When Canada adopted health measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March last year, Kwantlen Polytechnic University and other post-secondary institutions quickly shifted classes and services online to ensure the safety of students and maintain a successful semester.
Since then, post-secondary students across British Columbia have been attending classes in an online format. For the first time since March 2020, KPU students and staff are physically returning to campus.
On Sept. 3 KPU posted their return to campus plan on their website. The plan is based on provincial guidelines, such as, the COVID-19 Return-to-Campus Primer, the B.C. Restart Plan, and the province’s COVID-19 Go-Forward Guidelines for the post-secondary sector.
The province is now on Step 3 of the Restart Plan, which means classes are both offered virtually and on campus with careful social contact The plan also includes provisions so services can be open at post-secondary institutions, while maintaining enhanced cleaning for high contact surface areas and daily health checks from the B.C. COVID-19 self assessment tool.
“We will continue to follow guidance from the Provincial Health Office and WorkSafeBC to ensure your safe return to campus this fall,” said KPU President Alan Davis in a press release. “Our priority is to continue to provide an optimal educational experience for all students while minimizing risks of infection to everybody.”
In their plan, KPU is strongly recommending students and employees get vaccinated against COVID-19, but it is not required to be on campus and attend classes. The university collaborated with Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health Authorities to facilitate vaccination clinics at the Richmond, Surrey, and Langley campuses.
Walk-ins are available at all vaccination clinics for those needing their first or second shot and doses will be administered on a first-come first-serve basis. Operation hours vary by campus, with Surrey offering the clinic every two weeks from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm in Room 1205, on the first floor of the Cedar Building outside of the Conference Centre until Oct. 27.
At the Richmond campus, the clinics are planned to be operating out of the Melville Centre on the second floor of the Richmond Main Building. Hours are yet to be announced for this location.
The Langley vaccination clinic will be located on parking lot L3 and will be open from 8:50 am to 5:00 pm seven days a week. This site also operates as a COVID-19 testing site.
Although vaccination will not be required to attend campus and classrooms, showing proof of vaccination will be required for accessing non-essential campus activities that fall under the government’s mandate.
These activities include indoor sporting events, fitness centres, organized indoor events, such as conferences, meetings and workshops. Campus cafeterias at KPU will fall under as essential. Anyone wishing to access non-essential activities on campus should have had at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 13, and two approved doses at least seven days prior to Oct. 24.
The university’s fitness centres and gymnasium will open for students on Sept. 13 and Sport and Recreation will continue to feature online live and recorded classes.
Proof of vaccination status for non-essential activities will be in effect until Jan. 31 2022, unless extended by the PHO.
In addition to encouraging students and employees to be vaccinated on campus, masks will be mandatory on all campuses and in all indoor public areas, such as lobbies, hallways, stairwells, elevators, classrooms, and labs. Individuals can remove their mask if they are consuming food or a drink while seated in indoor areas, including classrooms.
Students are expected to bring their own masks to campus, but if they forget, non-medical disposable face masks are available at the security offices throughout the KPU campuses. Face shields will not be accepted as substitutes for masks due to the opening below the mouth.
If an individual is unable to wear a mask for medical reasons, they can apply for a mask exemption through Accessibility Services online. Students who are unable to wear a mask will fill out a document through their student email, which asks for their student number, what campus they will be attending and the reason they are unable to wear a mask.
In addition, the university has been preparing for students to return to campus with renovations to improve accessibility in areas such as washrooms and elevators, and by installing automatic door openers.
Services such as KPU International and Student Affairs are offering both in-person and remote options for students to access services.
Starting next month, academic advising for international students will also have both virtual and in-person appointments available.
Victor Chouman, a fourth year history student at KPU, says he is excited to go back to campus this semester.
“I really miss talking to my professors as well as classmates,” says Chouman. “Sharing knowledge or just day to day facts or small talk … I haven’t communicated with them since March 2020.”
“I also miss the commute to campus. Whether that’d be simply busing or just driving, I definitely miss the commute as well,” he says.
Although Chouman only has one class in-person this semester, he feels it’s a nice transition to slowly go back to an in-person class environment. He says he likes the university’s return plan because it allows students to slowly adjust back to in-person classes, as opposed to abruptly going back to how it was before the pandemic.
In the summer 2020 semester, KPU conducted a survey about students’ opinions on remote learning. Students said asynchronous learning came with benefits such as studying at their own pace, taking more courses with no schedule conflicts and doing course work when it’s quiet at home.
