New Brunswick

University students back to class, not many back on campus

It's the first week of university, and students are adjusting to a new reality on campus.

Students and teachers miss the energy of a busy campus

Chemistry professor Barry Blight is using his tablet to deliver his next lecture. (Gary Moore/CBC)

The student union building on the UNB campus in Fredericton would normally be bustling with people at the start of a new school year. But this year, it's almost a ghost town.

Occasionally, a student walks through the empty space to grab a coffee from the only restaurant that's open.

Geology grad student Edward Wu said it feels like an extended summer break.

"Usually on the first week the whole campus would be packed with rejoining students or new students," Wu said. 

Despite the eerie feeling around school, Wu said he was anticipating a different university experience this year.

A rare sight to see the student union building empty during the first week of classes. (Gary Moore/CBC)

 "Everything has been almost normalized," he said. "So, I'm not feeling anxious or weird about it."

Wu said it's rare that he passes another person while he's walking around campus, and admits he misses seeing people. 

Masks are required in all buildings on campus and the floors are marked with red tape to ensure people walk in specific directions, and keep to their own lane. 

Outside of the student union building, Jacob Bilby is eating his lunch by himself, an unusual sight  for a place where students are usually hanging out in the late summer sun.

Bilby is a third year math and physics student. He said he misses the energy of having people around on campus.

Grad student Edward Wu says he rarely passes another person on campus. (Gary Moore/CBC )

"It's just kinda part of the university experience," Bilby said "It kinda weakens it a little bit when there's no one else around."

Bilby is also living on campus, in an apartment-style unit with two roommates.

He said it's quite different because of the strict oversight of residence administration.

"There are mandatory meetings, guidelines, and there's absolutely no guests allowed, and you have to have your mask on while you're walking around the hallway."

"Any other year you'd all be out hanging in the hallways talking."

University students in Fredericton are adjusting to a completely different experience with most classes online. 2:12

One thing that Bilby is enjoying this year is being able to attend his lectures from the comfort of his dorm.

In order to keep students off campus, the majority of classes have moved online. 

Online classes

Barry Blight is an associate professor in the chemistry department. He delivered his first live lecture of the semester on Wednesday — through a video call with 108 students. 

"I'd much rather be in person, make self-deprecating jokes and try and convince students that organic chemistry is the best thing in the world," Blight said about the new way of teaching. 

Blight said he's also pre-recording some of his lectures, but admits it's not how he would like to teach.

"It's pretty hard to get motivated to record the lectures," he said. "We feed off the energy of the students, we play to the crowd."

Third year student Jacob Bilby says he misses the energy of having people around on campus. (Gary Moore/CBC)

Blight said Wednesday's live video class still gave him a way to interact with his students, and the software he uses has a "raise hand" feature so students can still ask questions.

"Strangely enough they are our new generation and they're used to tech, and they're used to software, and they're used to FaceTime and Skype and Zoom."

He said even though it's not his ideal for him, the students are already used to the experience. 

About the Author

Gary Moore

CBC News

Gary Moore is a video journalist based in Fredericton.


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