Edmonton post-secondary institutions prepare for new academic year in pandemic

Edmonton campuses may seem quieter this fall as post-secondary institutions continue to focus on remote learning ahead of a new academic year during the pandemic.

Some in-person lessons planned as most classes go virtual

The University of Alberta is holding most of its lectures online for the fall semester. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Edmonton campuses may seem quieter this fall as post-secondary institutions continue to focus on remote learning ahead of a new academic year during the pandemic.

Increased cleaning, physical distancing and mandatory masking are common refrains as the University of Alberta, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and MacEwan University prepare for their September relaunch after ending most in-person classes in the spring.

Norma Rodenburg, associate registrar with the U of A, said Thursday that only about 12 per cent of students will require in-person lessons in fields like biology, chemistry and clinical medicine. Many other classes will still be delivered remotely.

"There's a lot of people that are working really hard to make sure that we can provide a really (high) quality learning experience," she said.

Some common areas will be open to students, but decisions on libraries and recreation facilities were still being finalized, Rodenburg said.

Sue Fitzsimmons, VP Academic and Provost at NAIT, said this school is taking a flexible, phased approach to its relaunch strategy.

"We're likening it to turning a dial as opposed to flipping the switch," she said.

Some services, like recreation and student counselling, as well as most classes will be offered virtually. But Fitzsimmons said some courses will require hands-on experience in limited shops and labs where learning outcomes can't be achieved virtually.

While some workshops are large enough to accommodate physical distancing needs, others have found ways to reduce their size. The baking program, for instance, has split into three different time slots.

Both schools were still finalizing their enrolment numbers. Fitzsimmons said while NAIT has seen a slight drop in its credit programs, apprenticeships had actually increased.

MacEwan will also be using a mix of in-person and remote learning, according to its website. Residences will open with limited occupancy and physical distancing as per AHS guidelines.

U of A residents return

In March, approximately 5,400 U of A students living in on-campus housing were asked to leave due to the coronavirus and physical distancing concerns. 

For the new school year, residences are being adjusted to meet public health needs. In addition to campus-wide safety measures, students are being assigned to rooms with their own washroom and without common spaces.

"That's been one really important piece for us, working on how our dining services can support in COVID-friendly ways," Rodenberg said.

The dining services website notes dining halls are currently open with take-out service only.

The university is also working to help forge connections between students in residence and those delaying their return to Edmonton through a virtual residence experience. Non-academic and academic cohort communities are also being established to connect students with similar studies or interests virtually.

For students and staff returning from overseas, the university's website advertises an isolation accommodation program. Residence services were taking bookings for airport pickup, residence accommodation, meal delivery and periodic or daily check-ins during a 14-day self-isolation.

University of Alberta students to move out of on-campus housing in March due to the pandemic. (Submitted by James Dunn)

Rodenburg said the University of Alberta is still working to support its international students, with many of them deciding to do remote delivery from where they are.

"That is an opportunity for them to do that if they can't come across the border, and they can't make it to Canada," she said.

"I think that's been a really great opportunity that may not have existed in the past."

Classes are set to resume on September 1 at the U of A, September 8 at NAIT and September 9 at MacEwan.