Coronavirus: Alberta universities look to mostly online courses for fall semester

Click to play video: 'Alberta students call for reduced tuition as universities release fall semester details'
Alberta students call for reduced tuition as universities release fall semester details
WATCH: Some Alberta students are demanding a reduction in tuition costs after universities unveiled tentative plans for the 2020 fall semester. As Blake Lough reports, some feel the drastic changes in how courses are taught should translate to lower costs – May 15, 2020

Alberta universities and other post-secondary institutions are preparing students for the reality of mostly online courses again in the fall as they continue to adapt to the constantly evolving COVID-19 pandemic situation.

In a news release, University of Alberta president David Turpin said there will be a “mix of learning experiences” when students return for the fall semester.

“In September 2020, the majority of our classes will be delivered remotely and online,” Turpin said.

“However, where possible, we are committed to providing small-group in-person learning and experiential learning such as labs and clinical instruction, especially in those programs where in-person instruction is essential.”

Turpin said if some students can’t attend in-person classes, the school will work with them to make sure their programs and progress continue.

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University of Alberta Students’ Union president Joel Agarwal said the students appreciate the clarity.

“We’re quite happy with the university’s approach to moving online,” he said.

“The university has been committed to ensuring that there are alternatives for students who may not be able to attend in person, but also for students having trouble with online delivery.”

Agarwal said he hopes faculties are in touch soon with more details.

“We do know students have some questions around specifics of which courses will be offered online or in-person.”

Click to play video: 'Post-secondary uncertainty in Edmonton'
Post-secondary uncertainty in Edmonton

Turpin said the university’s decision was made based on a meeting with the province’s chief medical officer of health, which “has given us a much better perspective on conditions and restrictions that will likely remain in the fall.”

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The university will work to make sure students have the supports they need whether they’re on or off the campus.

“Just as we will find the best and safest mix for our learning environments, we will continue to foster the fullest university life experience possible for our students both on and off campus,” Turpin said.

“We will seek new opportunities to connect students and support our community virtually so that everyone can feel a U of A circle of support, whether they are able to be in Alberta this September or not.”

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University provost and academic vice-president Steve Dew said this format of learning will continue for the duration of the semester.

“We won’t be back to normal until there’s either a vaccine or really effective therapies, and at this point, I don’t think anyone is expecting us to achieve that, certainly before Christmas.”

The U of A will also open up residences in the fall for students in need of accommodations, but probably not all of them.

“Not all of our residences are going to be appropriate,” Dew said.

“The more dormitory-style residences will be more difficult for us to deliver, due the high degree of sharing of space, but we have many apartment-style residences.”

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He added that there will be no shared rooms on campus.

University of Calgary

At the University of Calgary, the situation will look much the same.

In a statement on its website, the school said students will see “a combination of face-to-face and online or remote learning.”

“We have arrived at this approach after review of public health guidelines, consultation with public health experts and consideration of our unique circumstances,” president Ed McCauley said.

To start, about 30 per cent of the normal number of students will be on each of the school’s campuses at a time, the university said, adding that “priority will be given to small classes and experiential learning opportunities such as labs, tutorials and seminars.”

“Safety measures, such as limits on the size of gatherings, and public health guidelines will need to be observed,” McCauley said.

Students can expect more detailed information about which courses will be in person or online in June, as faculties are currently making recommendations on course offerings that fit into the plan. Information on other things like ancillary programs and residences will also come in June.

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“The COVID-19 situation is evolving,” McCauley said. “There will not be one moment that we are safely able to resume normal life. It will be a journey, and there will be setbacks.”

Mount Royal University

Mount Royal University said it is planning on offering mostly virtual classes in the fall.

“Our planning assumption is that for the fall we’ll be in the exact same situation,” MRU president Tim Rahilly said. “Of course, there may be exceptions to that for courses that require hands-on activities or for accreditation where hands on is required and we’ll have to work out the exact manner in which we’ll do that for each of the courses.

“I would say the vast majority of our students will be doing virtual or online. We’re working through the exact courses that would require face-to-face instruction or some kind of other modality.”

Rahilly said this isn’t a final decision yet and that the school would make a final decision on its fall semester by June 30. He said the school needs to give professors enough time to plan their courses and students enough time to digest how they will be learning this fall.

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The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology has decided that fall courses will be delivered virtually wherever possible. The school’s vice president of academics said they hope to be able to offer limited in-person learning in labs and shops in the fall, if provincial guidelines permit.

“While we expect most courses will continue this fall, we recognize that it may not be possible to deliver some courses because of current health restrictions,” Sue Fitzsimmons wrote.

“Over the next few weeks, program staff will make decisions about which courses they are able to offer. They will communicate with students this week to let them know when they can expect to hear these decisions,” Fitzsimmons wrote on May 19.

She said the school is working closely with Apprenticeship and Industry Training (AIT) as officials make plans for how they will resume apprenticeship programs.

“Apprentices will hear more from NAIT and AIT once these decisions have been made,” Fitzsimmons said.


The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology has also decided to deliver the majority of its fall 2020 programming online.

“The health and safety of our SAIT community remains our top priority, and the decision was made in consideration of provincial health restrictions and guidelines,” read a statement on the school’s website on June 10.

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Most SAIT classes will be delivered remotely, supported by virtual meeting technology and simulations. School officials are looking at delivering a limited number of in-person labs and classes on campus, with start dates yet to be determined.

The school said it will prioritize those that cannot be delivered online, starting with deferred winter 2020 courses.

MacEwan University

MacEwan University in Edmonton will offer the majority of its fall term online.

“The university’s first priority in making this decision is to protect the health and safety of our students and employees,” university provost and vice president academic Craig Monk said in a statement on May 27.

“In our planning, we continue to reference the recommendations for phased re-opening made in Alberta’s Relaunch Strategy, as well as provincial guidelines and health orders.”

The university recognizes some programming labs, clinical work and fine arts programming cannot be delivered online. Over the next few weeks, Monk said the school will put plans in place to offer these courses safely in person, or in combination with online programming.

“Our faculties and schools are preparing plans for delivery of individual programs, including details about work experience, practicum placements and clinical experiences.”

University of Lethbridge

The University of Lethbridge said while it plans to gradually ease restrictions for access to its Lethbridge campus over the summer months, the provincial guidance for post-secondary institutions still directs them to “limit in-person attendance on campus as much as possible.”

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Because of this, the U of L will also offer the majority of its courses online this fall.

“Our priority is the health and safety of the campus and local community, so strict access guidelines will remain in place,” read a statement on the university’s website.

“Faculty, staff and students who can work from home must continue to do so. We recognize the significant disruption this has caused and appreciate everyone’s continued efforts to do their utmost to limit the spread.”

With files from Caley Ramsay, Global News.

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