fewer participants than usual, attending on a rotating basis.” More details regarding which other classes will remain on campus are still to come.

Students that are unable or uncomfortable attending in-person classes will be provided an online option for in-person classes. 

Student access to campus life will also be affected, with all campus libraries closing during the fall. Online access to the library collections and research assistance will continue to be available.

Concordia’s announcement comes the same week as McGill’s announcement to move classes online.


Phishing emails circulated to Concordia students

An email was sent by Concordia University to students on Oct. 3 advising them not to open a phishing email circulating in the student community. The phishing email was sent by, according to a screenshot sent by the university.

The phishing email read: “Concordia University Latest News & Media.” A second line included a hyperlink with the words “Breaking News. Find out more.”

In its message to students, the university asked to “please delete [the email] immediately […] Phishing techniques such as this can spread viruses and malware.”

The message continued: “A recent example of the dangers of this type of email is the WannaCrypt/WannaCry ransomware attack, which paralyzed thousands of computers across the globe.”

Phishing emails and potential cyberattacks have been commonplace in Montreal universities over the past two years. Last May, 120 computers at the Université de Montréal were infected by the WannaCry virus, which encrypted copies of user files before deleting the originals, forcing people to pay a ransom to regain access to their documents.

Phishing emails were sent to Concordia University students by a fake administration email account in early October

On Aug. 31, as previously reported by The Concordian, phishing emails were also sent to McGill University students.

Cyberattacks occurred on two occasions at Concordia in the last two years. In March 2016, keyloggers were installed at the Webster and Vanier libraries. The devices allow hackers to record all the keys pressed by a person, allowing them to remember everything that was typed.

In April 2017, the university’s online course system, eConcordia, was also hacked.

Concordia President Alan Shepard told The Concordian in September that cyberattacks were a “big issue.” “We were lucky in both episodes that we didn’t have any major damage that we’re aware of,” he said, referring to the two incidents at Concordia.

According to Shepard, the university made “some technical changes to try and prevent repeats of these episodes.” The president wouldn’t disclose what these changes were.

Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton, an accounting firm, audited the university’s IT security in 2017, according to Shepard. The IT audit was part of the annual audit presented to the university’s board of governors. Shepard said the audit showed the university’s cybersecurity had strengthened.

The audit differs from a separate project Shepard described as a “large-scale review of cybersecurity.” As the The Concordian previously reported, a call for tenders was sent by the university in July through the publicly accessible Système électronique d’appel d’offre du Québec (SEAO), seeking professional services to assess the university’s cybersecurity risks. Shepard said the result of the assessment will be private.

Eight different companies bidded for the contract, including Bell Canada, Montreal-based GoSecure and Okiok Data. The value of the contract is still unknown.


Concordia launches a free online course partnered with the United Nations

The goal of the course is to educate as many students as possible worldwide

Concordia is now offering a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) this fall, not only to Concordia students, but to students around the world.

The course, entitled Wicked Problems, Dynamic Solutions: The Ecosystem Approach and Systems Thinking, educates students on ecosystems and conservation theories, said director of the Loyola Sustainability Research Centre Peter Stoett. “[There is a necessity for thinking] about socio-ecological systems as we try to find solutions for some of the greatest challenges we face.”

“[The course] is an attempt to give widespread access to a course that teaches people some really necessary concepts and case studies related to the survival of future generations,” said Stoett. The online course is free and available to anyone around the world, as a part of the United Nations’ objective to make this course accessible to as many people as possible.

“The focus of the course, as the title implies, is on systems thinking and the ecosystem approach,” said Rebecca Tittler, coordinator of the Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability & Loyola Sustainability Research Centre. “Systems thinking involves consideration of the various components of a system and the interactions between components.”

Tittler was on the core development team for the MOOC. She said the course discusses how to resolve colossal issues that result from climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, deforestation and forest degradation.

