Eduvation Blog

Insider Archive – March 2020

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This archive reproduces our email updates in reverse-chronological order for the month of March 2020.


Tuesday March 31, 2020

On the eve of April Fool’s Day, I suspect there will be very little organized silliness on campuses tomorrow. (Your 4-legged and 2-legged co-workers at home may have other plans.)

We’re at 8,500 COVID-19 cases in Canada and 170,000 in the US, with best-case projections of about 200,000 deaths in North America. In Canadian higher ed, Carleton has just announced that an employee tested positive, bringing the total of announcements to 27 cases.

Today, Manitoba announced that K-12 schools would stay closed “indefinitely,” and Ontario extended school closures until at least May 3. In response, Nipissing announced today that it would extend employee WFH (work from home) until May 1. Likewise, China announced today that they are postponing the gaokao, the 9-hour university entrance exam, one month until July 7.

On the upside, Ontario also committed $25 million this morning to help PSE with COVID emergency expenses, and Alberta has pushed back the start date for their new performance-based funding model by two months, until the end of May.

Grading: TRU is giving students the option to withdraw from a course after receiving a failing grade, but cannot offer a pass/fail option because of software limitations. Algonquin College announced that students can convert a passing letter grade to “aegrotat” (Latin for “he/she is ill”).

Also today: MRU closed its campus to the public; uRegina and TRU cancelled spring convocation; and uLethbridgeand Ryerson announced that spring term courses will be offered exclusively online.

Researchers at McGill and UofT launched COVID-19 Resources Canada to coordinate volunteers and donation initiatives, research and expertise, with a primary focus on researchers and government policymakers.

Campus Spaces: Trent and uOttawa have offered up empty residence rooms for the use of front-line healthcare workers, who want to self-isolate or stay away from their families. Queen’s and St Lawrence College are reportedly considering it, and there may be others (please let me know – I wasn’t recording this until today). In a similar vein, uAlberta’s 64,000 sq ft “Butterdome” will be used as a secondary assessment and treatment centre by Alberta Health Services.

On the COVID Communications side:

Sheridan has been sharing thankful messages with students on Twitter and Instagram, from “we know this wasn’t the way you wanted to end the school year,” to a video of mascot Bruno practising physical distancing.

Western has a “Digital Student Experience” microsite, which centralizes access to academic and learning supports, career development, fitness and nutrition, health, leadership and social connection supports, and lists upcoming “events” (webinars) in a sidebar.

Algonquin College launched a redesigned COVID-19 microsite today.

uMontréal will be illuminating its bell tower with rainbow lights “as a sign of solidarity and hope.”


Tonight I’ll leave you with this inspiring message from Gordon Gee, president of West Virginia University:

“This is a black swan moment for our country, which requires universities to lead and not follow. As we work through current challenges, we must constantly fix our eyes on the future. We must learn from our mistakes and from what we do right. Because changes to our world will linger after this virus subsides, we must find ways to educate and sustain our university families while operating in a new environment.”


All the more inspiration for me to finish that “long-term effects” article…

Stay tuned… and stay safe!


Monday March 30, 2020

Good evening all,

The COVID-19 pandemic continues apace, with about 170,000 cases in North America (7288 in Canada). My spreadsheet and daily scan continues to grow, too, now reaching 82 Canadian institutions with the addition of Yukon College and Tyndale University. (You can check out the full spreadsheet on its new page.)

Today the Ontario government extended its state of emergency by another 2 weeks, and Manitoba ordered all non-critical business closed April 1-14.

Almost two-thirds of institutions have now announced that their spring/summer terms will be delivered online, with the addition of Seneca and StFX today.

Almost three-quarters of institutions have now announced they will postpone convocations (now including Fanshawe, Laurier, Waterloo, uVic, VIU, and Yukon College). The announcement is always delivered with regret, but VIU president Deb Saucier had a lovely metaphor:

“A university journey is never a straight path; there are many twists and turns along the way, and this time the universe threw in a major curve. Navigating through this unforeseen turn of events has taken courage and forced us all to face unexpected challenges.”

Speaking of curve balls, while McGill discontinued their COVID-19 self-reporting process this weekend, today Sheridan announced that they were about to launch one. There’s plenty of variety across the country, even when consensus seems to be forming.

For another example, almost 40% of institutions have now announced temporary flexible grading policies and/or academic forgiveness for students. Today 4 institutions in Nova Scotia announced (Acadia, StFX, MSVU, and NSCC), as well as York, Windsor, and uRegina. Some institutions have indicated that they are still considering the issue, while many others have been silent on the matter. But what is striking is that two Alberta institutions (MacEwan and SAIT) have announced the opposite: that they will NOT adjust grading, citing academic rigour and credit transfer concerns.

Every institution is operating in a different context, with different programs, students, and history. But all of them will need to reconsider their strategic and business planning in the wake of the biggest disruption in a generation. I’ve started detailing the impacts and opportunities in a series of blogs. The final instalment is going to take me a bit longer to finish, but it will try to sum up the implications of COVID-19 for the rest of the decade. There will certainly be challenges, but also some real opportunities, if we only allow ourselves to see them.

Stay tuned… and stay safe!


Sunday March 29, 2020

It really was a quiet weekend for COVID on Canadian campuses, thankfully.

By request, I have added Capilano, Okanagan College, Trinity Western, and Redeemer data to the spreadsheet, bringing the total to 80 institutions now.

Since my update Friday night:

Algonquin and Saint Mary’s U (Halifax) announced that they are postponing convocation, bringing the total to 51 now (64%).

