In April 2020, a special taskforce was struck to explore the University of Lethbridge’s academic delivery options in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of this extensive work, I can share with you that teaching and learning activities at our Lethbridge and Calgary campuses will be held primarily online for the Fall 2020 Semester.
Thank you to the committee members who have helped us reach this point and have guided our decision making. In coming to this conclusion, the safety of our students, faculty and staff has been and will continue to be our top priority. We must ensure we are maintaining a safe environment consistent with Alberta’s public safety guidelines and in line with public health directives. The welfare of our students, faculty and staff as they learn, teach and work is of the utmost importance.
Why are we making this decision now?
It is important to share this decision with our community now for a number of reasons. First and foremost, for our world-class faculty members, it affords them the opportunity to fully prepare for an online delivery model. A quality academic experience is the hallmark of a U of L education and this will remain true regardless of how our curriculum is delivered. Our faculty members are preparing their course materials for online delivery and the University is providing enhanced training and acquiring new technology to aid these preparations.
Today’s decision also considers the University’s enrolment profile. The U of L attracts students from across Alberta, throughout Canada, and from around the world thanks to the unique nature of its student experience. By finalizing decisions about the delivery model for the fall semester, it provides clarity for our incoming students that regardless of where they are from; their academic journey can begin with us now and then transition to a more traditional model when health directives allow.
For our continuing students, this decision allows us to focus our efforts on doing all we can to ensure they have the opportunity to graduate on time, as planned. We understand this will require some flexibility and we will have to adjust policies and practices as well as increase course offerings in future terms as necessary to meet these goals.
I also want to make clear that we will end the semester as it begins, subject to public health requirements, thereby allowing our students, faculty and staff certainty in the coming months. All the while, we will work to weave in enhancements to the student experience as we are able.
Will there be any in-person experiences?
The primary mode of all course delivery will be through an online model, but we recognize some experiential activities cannot be transitioned to an online context.
As a result, some face-to-face experiential learning activities will be permitted to take place this fall, including select labs, studio sessions, practicum experiences and clinical placements. These will occur on the Lethbridge campus and at off-site placements. Other experiential learning opportunities will be offered for students using online and remote methods. Deans will have the flexibility to structure these in ways that make sense for each discipline.
Those students involved in experiential learning courses will be expected to be in Lethbridge but can choose to take those courses in a future term if moving to Lethbridge is not possible. Alternatives will be provided for students, faculty or staff who cannot attend in person, including in future terms. A preliminary list of in-person experiential courses and activities will be available for students by June 15.
What student supports will be available?
The U of L is renowned for its breadth of robust student services and these will continue. All student services will be accessible, whether online, via phone, or in person, as appropriate. Mental health support will be offered online throughout the fall term, with group and one-on-one options also available. If public health directives permit, in-person counselling will also be provided. We have also developed a series of virtual workshops to support students’ online learning success, as well as tutoring and learning strategy sessions to assist students.
Graduate Student support
The U of L recognizes that graduate students are also planning to participate in traditional types of learning in classrooms and labs as well as carrying out their own research. Graduate classroom activities, either as a student or as Graduate Assistants (GAs), will fall under the guidelines outlined here. Faculties will provide further information as to which courses will be offered remotely, and which may be face-to-face. As indicated above, alternatives will be provided for students who cannot attend in person. As well, training and support will be offered over the summer months to help prepare GAs who may be involved in the remote delivery of courses.
While we do not yet have a timeline for a return to research activities, we are very much aware of this need for our graduate students and will do our best to support them when we are able to return to campus and as they continue to progress through their programs.
Some types of critical research (e.g. related to COVID-19) have been permitted to continue throughout the campus restrictions. When we are advised by public health officials, we will develop a process for the gradual relaunch of further research and creative activities.
Enhancing the student experience
While we will be utilizing a primarily online delivery, our campus will still be central to the student experience. We will create a sense of connection and support and reduce isolation through community-building initiatives. These will include small group gatherings, the opening of our library for restricted in-person services and the utilization of our residence spaces and food services to support the full student experience.
As a whole, we appreciate our students had different expectations of what their university experience would entail. This expectation has changed for all institutions and students around the world and yet it should not dampen excitement for our fall semester. A sense of normalcy will eventually return and until that time, the University of Lethbridge will continue to offer the robust, high-quality learning experience for which it is known.
Mike Mahon, PhD
President and Vice-Chancellor