Stoett has connections with the UN, having previously worked with them, which prompted the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to contact Stoett for the opportunity to create this course at Concordia.

Robert Beauchemin, CEO of KnowledgeOne, the company in charge of developing eConcordia online courses, described the MOOC as a web-based platform. Beauchemin said the course is accessible through any web browser available on any computer, tablet and mobile device.

“The main reason we do that is because more people in Africa have cell phones than laptops and in Asia, as well,” said Stoett. “You don’t need a computer to take this course in a day and age when almost everyone—even really low income groups—have telephones.”

He said the second aspect to the course is to help compensate financial difficulties using a blended learning course available to all Concordia students.

Half of the blended learning course is offered online and half of the course will be taught in a classroom. The blended learning course will be a course available to all Concordia students, said Stoett. The MOOC will be a part of the blended learning course, which will be offered under the department of geography, intended as a course for first-year geography students.

Stoett said he believes the MOOC would be interesting to recent high school graduates, students mostly in the southern hemisphere, students who are entering university, who cannot afford university or either live in a country where university is not a well-developed system.

The Concordian asked Stoett if the curriculum is focused on North America or studying ecosystems worldwide. “It’s definitely worldwide,” said Stoett. “We have really tried to hit a global note with this—many of the case studies we used [and] many of the videos we used are from Africa, quite a few from Asia and some from Latin America.”


Board of Governors in brief

→ Interest-free loans

A concern brought to the Board of Governors meeting held Friday morning was the financing of KnowledgeOne, the company that runs eConcordia. Governor Lawrence Kryzanowski from the John Molson School of Business said he was “uncomfortable” with the lack of information surrounding an interest-free loan given to the company by Concordia. Considering that KnowledgeOne, which operates eConcordia, is losing money Kryzanowski asked for more transparency on the issue.

It also appears that Concordia’s $1.4 million interest-free loan issued to former Concordia President Frederick Lowy has not yet been repaid. It was addressed at the meeting and confirmed by university spokesperson Chris Mota that Lowy will reimburse the loan as soon as he is able to sell his condominium. The asking price for the Doctor Penfield Avenue penthouse is $1,399,000.

→ Financial questions

Governor Norman Ingram, the chair of the history department, suggested that Concordia’s senior administrators have benefited from an increase of approximately 10 per cent in salaries. Ingram emphasized that this raise in income favoured non-academic positions and that the BoG “should be concerned” about the increase in some areas more than others. Governor Lex Gill agreed, asking for a document outlining provincial regulations regarding salaries and bonuses for senior administration. Chair Norman Hébert said that the BoG will present a report to “shed light” on the questions.

→ A motion for bicameralism

The BoG passed a motion to approve changes to the university’s bylaws in an effort to make Concordia’s governance more bicameral. In lieu of opening the charter, articles 36 and 62 were amended and earned the approval of Senate. The amendments ensure that BoG cannot invalidate a motion passed by Senate without the approval from a joint meeting between Senate’s steering committee and BoG’s executive committee. Furthermore, Senate will no longer derive its authority from the BoG and is the final authority when it comes to academic matters. This motion stemmed from a recommendation from the Shapiro Report issued in 2011 that suggested the BoG held too much power much over Senate.


Retired ConU prof sends email endorsing CAQ to students

A retired Concordia University professor drew criticism for sending an email to his former students Thursday morning encouraging them to vote in the upcoming provincial election and emphasizing his personal inclination towards the Coalition Avenir Québec party.

In a message sent around 10:30 a.m. from his Concordia University email address, Dr. Jack Ornstein stressed his concerns about students voting on September 4. Furthermore, Ornstein wrote that he was “seriously thinking about voting for the CAQ” for several reasons.

“I have always held my nose and voted for the Liberals in Quebec provincial elections, as I am sure many other anglophones have done,” wrote Ornstein in the email.  “But no longer.”