SAIT announced that their spring/summer term will be delivered online only. Algonquin has indicated that they will start online, but hope to be back in the classroom by the end of June.

Mount Royal, uVic, uLaval, Saint Mary’s and Mount Allison all introduced credit/no credit options for students instead of grades. (Bringing us now to 25 out of 80, or 31%, offering some form of grading flexibility). Only uAlbertahas gone so far as to say that NO letter grades will be assigned, but that all students will be graded as credit or no credit.

This weekend I got the chance to reorganize Eduvation’s COVID-19 webpages. You’ll find a new top-level menu, and a landing page describing the 7 articles to date. I have rewritten the “COVID-19 on Campus” page to provide a current summary only, and moved the Archive of daily updates and full spreadsheet of COVID data to separate pages.

I’ve also finally published parts 3 and 4 of my series on the strategic implications of COVID-19. Still working on part 5, the long-term effects of the pandemic. (Give me a few more days!)

Some other interesting tidbits from the weekend:

McGill announced that they are discontinuing the self-reporting form requirement, now that the campus has been closed for 14 days.

The Office of Co-Curricular Engagement & Learning at Vancouver Island U is holding “online social strengthening events” using Zoom. Maybe public events don’t have to come to a complete stop!

Which reminds me (shameless plug), if you’d like to explore ways to hold a retreat, workshop, or campuswide event virtually, please drop me a line!

Stay tuned… and stay safe!


Friday March 27, 2020

There were quite a few end-of-week messages and updates today, and decisions made yesterday by academic senates.

Convocations: Another 9 institutions announced the cancellation or postponement of spring or summer convocations (UBC, Red River, SaskPolytech, Western, Laurentian, Guelph, Ryerson, Carleton and uOttawa). That brings the total to 47 so far, 63% of the list.

Grading: 6 more institutions announced that they would be giving students an option to convert poor or failing grades (Dal, Laurier, Queen’s, Carleton, Ontario Tech, and Sheridan), bringing the total to 20 now, or 27% of the list. Generally, students can make the decision after their final grades are decided, for as many courses as they wish from this term. Failing grades can be converted to unsatisfactory, illness, withdrawn or fails so that they do not impact the calculation of GPA or progression within the program. In many cases, they also will not count as a course attempt.

Returning to Campus? Almost all institutions have either announced that their spring/summer terms will be delivered exclusively online, or that a decision has not yet been made. A few Ontario colleges are still hoping students will return to classes for hands-on labs when K-12 classes resume, although that is looking further and further in the future all the time. Last I heard, Ryerson was still “planning” on a normal summer term. Today Cambrian College announced that their spring term will include online courses and some on-campus class work with appropriate social distancing.

Thankfully, nobody in Canada is quite as crazy as Virginia’s Liberty University, helmed by Jerry Falwell Jr, who has (astoundingly) called for all students to return to campus, just as the pandemic is exploding in the US. (At this writing there are more than 100,000 confirmed cases in the US, and 604 confirmed or presumptive in Virginia.)

A growing number of institutions are starting to focus on positive news stories in their COVID pages, from new supports for students to equipment donations, volunteer hours, and COVID vaccine research. Laurier is maintaining a blog of “stories of sharing, helping and kindness.” Sheridan has curated social media posts on their COVID page.


Thursday March 26, 2020

Thank you all for your continued encouragement as I monitor the good, bad and ugly of the coronavirus pandemic across Canadian higher education. I’m glad to be doing something useful for you, as the sector copes with the nation’s biggest societal and economic upheaval in decades. Last night I was asked to add ECUAD and Olds College to the list, so we’re now at 75 institutions.

Cases: In the past 24 hours we have seen massive increases in the reported COVID-19 cases in Newfoundland & Labrador (now at 67) and Quebec (now at 1,339). Canada now reports more than 3,500 confirmed cases. The only new case among the 75 PSE institutions I’m watching was at York University, where a student in Founders Residence “is neither presumptive nor confirmed as COVID-19” but has led to the entire residence self-isolating and monitoring for symptoms. (I’m treating that as a presumptive case, since it sparked a residence lockdown.)

Grading: Most of the announcements today were about changes to grading practices for this term. Concordia is offering students the option to convert a grade to pass/fail. Ryerson students can choose between letter grades or CRD, or can drop the course after receiving their final grade for a “NCR” designation. uManitoba will let students choose to exclude any course grades from the calculation of their GPA. SFU students can choose a “Pass” grade, and failing grades will not count towards their GPAs this term. That brings us to 13 institutions on the list who have announced grading options for students (17%).

Convocations: This morning, both Nipissing and Lakehead announced that they will be postponing convocation. This brings the total to 39, or 52% of the list.  (My apologies to folks at SAIT by the way. The spreadsheet has always been correct, but I misspoke in my March 24 newsletter when I included them in the list who had decided – I should have said NAIT.)

Also in the past 24 hours, Concordia announced that their summer term will be delivered online only, Brandon University that its campus will close Friday at noon, and uLethbridge that the campus is moving to “restricted access” starting Monday.

Some other trends appearing among announcements in the past few days:

Online Fitness: The athletics departments at many institutions are offering online fitness courses, videos and resources for staff and students. UoGuelph and Conestoga, for example, are offering workout classes on Instagram Live. uManitoba’srecreation department is posting workouts on YouTube. (I’m certainly glad that I bought a treadmill for Christmas!)

