What to Know for Your Fall Semester Online

B.C. is keeping classes online for fall, but the future looks foggy

(Kristen Frier)

When KPU stopped offering in-person classes in the spring, the university formulated a plan to ensure students could finish their semesters successfully. Now, staff, students, and faculty are getting ready to go back to school.

The B.C government has released guidelines for post-secondary schools, one of which is “transitioning education delivery to a remote learning environment.” The institutions are also expected to provide teachers with the resources they need to create a “respectful and inclusive learning environment.”

Minister of Advanced Education, Skills, and Training Melanie Mark said in a statement that the guidelines were created with the help of “representatives from Indigenous educational groups, key student associations, and major post-secondary labour organizations.”

Mark said her ministry is working to “achieve the earliest possible restoration of full service on our campuses to support economic recovery while following recommendations from the provincial health officer.”

On its health and wellness website, KPU provides updates about the school’s COVID-19 safety response and links to provincial and federal resources.

Earlier this year, KPU announced its plan to keep the fall semester online — excluding select hands-on courses. The university is planning to provide synchronous, asynchronous, and blended format teaching, which will incorporate “on campus, in-person and online delivery of the curriculum.”

KPU President Alan Davis says KPU is creating a safe and clean environment on campus and that safety plans have been approved for all in-person classes.

“When [students] come on campus, they’ll be very carefully instructed how to move about and how to access what they need to, where they can study, what the social distancing has to be, with strong encouragement to wear masks if they can’t ensure social distancing,” he says.

There will also be a limited number of people allowed in each washroom at a time.

“We expect there to be not many people on campus, and when they do come, our job is to make sure they’re safe and secure,” says Davis.

To discourage students from crowding the common areas of campus, KPU has removed some of the furniture and spaced apart all remaining seating.

The library will be open to students with new “arrows, barriers, and seating arrangements to keep people safe.”

“We don’t want people just sort of hanging around,” he says. “There might be small numbers of students coming to campus in some kind of rotation. They need to come in a particular time, do what they need to do … and the next group comes in.”

Institutions like UBC with a residence on campus have released guidelines for students who live there.

In August, UBC announced that most of its first year classes will be delivered online and that there will be “limited residence options” for students enrolled at the school.

Students who need to be on campus will have accommodation as space allows and amenities and services will be adjusted to abide by health authority guidelines.

Upper year, graduate, and year-round students will also have access to accommodation on campus. UBC Student Housing says students will continue to be accommodated for the year-round residence for the price of “2019-2020 rental rates until further notice.”

Recent UBC graduate Bashara Hussain says the beginning of transitioning to online classes was “very confusing.” After completing her last semester online this summer, she noticed how empty the campus was.

“[It was] too quiet. I didn’t suddenly expect everything to shift because I was graduating and I expected to be around my classmates, say bye to everyone and just have that life we had last year,” she says.

Hussain says she used the opportunity to explore the empty campus and discover new study spots since the library was closed.

She was living in an on-campus residence with roommates at the time.

“We had to adjust to being there all the time,” she says.

UBC has made some adjustments to its residence living including temporary closure of common spaces like “fitness, music, study rooms, meeting rooms [and] outdoor spaces.”

The meal plans for residents will also be “modified,” and if a resident in student housing happens to get sick, there are “self-contained suites” for them. Student housing will reportedly work alongside Vancouver Coastal Health “to ensure all safety precautions are taken for ill individuals and other residents.”

Plans look different at other universities across Canada. In Nova Scotia, students arriving from outside of Atlantic Canada need to isolate for 14 days and get a COVID-19 test, according to a news release by the N.S. provincial government.

Students who are already in the “Atlantic bubble” will only need to isolate if they’ve recently travelled outside of the bubble. Students in isolation will need to be tested negative three different times before coming back to class.

Like KPU, Dalhousie University is choosing to administer the fall semester online except for classes that need to be completed in-person.

International universities like The University of Auckland are teaching remotely and contact tracing the students and staff who do need to be there in person. However, the university website says they may be resuming on-campus learning on Sept. 21 if the country’s alert level is at two or lower, which could be possible.

New Zealand has shown great progress in containing its COVID-19 cases. NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a statement about the “eradication” of the virus after 17 days went by without any new cases in June. New cases have been announced since then, and universities are expected to respond to public health concerns as needed.

Alan Davis says that unlike the University of Auckland, KPU still plans to remain online for the indefinite future. On-campus learning in the spring and summer depends on information from the public health officials.

“Our job is to maintain a safe environment at the university and if there is a second wave or … any indication that the virus is not under control and we need to maintain our modes of working and studying, we will do that,” says Davis.

“Early into the fall, when traditional flu season starts again, we’ll just take our lead from the public health office at that point.”

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