British Columbia

UBC, SFU, UVic announce most fall classes will take place online

COVID-19 concerns front of mind as B.C.'s major universities say they will continue to run the majority of their courses virtually.

Exceptions may be made for things like labs and field trips, but with health and safety restrictions

The inside of an SFU lecture hall on the Burnaby campus. The university has announced most courses for the fall 2020 semester will take place online. (CBC)

British Columbia's three largest universities have announced that COVID-19 restrictions will continue to have a major impact on students and faculty when the new school year begins in the fall, with most courses being taught online rather than on campus.

"This decision creates certainty for students and instructors, safety for those with higher levels of health risks, and access to learning for students who cannot travel to B.C. at this time," said SFU Provost Jon Driver in a bulletin posted on the SFU website.

According to Driver, select courses requiring in-person instruction such as labs, field trips and grad student classes could proceed with health and safety measures in place if the school gets the go-ahead by the government and health authorities.

"To avoid having an unsafe number of people on campus, we will limit the number of in-person courses," he said.

A similar announcement was made by UBC president Santa Ono on Monday. The University of Victoria also followed suit.

"UBC will primarily offer larger classes online with selected smaller classes conducted in-person, adhering to physical distancing and other public health requirements," he said in a posted statement.

UBC Associate Provost Simon Bates said the staff and faculty have learned a lot about delivering courses virtually since the pandemic forced the issue in March. 

Students are pictured on campus at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"One thing that will make things a little bit different is some more time to plan which we didn't get in the emergency transition," he said.

"It's pretty easy to say were moving our courses online, but fundamentally this is a redesign process because what we would do for a completely online and distributed cohort of students is very different from how you would conceive an in-person course."

Post secondary education is listed in phase three of the B.C. Restart program which was announced last week by the provincial government.

Phase three allows for some in-person instruction starting in September, assuming all health and safety protocols are met and no second wave of COVID-19.

The universities say more information will be released in the coming weeks. 

Susan Lewis, the associate vice-president of academic planning at UVic, says the schools is reviewing what kinds of essential experiential learning pieces will be hard to translate into an online space — like co-op terms or placements for nursing students. 

"Those are some of the areas where we would look to continue in-person, face-to-face, where we can comply with the safety and health requirements," Lewis said.

A broader definition of accessibility 

Bates said because UBC was in the middle of enrolment for the upcoming school year, it's too early to say how the decision will impact foreign and out-of-town students who would normally move to Vancouver to attend classes.

He said the change to virtual teaching has many institutions grappling with a new and broader definition of accessibility.

"We now have to think of ... do students have appropriate hardware to be able to participate fully in experiences that we may redesign? Are they in places where they have good internet connectivity,  good cellphone service and the right kind of physical space to be able to participate," he said. 

"Thinking through about how we design things that accommodate or provide equity of access to students is a real challenge."

With files from All Points West


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