Financial Supports: In addition to the emergency bursary programs and loaner laptop programs on many campuses, McMaster has just announced another bright idea to support students: for the next 3 months, there will be no interest or late fees on student accounts. (Others may be doing similar things, quietly.)

Cybersecurity: Now that most institutions’ staff and faculty are working from home, I’m also noticing an increasing emphasis on cybersecurity. Quite a few institutions are warning employees about phishing scams and VPN security.


Wednesday March 25, 2020

The past 24 hours have been relatively stable on Canadian campuses. 74% posted no COVID-19 updates at all, and the rest often focused on minor administrative announcements, such as details about meal plan credits (uWindsor), travel reimbursements (uWaterloo), or grad studies oral exams (uManitoba). Collège Boréal announced today that they will no longer issue daily updates. Carleton’s President and Red River’s Elder shared messages focused on mental health and wellbeing, rather that operational updates.

Unfortunately Bishop’s has just reported their first confirmed case, a subcontractor’s office worker who had not been on campus for 12 days prior to symptoms emerging.

Health Services: In the wake of provincial declarations and essential service models, more and more institutions have been announcing that drop-in student health services are shifting to a telephone-based approach, as a first point of contact.

Spring Terms: 5 more institutions have now announced that their spring/summer terms would be delivered online only (NBCC, MtA, York, UFV, and UBC), bringing the total to 51%.

Grading: McGill and uLethbridge announced that students would have the option of taking a satisfactory/unsatisfactory (or credit/no credit) instead of course grades. They join 8 other institutions, mostly universities, who have made similar announcements in the past week.

Convocations: UNB and uToronto announced that spring convocation was cancelled or postponed (bringing the total to 49% now). Several institutions are planning to livestream athletics awards ceremonies online on Twitter or Instagram. Maine’s Kennebec Valley Community College is reportedly planning a graduation ceremony at a drive-in movie theatre.

Financial Supports: So far we’ve seen 10 institutions announce emergency bursaries and student relief funds; last night VIU announced that its Foundation and Student Union have jointly launched a $250,000 fundraising campaign as well.

Internet Access: I mentioned previously that institutions are attempting to provide internet access on campus for students, through lounges or computing labs. UFV has taken a different approach, providing wifi hotspots in parking lots for staff, faculty and student use.

Privacy: And in the past few days, institutions are starting to address issues of privacy and confidentiality for remote workers, from encrypted devices and locked file drawers to using care that confidential phone conversations are not overheard by others.


Tuesday March 24, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, with almost 2,000 confirmed cases across Canada, and almost 800 presumptive cases in Quebec alone. So far, I have recorded 23 confirmed or presumptive cases on campuses, including two new cases at McGill and uLeth. (Now that campuses are closed, institutions may no longer be asked to disclose every case.)  

Essential Services: Ontario is forcing all “non-essential” workplaces to close tomorrow, prompting institutions in the province to review their own operations. As a result, Cambrian, McMaster, Nipissing, and OntarioTech explicitly announced a move to an “essential services” model today. Further west, similar announcements were made by NAIT, SAIT uRegina, uSask, and Red River as well. In addition, SaskPolytech, uAlberta, and uLethbridge announced new measures to restrict access to buildings.(By my count, that makes at least 56 institutions out of 73, or 76%, who have moved to essential services only.)

Convocations: In the past 24 hours, 7 more institutions postponed or cancelled spring convocation (including NAIT, Cambrian, uWindsor, Ontario Tech, McMaster and York), and Red River announced the postponement of their Graduation Pow Wow. (That brings us to 34 out of 73, or 47% of the institutions I am watching.) The Brock Badgers (Athletics) Awards Gala will be held on Instagram Live tomorrow, instead of in person.

Spring Terms: 6 more institutions have confirmed that their spring and/or summer semesters will be delivered online only: UPEI, uOttawa, uCalgary, SFU, Kwantlen and McMaster confirmed today, and George Brown announced that they would not be accepting any new full-time first-semester students in May. (That brings us to 29 thus far.)

Grading: With uWaterloo’s announcement yesterday, a total of 7 institutions have announced the option for students or faculty to choose pass/fail or credit/no credit instead of numeric or letter grades for current courses. Most strikingly, UoGuelph appears to have moved its drop date to May 20, after final grades are awarded (so students can choose pass/fail, numeric grade, or to drop the course entirely).

PPE: Quite a few institutions with health programs but not hospitals on campus have announced that they are donating face masks and personal protective equipment to local frontline workers.

Financial Supports: 5 more institutions have announced a variety of emergency relief funds for students, some managed by the student union, and some using existing bursary funds.

IT Strains: Sandra Gabriele, the Vice-Provost of Innovation in Teaching & Learning at Concordia (Montreal), observed this morning that 1,300 faculty have participated in daily Zoom webinar training sessions, and that ITS received 2,250 help tickets in the first day of online teaching. No doubt most campuses are experiencing similar challenges in making a massive migration!


Monday March 23, 2020

Across the country, provincial states of emergency have been tightening restrictions for several days. Most now include forced closure of non-essential and personal service businesses, dentists, sit-down dining, schools and daycares. Increasingly they are imposing 14-day isolation on travellers from any other province, as well as other countries. They establish fines and police enforcement for social distancing requirements, and in some cases now cap gatherings at no more than 5 people.

In Nova Scotia, heightened restrictions led Dalhousie, Cape Breton U, and NSCC to announce Sunday night that they are closing their campuses and moving to virtual operations. In Saskatchewan, several institutions moved to close more of their campuses and impose additional precautions.

