Edmonton

University of Alberta to move classes online in fall over COVID-19 concerns

U of A president David Turpin said the decision came after consulting with the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and hearing about conditions and restrictions that will likely remain in the fall.

'Online learning can be every bit as effective and frankly, as enjoyed by students as face-to-face'

The University of Alberta will transition most classes online this fall over COVID-19 concerns. (David Bajer/CBC)

The University of Alberta is moving most classes online for the fall semester due to COVID-19. 

In a post to the university's website on Thursday, U of A president David Turpin said the decision came after consulting with the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and hearing about conditions and restrictions that will likely remain in the fall.

"That meeting helped to inform our decision to continue with delivering the majority of instruction online, with a mix of other learning opportunities where possible," Turpin wrote.

Turpin said the university is "committed" to still offering in-person learning, labs and clinical instruction to small groups.

Steve Dew, U of A provost and vice-president academic, told CBC's Edmonton AM Friday that students' tuition would not decrease for the fall semester despite the change in learning format.

"There's no cost savings to deliver online," Dew said, adding that online learning can be just as good as in-person lessons.

"If done properly and done to make sure learning components are effective, online learning can be every bit as effective and frankly, as enjoyed by students as face-to-face," he said.

"So we think we can put together a really high-quality learning experience since we have a number of months to get ready for that."

The University of Alberta Students' Union President Joel Agarwal said in an emailed statement that the switch to online classes "was the right thing to do" considering the pandemic.

"We are particularly appreciative that the university made this announcement early, giving students plenty of time to plan for the fall, and committed to offering online alternatives for any courses and labs that can still be delivered in-person, so that students can progress in their programs even if they cannot return to campus," he said.

"Now that this decision has been made, our top priority is ensuring that the high quality of education at the U of A, which students will still be paying thousands of dollars in tuition and fees to access, will not be diminished by the move online."

Effects on students

Students heading to the university in the fall will be able to stay in residences for the fall and winter semester. 

But Dew expects the university won't be able to open all residences because of physical distancing restrictions. 

In his statement, Turpin said there will be accommodation packages for students arriving who may need self-isolation, including international students.

Dew said the semester may look a little different for some international students who are unable to travel. 

"If they can travel here, I think that would be the best experience for them. But we are certainly prepared and expecting many would not be able to travel and for them, they should be able to access the online components. The face-to-face components, we'll be looking to accommodate them either at a different time or place," he said.

"But it might be done a little differently than we would do in a normal term."

Gradual research that was forced to shut down because of COVID-19 will be able to resume later this month after safety precautions are in place, Turpin wrote.

NAIT and MacEwan University are currently offering spring and summer classes online. 

On NAIT's website, school officials say they are "reviewing options for the fall 2020 term in alignment with the provincial guidelines" and will share details soon.

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