On the other hand, synchronous learning was effective for students to feel they are interacting with their classmates, engaging with the instructor during the lecture, one-on-one help in office hours, and receive tutoring.
However, one of the challenges students faced with a remote learning environment was they felt it could “increase workloads with online forums, discussion, weekly assignments and readings, in addition to watching online lectures.” The survey found that some students felt they were doing more work online than they did with in-person instruction.
“This may be a consequence of some instructors increasing the number of assignments to help students stay on track, but instead students feel the workload is more than they can keep up with and would like the volume of work to be reduced back to a similar level as before,” according to the survey.
With more students coming to the Richmond, Surrey, and Langley campuses this semester, Chouman says he is concerned the university is not planning to have proof of vaccination for all services and worries not everyone will wear a mask.
“Proof of vaccinations should be required. But at the same time, how are they going to implement it? Would security guards check it?”
Other institutions like the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University have said those who don’t become fully vaccinated or don’t disclose their vaccination status will need to take regular tests. However, the plans for post-secondary schools are still being developed. It is not stated on KPU’s return to campus plan if they will implement regular testing if an individual is not vaccinated.
“I know UBC or SFU is requiring students who are not fully vaccinated to be checked and tested daily or weekly for COVID,” wrote Chouman in an email to The Runner.
As KPU begins transitioning back to in-person classes, the Kwantlen Student Association has decided to keep their services and clubs online for the safety of students.
KSA President and VP University Affairs Jaya Dhillon says events and meetings will continue to be online due to the unknown circumstances of the pandemic and the recent surge in cases in the province.
“It’s a safe approach to do right now because everything’s really up in the air. We’re not so sure if we should be doing things on campus and a lot of classes have transitioned back to online. So the chances of in-person engagement will be very low,” says Dhillon.
Since many of the KSA services will be offered online, Dhillon says her and VP Student Life Lesli Sangha have come up with several ideas for student engagement.
Dhillon says the KSA will offer workshops about ASL, teaching students about finance and taxes, and social justice workshops later this semester that will be hosted monthly. She encourages students to be involved in clubs and events, whether they are in-person or virtual.
“Join as many clubs as you can, if possible, within your schedule. Campus life is short lived and really has so many benefits here. I feel that the majority of students don’t realize the benefits that they have,” says Dhillon. “Take the time to learn what KPU and the KSA has to offer.”
In addition to events and meetings staying virtual this semester, all clubs at KPU will continue to be offered through Zoom, Discord, and other video chat services.
Gurnoor Virk, the KSA Club Coordinator, says for the fall semester, it’s safer to keep the club events online.
“I wouldn’t be okay putting anyone at risk at the moment. I would rather wait for the clubs to go on campus and hold their events,” says Virk, adding that she hopes clubs will be back on campus for the spring semester.
“It’s really hard for people to engage with students virtually, especially when they’re doing their classes online. It’s been hard, but the clubs have been doing really well.”
She says there have been two new clubs that will soon be open to join this semester such as the Creative Captures Club and a new geography club.
“Just people being safe, that’s our biggest priority right now. It was always fun to have them on campus seeing their events, people enjoying them. But, it’s their safety that’s most important.”
Even though clubs are online this semester, Virk says her advice to students is “people should not be nervous about joining clubs, because I know as a student I was and it was really fun. Make use of your student time. It’s fun and make connections that last.”
Before the pandemic, KPU would offer orientation and transition programs to help students adjust to the university lifestyle before the new semester begins and during the first week of classes.
Due to the ongoing restrictions on large gatherings, orientation activities and events will be primarily online, according to the orientation’s website.
Prahbleen Kaur, one of the orientation leaders, says they set up tents for the first week of school to help students navigate their way around campus and answer any questions.
“A lot of people have already stopped by numerous times because they saw me on day one, now they stop by every time they come to campus, so it’s really nice.”
Kaur says, for the orientation and campus tours, they had live sessions on their Instagram page, where one of their team members went online and showed students a tour of the campus. In the future, she says KPU orientation will continue to host them virtually for those who don’t feel safe coming to campus.
“Some people are still used to just being online and not travelling to campus. So they have the opportunity to connect through the online platform,” says Kaur. “[And] also to reduce the number of people in person so that we are balanced.”
As classes continue to be a mix of in-person, online, and hybrid formats at KPU this semester, Chouman says he remains hopeful that KPU will go back to fully in-person soon.
“Like other students, I have missed being in class. I wish to head back if it’s safe,” says Chouman. “The restart plan for me is an awesome way to just slowly head back.”