The University of Alberta will have a blended learning environment for Fall 2020 to ensure the safety of students, staff, and faculty as the province’s phased-in COVID-19 relaunch occurs.
Due to COVID-19 precautions, most students will continue learning through remote delivery while some courses requiring in-person components or experiential learning, like labs or clinicals, will be delivered in small sessions. University residences will reopen for Fall 2020 and special spaces for staff, faculty, or students needing to self-isolate will also be made available through the residence system.
The decision was announced by a blog post posted by U of A President David Turpin on May 13 at approximately 4 p.m. and in an email to students.
Turpin said the priority for the university is to ensure students can still progress with their degree programs despite the COVID-19 precautions. No indication was given as to what students could expect for Winter 2021.
“In September 2020, the majority of our classes will be delivered remotely and online, he said. “However, where possible, we are committed to providing small group in-person learning and experiential learning.”
“In cases where students cannot join activities in-person, we commit that alternate arrangements will be made so that progress in programs can continue.”
According to the blog post, research activity is being prepared to restart gradually later this month once personal protective equipment and the correct safeguards are in place to protect students and staff from COVID-19. Additionally, the post mentioned that student supports including mental health and financial resources, academic advising, and career counselling would continue to be offered online for all students in Alberta and abroad.
Turpin said regardless of where students are currently, the university would seek new opportunities to ensure they remained connected throughout their Fall 2020 semester.
“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,” he said. “A vibrant learning experience includes a host of services and activities that create and support student life and success.”
Turpin said the decision comes after the provincial government announced phase one of the COVID-19 relaunch on May 13 and conversations with the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
“Yesterday, we spoke with the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health which has given us a much better perspective on conditions and restrictions that will likely remain in the fall,” Turpin said in the blog post. “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.”
He added that a “quality learning environment is a safe learning environment.”
“This decision allows our community to deal with some of our current uncertainty. Students and instructors can now move forward with planning and decision making knowing the direction we’ve set.”
According to the provincial government relaunch strategy, post-secondary institutions will continue course delivery and be permitted “flexibility” for in-person delivery only once existing public health orders prohibiting in-person classes are lifted.
For Turpin the relaunch announcement for Fall 2020 only marks the “first step” as planning progresses and more decisions are made.
“There is much more planning underway and details will be made available as plans are developed and implemented.”
“Throughout our planning, we will continue to work with the Ministry of Advanced Education and the Chief Medical Officer to ensure that we are meeting public health and safety guidelines. As the fall term progresses, we must be prepared to be flexible.”