Western looks at mix of online, in-person classes for fall term

Western president Alan Shepard issued a statement, saying the university is looking to return with a mixed model of in-person and online classes for the fall semester.

President Alan Shepard calls for patience: 'There's no playbook for this'

Administrators at Western University are looking at ways to ensure the safety of staff, faculty and students when classes resume in the fall. (Dave Chidley/CBC)

Western University expects to return with a mix of online and in-person classes for the fall semester as administrations weigh the best way to ease back into normal operations while trying to keep staff and students safe from COVID-19 infection. 

Administrations' plans for the fall semester were laid out in a statement posted by president Alan Shepard on Wednesday. 

While consultations with various university groups continue, Shepard said the "mixed model" approach offers the right balance of safety while offering as much of the traditional university experience as possible.

"While some might say that moving entirely online in the fall semester is the most straightforward solution, I am persuaded that the mixed model would ultimately be better for our community," he said. "The isolation of the last two months has reminded us all of the essential value of being together."

Shepard said moving to this model is a complex endeavour, encompassing everything from ensuring physical distancing at student residences, eating areas, transportation as well as dealing with students arriving from overseas. A total of 250 students are also being hired to help instructors move their courses online. 

'We need to be nimble'

"The logistical challenges are indeed daunting," he said. "We'll need to be nimble, and plan with the right amount of flexibility for any significant changes that might come."

And while Western has put a freeze on all non-essential hiring, the university has stepped up hiring to support online learning. Eleven staff with education design support qualifications are being hired. The university has also doubled the number of trained student staff in the Instruction Technology Resource Centre. 

Western hopes to have plans for fall courses finalized by June 1. 

As for staff and faculty, Shepard's statement says any return to on-campus work will be gradual. 

Faculty members can return to their offices on June 3 "unless we receive new direction from government or health authorities."

Staff that have to return to campus will be notified by their superiors, the statement says. 

"There is no playbook for this, and we appreciate the flexibility, support and patience of the campus community as we move through this transition."