Yesterday I shared an analysis of the epidemiological and economic forecasts, suggesting that the true Scale of the Pandemic would extend this shutdown well into the fall. Right on cue, the provinces are starting to admit that a two-week state of emergency was just for starters. On Sunday night the province of Quebec extended its 2-week closure of schools by an additional 5 weeks, until May 1. (Most PSE institutions will begin online instruction by the end of March, but other staff will now be working remotely.) Likewise earlier today, the premier of Ontario admitted that K-12 schools will not reopen on April 6 as planned. (The province unveiled an online learning platform last week.)

In a message to the Queen’s community today, principal Patrick Deane made a provocative observation I’d like to share:

“It is easy to overlook the momentous shift that has occurred over the last seven days as over a million university students across Canada have moved their learning online or onto other remote platforms…  [H]ad we planned to do the same thing outside of the context of a public health emergency, we would have been hard pressed to manage it in less than a decade!”

Saturday March 21 – Sunday March 22

Like VIU and uLaval, I thought I would give you a two-day respite from relentless COVID-19 news, but here’s my recap of the past 48 hours:

14 campuses now report 21 confirmed or presumptive cases. Western and George Brown reported cases on Friday night, uAlberta on Saturday, and poor uCalgary added 4 more cases to the one reported earlier. (These numbers are going to quickly become a blur as cases proliferate exponentially.)

This weekend, Manitoba and Nova Scotia joined all the other provinces in declaring states of emergency, prompting uManitoba and Saint Mary’s to announce campus closures starting Monday. On Sunday (Mar 22), uCalgary and College of the Rockies also announced that their campuses would be closed effective immediately, although staff could retrieve items on Monday (Mar 23).

Across the country, we’re now at about two-thirds of campuses (47 of 73) who have transitioned to essential services models.

Looking forward, one-third of institutions (24 of 73) have also now announced that spring/summer classes will be delivered online only. TRU even notes, regarding its Fall Semester, that “face-to-face classroom instruction will remain suspended until health officials advise social distancing measures are no longer required.”

Even more institutions (27 of 73) have now postponed or cancelled spring convocation, and a dozen more will be making announcements this week. And finally, in the past few days I’ve seen about 20 institutions announce immediate or gradual shutting down of campus research labs (with some exceptions, such as COVID-19 research).

This is all part of a growing awareness of the Scale of the COVID-19 Pandemic, which is explored in a series of new blog posts. Check out the latest projections of epidemiologists and economists — but be warned, it’s bad news if you’re clinging to the hope that on-campus classes might resume in September.

If you’re looking for something a bit more upbeat for bedtime reading on a Sunday night, my collection of Inspiring Words from college and university presidents has become my most-shared blog of the year.


Friday March 20, 2020

As Sheridan’s Janet Morrison said this morning, “a week is a really long time in a pandemic!”

With increased traffic to my COVID-19 on Campus page (thanks University Affairs and Alex Usher, among others), it has been pointed out that I was omitting plenty of institutions. I have been able to expand my daily scans to 17 more institutions, so now the spreadsheet includes 73 colleges and universities across Canada. I really appreciate those of you who are providing reverse-chronological archives of updates in your COVID-19 microsites… it’s making this job much easier!

Canada is now at 846 confirmed cases, and 10 confirmed cases and 4 presumptive ones are on 11 PSE campuses. (I imagine this will get much more difficult to track very soon.) Yesterday, Dalhousie announced their first presumptive case, and uVic their first confirmed case.

Although technically “open” (outside Quebec), half of all institutions have now moved to an essential services or virtual service model, and 5 more plan to do so by Monday. (Some have moved most employees to remote working from home, without using the terminology.) Campus mail delivery has been stopped at most schools. In some cases, door locks are being changed to ensure that staff do not return to access their offices. York has announced a two-phase approach to campus access, becoming increasingly restrictive March 27.

We’re seeing a continued acceleration and intensification of orders to vacate student residences, except in extenuating circumstances. As a result, campus food services are winding down even more, and in some cases (like Sheridan) they have closed completely, with alternative arrangements for delivery to students still in residence.

Alternate delivery of classes has already begun at half of institutions, with the rest scheduled to begin next week. Many institutions are posting tips and guides, or entire microsites, to support students and faculty making the migration. So far, 25% of the institutions have announced changes for spring/summer/intercession courses, ranging from delaying registration, to offering online courses only.

In the past few days, more and more institutions have announced suspension or scaling back of on-campus research. (I have noticed 10 announcements so far, across the whole country.

Academic senates have started meeting to resolve outstanding academic issues. Add/drop deadlines have been pushed back, in many cases until the final day of classes. MUN has announced “academic forgiveness” for undergraduates and graduate students next term: no student will be required to withdraw. Students will also have the option of accepting a pass/fail grade instead of numerical grades. uManitoba has announced the indefinite suspension of the “repeated course” policy, allowing students who underperform in a course to re-take it.

The comparatively good news has been in terms of student supports. Several institutions (eg. Laurentian) have announced student emergency support funds, and are inviting donations with matching funds. Many institutions are establishing wifi lounges or computing labs on campus for students without home internet access, with appropriate social distancing measures. I noticed two announcements today of initiatives to provide laptops to staff or students who need them: York reports they have secured 1,500 laptops to loan, while some Sheridan staff are surrendering redundant laptops, which are being cleaned and temporarily re-issued to other staff and students.

There’s growing anxiety across North America as the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic starts to sink in. There will be substantial increases in cases and fatalities, and isolation and remote work will likely persist for months, not weeks. But many cope with anxiety through humour and music, and those working in higher ed are no exception.

