Western University’s president, Alan Shepard, among colleagues, updated thousands of students, staff and faculty about plans for the upcoming fall semester in a virtual town hall on Monday.
The semester will see a gradual return to on-campus learning for students and staff, while a majority of classes will be online, with a few courses using in-person elements.
“Western continues to be one of the great universities, often in the top one per cent of universities worldwide,” said Shepard. “We feel that we have a responsibility to our students, to our employees, faculty, staff and also alumni of the university and more broadly to the society we serve.”
The administrators took student's burning questions via their social media pages and a live Q&A.
What will academics look like?
Despite most courses running online, students will not see a reduction in tuition for the upcoming year.
Students can review course offerings and their method of delivery on Draft My Schedule and Student Centre as on June 1.
All students will have on-campus opportunities through meetings like office hours with professors, even if their entire course-load is online. The likelihood of chatting face-to-face with professors will vary for each student depending on their program and year of study, as will students’ ability to learn remotely for all of next year.
“It certainly won’t be a normal fall semester,” said Andrew Hrymak, Western's provost and vice-president of academics. “But we still want to make it as positive of an experience as we can.”
Western is also exploring e-proctoring software to monitor online exams, or the possibility of in-person exams with social distancing measures.
What will the return to campus look like?
Students can expect to see campus quieter than they left it, as social distancing will significantly reduce capacity.
Lynn Logan, vice-president operations and finance, said a “return to campus questionnaire” will be introduced and those returning to campus will be required to answer questions daily to assess the risk of the coronavirus spreading on campus.
“We will be advancing that on the advice of public health authorities,” Logan said during the Q&A session.
Logan added that wearing non-medical masks on-campus is highly recommended, but will not be enforced. Western is also looking to provide reusable masks to all students, staff and faculty.
What will be open on campus?
Since May 12, Western’s Facilities Management has adopted a sanitization process using a hydrogen peroxide-based cleaning solution recommended by Middlesex-London Health Unit.
Western intends to open some facilities on campus such as libraries and the Western Student Recreation Centre.
Shepard says he expects food locations on campus, such as Tim Hortons, will be open, with social distancing in line-ups.
The university is also exploring outdoor food options like increasing the amount of food trucks on campus to limit crowding indoors.
What can students expect in residence?
All first-year students who intend to live in residence will be provided accommodation.
Western plans to "de-densify" residence buildings by eliminating double rooms and converting them to singles.
But, students are able to live with a roommate if they request to share a dorm with a friend — and according to Logan, 882 requests have been made.
These students will be put in a “hybrid double room” with a shared bathroom, presumably in Ontario Hall or Perth Hall, to maximize the space between the individuals. The MLHU supports the university's housing strategy.
What can international students expect?
For international students planning to live in residence, Western will offer early move-in days. Beginning Aug. 13 through 18, international students can begin their mandatory 14 day isolation period, free of charge.
“We are committed to providing equitable access to education," Hrymak said. “International students are a critical part of the fabric of Western.”
Western is also aware some countries do not have the same broadband access as Canada, restricting students’ access to virtual platforms needed for e-learning. The university is exploring options to make sure students can access class material.
What about the winter term?
Shepard said he hopes campus can return to normal in the winter term if public health regulations allow.
“If things are cleared up by the winter term we would plan to go back into full regular mode,” said Shepard. “Some universities are saying the whole year is cancelled … [but] we’re not doing that — that’s a decision we made.”
Shepard repeated that students have to determine for themselves — based on the limits of their program of study — how they plan to return to campus, whether that’s now or later.
“Just remember to try to be generous to each other and flexible as we try to make the most of this difficult situation,” said Shepard.