Return to class this fall brings relief, concerns to COVID-weary UPEI students

University administrators announced Wednesday that UPEI's fall academic semester will see a return to a "more normal academic experience." What that means come September, remains to be determined.

Fall semester will include 'as much in-person, on-campus learning as possible'

UPEI says it is planning a return to a 'more normal' academic experience in the fall of 2021. (Al MacCormick/CBC)

The classroom never looked so good, as COVID-weary students contemplate a return to in-person learning this fall at the University of Prince Edward Island.

"I would definitely love that. I do prefer in-person classes more," said Vadya Singh, a third-year chemistry major.

Singh was among the few and scattered students on campus Thursday. Mid-term exams now underway have turned the already quiet campus into an even emptier bastion of solitude during COVID-19 shutdown.

"We did pretty good online learning. It was an adjustment for the COVID-19 but I would definitely love to go back to in-person," said Singh.

'A lot of hope'

A ray of hope has arrived.

University administrators announced Wednesday via email to students and staff that UPEI's fall academic semester will see a return to a "more normal academic experience with as much in-person, on-campus learning as possible."

What that means come September, remains to be determined.

"Those are questions we really don't have an answer to," said Kathy Gottschall-Pass, interim vice-president academic and research. 

"With what's been happening in the world with vaccines, we obviously have a lot of hope. When we think that there are variants out there that gives us less hope.

"Our goal is to be somewhere between true, normal, the way the world used to be, and where we are right now."

UPEI's interim vice-president academic and research, Kathy Gottschall-Pass, says it's important for the school to try and return to normal. (CBC News)

Administrators have yet to pin down how large classes will be and how risk reduction strategies, including physical distancing and the wearing of masks, will be applied to the campus's widely divergent classrooms, lecture halls, seminar rooms and laboratories.

Plans include a continuation of online learning for some courses, in-person classroom instruction for others, and "hybrid" combination of the two, as needed.

But the push is on to get people back in the classroom.

"The goal is to see where we can move," said Gottschall-Pass. "We know what normal has looked like in the past. We were always an in-person institution. So we know how to do that."

'Move in the right direction'

UPEI's student union has raised concerns that students from off-Island will shoulder the cost and stress of being required to self-isolate for 14 days when they return to class in the fall.

"It's a positive move in the right direction," said Malak Nassar, student union vice-president academic and external. "But we have huge concerns around students from off-Island."

With help from the province, UPEI said it may put students up in residence rooms or in a local hotel, if required to self-isolate.

"We'll take our guidance from public health as to what we need to do in order to keep our students safe," said Gottschall-Pass.

UPEI's summer sessions will remain primarily online, the statement says. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Universities across Atlantic Canada are looking at more in-person learning, according to the Gottschall-Pass.

"Because things have been so much better here than in other parts of Canada, it's a little easier for us to be thinking more optimistically this fall."

Holland College said its plans for the fall semester will be announced next week.

'In class is better'

Outside the W.A. Murphy Student Centre on Thursday, two members of the UPEI Panthers men's basketball team were talking about what September might hold.

"We're still here training and working hard for next year," said Kamari Scott. "Hopefully it'll be a season next year."

"Being in class is better," said teammate Glen Cox. "You learn a lot more."

The school's course catalogue for the fall semester will specify which courses are delivered in-person, online, or as a "hybrid" combination.

New and first-year students are able to register for fall classes starting March 9. Returning students can register beginning June 1. 

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