On this Friday, if you need a smile, here are a couple of the many Coronavirus music videos I’ve spotted this week:

Jason JW Grant, manager of the Cultiv8 Agricultural Sandbox at Dalhousie, has created a charming remix of the Barenaked Ladies’ “If I had a million dollars,” designed to convey key health information. “Do I have the COVID virus? Do I have to self-isolate?”

Michael Breuning, interim History Chair at Missouri University of Science and Technology, recorded a guitar solo of “I will Survive” specifically from the perspective of faculty members transitioning to online delivery. “You gave me two days to adjust, to move everything online. Did you think I’d crumble, did you think I’d lay down and die?” (Plenty of in-jokes about Canvas, Panopto, and Zoom.)

Here’s hoping for a comparatively quiet weekend… good luck everyone, and stay well!

Thursday March 19, 2020

By now most of you are working remotely from home, for institutions that have officially closed their campuses and moved to virtual operations and essential services only. The torrent of COVID-19 updates that began on Friday the 13th has slowed to a trickle, as colleges and universities settle into a “new normal.”

Over the past 24 hours, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland joined almost every other province in declaring a state of emergency. (Manitoba is still holding out, but their confirmed cases of COVID-19 doubled from the day before.) The federal government has announced $82 billion in emergency funds to prop up the economy, including a six-month interest holiday on student loans.

Fully one-quarter of institutions have now reluctantly announced that spring convocations will be cancelled or postponed, and institutions have started suspending registration for their spring/summer/intercession terms, or acknowledging that they will be delivered online only. NAIT announced that they will be cancelling in-progress apprenticeship programs that are less than half completed, and refunding 100% of tuition for those programs.

Alex Usher is among the analysts now suggesting that students may not return to campus before January 2021, and that the professoriate needs to start taking online instruction seriously. He predicts an economic hit that may rival the Great Depression, international enrolments that will take several years to bounce back, and the prospect of years worth of provincial budget cuts ahead.

In the face of pandemic, panic and pandemonium, some campus leaders have shared uplifting words of optimism and hope, from Benoit-Antoine Bacon at Carleton and Janet Morrison at Sheridan, to Andrew Petter at SFU, Claude Brulé at Algonquin, and Alan Shepard at Western. I share the most inspiring passages from these and ten other campus leaders in my third COVID-19 blog, “Inspiring Words in a Crisis.” (Let me know if there are others you would nominate to rival these.)

In addition to the daily video updates from presidents and senior crisis managers on campuses, several have mounted Facebook Live Q&A sessions for students (such as VIU), or announced online town halls for today or tomorrow (for example, uCalgary).


Wednesday March 18, 2020

Wednesday saw a tide of campus closings sweep across Canadian campuses, with PEI’s Holland College and NSCC joining almost all institutions in Ontario. One-third of the 55 institutions I’m tracking have announced a shift to an “essential services” model, with many employees working from home to support students online or by phone. This is most widespread in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and PEI, with no examples yet in western Canada – but uAlberta, uCalgary, uSask, uRegina, and Red River College have released remote working guidelines (and they have been promised shortly by uVic).

Even more institutions have announced that they are closing to the public, requiring staff and students to produce ID to enter campus buildings. Most fitness facilities and childcare centres are closed on campuses across the country, except in BC, Manitoba, and Newfoundland. Outside BC and Manitoba, most campus libraries have closed their physical facilities and counter services, offering online access only, often with staff working from home.

100% of institutions had already announced a migration to online and alternate delivery of instruction, but yesterday several institutions (such as Holland College) pushed back the start of classes, recognizing the technical and training challenges of the shift. Although many institutions were trying to maintain clinical and field placements for their students, yesterday more and more, particularly in Ontario, announced those placements would now have to be suspended.

In the past 24 hours, institutional commitments to keep student residences open until the end of term have started to collapse as well. Across Ontario and eastward, institutions have moved from “urging” students to return home, to announcing residence closures and mandatory move-out dates. The kindest announcements (like Western’s) say “students in residence are welcome to stay if this is the best option,” while the harshest (like Laurier’s) assert that “only under exceptional circumstances will students be permitted to remain in residence.”

The scope and duration of this disruption is gradually being felt. One-fifth of the institutions have announced that May and June convocations have been cancelled or postponed, reportedly including all 26 institutions in Alberta. Brock has announced that the spring term will be online only, uManitoba has suspended registration for next term, and College of the Rockies has indicated that all international students are being deferred to fall 2020.

I think these words from Sheridan College president Janet Morrison, included in a broadcast voicemail message to all staff (thank you for sharing, Christine!) help to instill hope and optimism:

“This is an experience that we are going to reflect back upon for years to come and the days ahead will require us to experiment and be flexible. We certainly won’t get everything right on the first try. It is incumbent upon all of us to focus on what we can control, to remain open-minded and positive, and to plan for various scenarios in a situation that is both disruptive and unfamiliar. Now is the time for all of us to lead the way by engaging in evidence-based decision-making and by modeling resiliency, agility, and courage. That is what leaders and educators do.”

Good luck with today, everyone, stay safe and stay well!


Tuesday March 17, 2020

Good morning all, and uh – happy St Patrick’s Day?

The COVID-19 situation has continued to accelerate since yesterday, when Canada announced it was closing the borders and the city of Calgary declared a state of emergency. Health Canada now reports 424 confirmed cases in the country, mainly in Ontario (177) and BC (103). This morning, the government of Ontario declared a state of emergency, and institutions are still determining how to respond. Quebec and Ontario have also ordered bars, restaurants, and fitness clubs closed. The provincial health authorities in BC have capped gatherings at 50 people, leading to event policy changes on campuses there.