Ornstein listed his aversion to a sovereign Quebec and the current tuition freeze, his desire for “a strong and prosperous but socially responsible economy,” and his disdain for corruption as his reasons for potentially voting for the CAQ.

Ornstein maintained that he was not trying to sway students into voting for the CAQ specifically but merely to vote at all.

“I am not trying to influence any of you to vote for the CAQ, honestly,” Ornstein wrote. “But I am hoping you will all at least vote.”

Concordia undergraduate student Cleo Donnelly was one of several students who received the email from Ornstein. Donnelly had Ornstein as a professor for Biomedical Ethics last semester, an online philosophy elective taught by Ornstein offered through eConcordia.

“I thought that it was good that he encouraged students to vote for whomever, as long as they voted,” said Donnelly. “But at the same time he did sound a bit as if he was trying to sway us towards the CAQ.”

Although Donnelly was surprised by the email, she stated that she believes political discussions between students and professors are best done in person. She also took issue with Ornstein singling out the CAQ as his preferred political party.

“While I would love to discuss politics with teachers, there needs to be an opportunity for a rebuttal,” explained Donnelly. “Because now a bunch of people know nothing about politics save that one party.”

Kayla Butz, an accounting student at Concordia who also took Ornstein’s class, considered replying to the email.

“He claimed not to be influencing our votes but he was making his choice pretty clear,” said Butz.

Butz explained that she thought Ornstein was trying to persuade students to vote and explore other parties, rather than boycotting voting all together.

Concordia Student Union President Schubert Laforest said that he felt Ornstein’s message was sent through an inappropriate channel.

“The fact he’s encouraging students to vote is great because it’s time to put our ballots where our mouths are,” said Laforest. “However I do not think it’s necessarily appropriate to use this forum to propagate your personal, political views.”

“These are personal student emails,” continued Laforest. “I really question the ethics of doing it that way. It’s unethical, it’s bad practice.”

Jack Ornstein declined to be interviewed by The Concordian.

Concordia Student Union News

eConcordia a ‘vending machine’ for credits: CSU president

Concordia’s online courses have been criticized in the past for their high cost to students and questionable quality, but Provost David Graham says he has high hopes for the future of eConcordia.
Graham stated in a Senate presentation on Feb. 17 that as online courses become more popular, Concordia is continuing to develop the services it has to offer.
“The flexibility of online learning is very important for some students to be able to finish their degrees,” he said during the presentation.
Graham emphasized, however, that “the quality of the engagement and commitment has to be at least equivalent as our classroom expectations.”
Concordia Student Union President Lex Gill, who also sits on Senate, was not so positive about eConcordia’s management.
“It seems to me that there is a positive way to do online learning and an easy way,” she said. “Concordia’s business model is low quality and cheap.”
Gill said the average online class size is 500 to 600 people, which creates a “factory model for giving students credits.”
eConcordia exists for the sole purpose of owning KnowledgeOne, a for-profit entity that operates eConcordia courses. The Senate presentation centered around Concordia’s ability to generate profit through KnowledgeOne by marketing similar services to other educational institutions.
Graham explained in an interview with The Concordian that the relationship between eConcordia and KnowledgeOne has “not always been ideal,” but said that he felt positive about the arrival of KnowledgeOne’s interim president, Tony Meti.
“I think that any change in management provides an opportunity for a new relationship,” said Graham.
In an interview, Gill stated that the organization of eConcordia is comparable to a “vending machine for credits.” She also criticized Meti for referring to students as “clients” during his Senate presentation.
Gill also expressed concern over where the fees for the 57 courses offered under the eConcordia brand are going.
Graham explained that any funds gained from online course fees go to the “general operations of the university” such as student services, and normal academic and administrative operations.
Despite concerns raised at Senate about the effectiveness of KnowledgeOne, Graham remained confident that KnowledgeOne will prove to be a good investment for Concordia in the long run.
“We have not been as successful at generating funds in the past as we will in the future,” he said.

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