In higher ed, uCalgary and College Boreal’s Toronto campus both reported their first confirmed COVID-19 cases, and UNB Fredericton reported 2 presumptive cases. (Previously St Lawrence College, Laurentian, and University Canada West also reported confirmed cases.)

Quebec institutions essentially closed their campuses by provincial order March 14, for two weeks, but I count at least 9 institutions that have now announced they are closing campus to all but emergency staff, particularly in Ontario. Even more are indicating that they are moving to an “essential services” model, delivering student services online or by phone (again, particularly in Ontario, but also for UNB starting March 18).

More than half of all institutions across the country have now announced the closure of their fitness and recreation facilities and campus childcare centres. Campus food services are taking additional precautions, reducing hours, and closing some locations on most campuses. Most student counselling is moving to phone or online delivery.

Student residences have been rapidly changing their policies, with most now encouraging students to leave if possible, or setting deadlines, or in some cases making move-out mandatory (Brock, Laurier, and MUN). In all cases, it is intimated that exceptions are possible for students who cannot find alternative accommodation. Some institutions promise refunds or credits towards residence next year.

In general, institutions are doing their best to help their students complete as much of their term as possible before the inevitable campus closures begin. 100% have announced a migration to online classes now, and most have started announcing there will be no in-person final exams. In the past day, Ontario colleges have started suspending clinical placements, internships and co-ops. More and more institutions are moving back their deadlines for voluntary course withdrawal.

We are starting to see some progress on remote working protocols, in addition to the uToronto example I shared yesterday, I now have links on the blog and in the table to remote work guidelines from uAlberta, uCalgary, uSask, Red River, and George Brown.

And finally, there is some growing concern about the possibility of unsanctioned St Patrick’s Day parties getting out of hand. St Lawrence College issued an early warning, and the president at Wilfrid Laurier has a particularly good message for students.

Increasingly, it is becoming clear that the COVID-19 pandemic will be a public health emergency for months, not weeks. Estimates range from June to August before things will get back to normal in Canada. We can probably expect some emergency measures from government to support employees and institutions in these truly unprecedented times.

Good luck, everyone, with the rapidly-changing situation on your campuses and the prospect of St Patrick’s Day with all the bars closed.  Stay well!


Monday March 16, 2020

Since my email yesterday, here are some key updates:

An hour ago, the Prime Minister announced that Canada would be closing its borders to anyone not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. All travellers arriving in Canada will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms, and required to self-isolate for 14 days. If they show symptoms, they will not be allowed to enter the country. This policy announcement will presumably prevent international students from returning to Canada from travel abroad, and further impact the enrolment funnel of international students for this fall.

As of March 12, all Quebec institutions have been required to suspend intake of new international students until further notice.

Sunday evening, VIU and Holland College announced they were suspending classes Mar 16-20, and then migrating to online delivery. This morning, Kwantlen announced a pause March 17-18, followed by online instruction except for the faculties of Trades & Technology, and Horticulture. This afternoon, CNA, SaskPolytech and Assiniboine have all announced they are migrating to online delivery of classes.  (ACC with no suspension, the others will suspend classes this week). That makes everybody in the country now, I think!

Apparently a few institutions still hope to return to in-person delivery: Fanshawe by April 6, and Humber by April 17. Seneca plans to resume in-person practical elements on April 6, when K-12 schools are expected to reopen.

So far all residence halls remain open, although many have instituted strict “no guest” policies, and a growing number are encouraging students to move out and go home to complete their studies online. Some are offering partial refunds (Dalhousie), while others are not (uGuelph).

Childcare centres have been mandated closed by provincial authorities in Ontario, Alberta, Quebec and New Brunswick.

A dozen institutions have now announced fitness closures (SAIT, uSask, Cambrian, George Brown, Humber, Laurentian, Mohawk, Sheridan, uToronto, York, Concordia and McGill), while others are reducing hours and introducing social distancing strategies. Some will be available only for academic purposes. (Goodlife Fitness just announced the closure of hundreds of locations across Canada, effective March 16. Can campus gyms be far behind?)

Although almost half the institutions (24) are reportedly open to the idea of remote work from home, or exploring the possibilities, or developing guidelines, they will be leaving it up to the discretion of managers subject to standard policies. uToronto has already released special “COVID-19 Telecommuting Work Arrangements Guidelines”. But in general, institutions are not ready to ensure business continuity in the event of a campus closure.


Saturday March 14 – Sunday March 15, 2020

Some new findings today:

uRegina’s 2 presumptive cases tested NEGATIVE, but St Lawrence College had someone returning from the US test POSITIVE, prompting them to close their Cornwall campus immediately. (Otherwise, University Canada-West and Laurentian University are the only institutions in Canada to report on-campus COVID-19 cases so far.)

Most institutions are now urging all students and staff abroad to return to Canada as soon as possible, since the federal government is warning it may close the borders to entry. The 14-day self-isolation protocol now applies to everyone returning from anywhere outside Canada, including the US.

Fully 87% of the institutions (46 out of 53) have suspended in-person classes and/or announced they will be transitioning to alternative modes of delivery, either with a firm date or a gradual transition planned. The 7 hold-outs are now notable: Kwantlen, VIU, SaskPolytech, NSCC, Holland College, CNA and Memorial University.

Almost every institution has cancelled large events on campus, with a handful of exceptions, and two have even cancelled spring convocation (Dalhousie and Kwantlen) or presidential installation ceremonies (Dalhousie).

A dozen institutions have now announced campus fitness facilities are being closed (SAIT, uSask, Cambrian, George Brown, Humber, Laurentian, Mohawk, Sheridan, uToronto, York, Concordia and McGill), while others are reducing hours and introducing social distancing strategies.

Some institutions have closed entire campuses to the public (Red River, George Brown, Mohawk, Laurentian, St Lawrence in Cornwall, Concordia, and McGill) or even shut them down entirely, to all but a few designated employees (Mohawk, Concordia)

Many institutions are encouraging students to leave residence and move home, but some are offering refunds (Dalhousie) and others are not (uGuelph).

A couple of institutions are even hinting that a complete shut-down of operations could occur in future, depending on the recommendations of provincial health authorities.


Friday March 13, 2020 – PM

As of today, the COVID-19 responses have been strongest in Ontario and Quebec (where the provinces have closed K-12 schools for 2-3 weeks) and in BC and Alberta (where the provinces have banned gatherings of >250 people). More and more institutions are suspending face-to-face classes, and preparing to migrate to online delivery for the remainder of the term. So far, no-one has closed residences or campus services, although some adaptation of food services is being done. uLethbridge is making meal delivery service available to residence rooms to reduce exposure.

It is still challenging to determine how to handle labs, work placements and practicums. Some are also worried about federal policy on study visas for international students, should programs move entirely online. The question is starting to arise, too, about refunds for students who do not wish to switch to online delivery.

Several institutions have dedicated COVID email addresses (uLeth and uVic), and their social media personnel are attempting to respond promptly to queries. One has instituted a hotline phone number for questions.

Geez, I turn my back for a moment… This afternoon, 20 of the 51 Canadian colleges and universities on my list announced that they would be suspending classes next week, or for several weeks, and generally intend to switch to alternate delivery for the rest of the term.  Many of these announcements were  prompted by the Quebec government, but 12 Ontario institutions seem to have decided to follow the 8 institutions that announced similar plans last night. (I think uWindsor is the only one in Ontario yet to announce.)In Manitoba, the UofM has announced it is cancelling all classes March 16-16, and thereafter will have very few delivered in person. Red River College notably announced an immediate “Study Week” in which to assess and plan for alternative delivery, exams, and work-from-home arrangements. (How refreshingly calm!)

In Alberta, where UofA, UofC, and UofL all announced that they were cancelling classes for today, they have extended the cancellations through the weekend. But UofC has explicitly announced that classes will resume Monday through alternative delivery, while the others will be making further announcements later. SAIT, NAIT, Mount Royal and Bow Valley are following the province’s direction by cancelling gatherings of more than 250 people, but continuing with classes uninterrupted. (It helps if your class size is below that threshold, doesn’t it?)

In Saskatchewan and BC, no institutions have announced changes to classes yet – although the day isn’t over in BC yet!  So far, all are still proceeding with business as usual.

Many institutions are worrying about the impacts on IT systems and internet bandwidth this shift to “alternative delivery” will have.  The suspension of classes may also have an impact on the completion of term: UoGuelph has already indicated that the term will be extended by a week.  Other institutions are proposing to end the term on time by eliminating the exam period.  Almost all have indicated that they are working to eliminate in-person exams, and in some cases are encouraging faculty to grade students based on coursework already completed instead.

So far, all residence halls remain open, although campus services may be reduced. That situation may change if multiple cases of COVID-19 are confirmed on campus, at which time Canadian institutions may need to follow the lead of US schools, who have started closing dorms.

The situation is bound to get worse for a couple of weeks yet, before it gets better. It’s exhausting me just trying to keep this blog up-to-date!


Friday March 13, 2020 – AM

Good morning all!  Happy Friday the 13th…

Although many Canadian institutions have not made any new announcements since March 11, others have been intensifying their response to COVID-19. It is apparent that more and more, institutions are meeting with their provincial health officials and deciding upon coordinated measures. Recent provincial changes have been to intensify travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, and to stipulate no public gatherings larger than 250 people. In general, institutions have been moving from travel bans, to event cancellations, to moving all classes online. That progression looks inevitable; it is simply a question of when the changes get announced.

At 8:00pm last night, Western University and its affiliates (Brescia, Huron, King’s) announced that all classes would be cancelled March 13-17, to give faculty time to adapt for online-only delivery from March 18 until the end of term. All buildings and offices would remain open. Clinical placements would continue. Contingency plans for exams were still being developed.

At 10:30pm, Ontario Tech U announced that in-person classes would be cancelled for March 13, while they assess the potential for switching to online instruction for the rest of term. Large on-campus events until April 3, including Open House, have been postponed, along with mid-term exams scheduled for this weekend.

Around midnight in Alberta, the Universities of Alberta, Calgary, and Lethbridge all announced that all classes would be “temporarily suspended” on Friday March 13, to allow consultation, but were expected to resume Monday March 16.

Also last night, NAIT announced that classes would continue but any large events (over 250 people) would be cancelled, in keeping with the provincial direction. On-campus eateries would be limited to 225 seats. All employees would be allowed an additional 10 days of paid sick leave for COVID-19 related absences. All international travel is now restricted.

At about 5pm in BC, Kwantlen Polytechnic U announced that it would be cancelling all large events (over 250 people), including spring convocation, and cancelling all non-essential travel outside of Canada, including to the US. Likewise BCIT announced all travel outside Canada was cancelled or suspended.

Notably UBC does not seem to have cancelled or banned any travel, or cancelled any large events, as of 5:00pm March 12.

Thursday March 12, 2020 – PM

It has been a busy day on the COVID-19 front, as institutions have continued to update their policies and precautions.

In a nutshell, travel restrictions have gotten tighter, and events have been cancelled more broadly, often until the end of April or even September.

I have switched from a series of excel documents to a Google Sheets spreadsheet, which I think we can all edit collaboratively.

Since my last note a couple of hours ago, we’ve seen:

Memorial University has suspended all international and out-of-province travel until further notice, and is considering event cancellations.

University of New Brunswick has cancelled all student travel to countries with any level of risk, 1-4.

Western University is “advising” that all discretionary events with more than 50 people scheduled between now and April 30 be cancelled, postponed, or offered virtually. (They are waiting to make a decision about Congress 2020, May 30-June 5, one of the biggest conferences in Canada.) They have also indicated that a decision will be made before end of day tomorrow (March 13) about flexible options for online-only learning.

Mohawk College has cancelled all events and facility rentals until the end of April, and is asking faculty to move as much content as they can online, and warns that the college “may need to close” if the situation escalates further.

Red River College has announced that it is suspending all events and large gatherings until the end of April.

The University of Saskatchewan announced it is currently considering remote/online learning methods and work-from-home options, should they become necessary.

The University of Calgary has extended its travel ban to 11 affected countries until September.

Today I’ve also come across campus videos from a number of US schools, as well as BCIT, St Clair College, and King’s University College. (They’re in my playlist).

These are exceptional circumstances and certainly I’m spending an unusual amount of time monitoring the situation.


Thursday March 12, 2020 – AM

The Coronavirus pandemic is a fast-moving story, and it clearly will continue to accelerate.

This morning I finished my review of selected Canadian institutional websites for COVID-19 policies and announcements, and have posted an updated version of the Excel sheet.

Notably, the University Canada West website seems to be offline entirely, after closing their campus for 3 days to disinfect after 2 cases among their community. (Anyone know what’s up there?)

As I mentioned last night, Laurentian University has cancelled all classes after 1 case, although their business offices continue to operate as usual.

(At the other extreme, I can’t find ANY mention of COVID-19 on the NBCC or CNA websites yet.)

Some institutions are indicating that they are starting to plan for “flexible options” (Western) or “academic continuity” (Humber) in the event that their health unit advises cancelling in-person classes.

While most institutions defer to their local health unit on quarantine protocol, and to the federal government on travel advisories, quite a few have taken the step already to cancel all student travel abroad, and suspend all work-related travel. A few include the US in their travel ban. Algonquin, Mohawk and uAlberta seem to be the only ones prohibiting domestic travel for work purposes, at this point.

So far only Laurentian and Seneca have published that they have cancelled events, but several institutions are cancelling events on a case-by-case basis, or signalling that they may be taking this step soon. While half a dozen are moving their campus open houses to “virtual” ones this weekend, others are still promoting the traditional campus visit approach. (Sorry I have just started tracking this, so my spreadsheet is not complete).

As I mentioned in yesterday’s note, most institutions report an increased frequency of cleaning and disinfecting, or even “fogging” (at Humber).  Only uVic and Humber have indicated that they are waiving the requirement that students obtain a doctor’s note for absences — although that seems like a good idea.

George Brown College has the only sign-language video on COVID-19 that I have seen so far.

St Lawrence College has reproduced a memo from their health unit encouraging students to stay away from St Patrick’s Day parties next week.

Conestoga College has declared all campuses “handshake-free environments”.

I’m apparently not the only futurist to have thought about this; Bryan Alexander is keeping a running list of hundreds of US closures in this Google Doc.

Alex Usher reports that Austria has ordered all its universities to halt lectures, Greece closed all its universities for two weeks, and many other institutions across Europe have closed for the next two weeks.

It’s likely going to be impossible to keep entirely up-to-date on this, but I’ll do what I can.


Wednesday March 11, 2020 – PM

FYI, in the past 2 hours, some institutions have intensified their responses to the Coronavirus, particularly around travel restrictions and campus events:

Western has postponed its March Break Open House (scheduled for March 14)

Conestoga has cancelled study abroad and put all employee travel on hold.

George Brown has suspended all travel until the end of April.

Sheridan has suspended all domestic and international travel until September.

College of the North Atlantic has suspended all inbound/outbound international travel, and all out-of-province travel, and cancelled all large gatherings.

NAIT is discussing business continuity and work-from-home arrangements.


Wednesday March 11, 2020 – AM

Good afternoon all!

COVID-19 has been turning airline schedules, conference and study-abroad plans upside-down — and at an increasing number of institutions, has led to classrooms being moved online, residence halls being emptied, and even complete campus shutdowns.

Thanks to all who have started to share their own web URLs regarding COVID-19. I have started assembling some comparative stats in an Excel spreadsheet.

What I have noticed so far:

I have not found any institutions reporting any cases of COVID-19 yet.

Most are reporting they have increased the frequency of cleaning on campus, and are recommending people self-quarantine per federal guidelines.

Most institutions have started broadcasting messages about hygiene and discretionary travel. Some have suspended or banned travel on behalf of the institution. Many are forbidding sanctioned travel to countries under a federal level 3 or 4 travel advisory. Some (Humber, Mohawk, SAIT) seem to have banned all international travel, at least for students. A few (Algonquin, Mohawk, uAlberta) seem to have banned non-essential domestic travel too.

uVic has the most comprehensive page, describing many details such as sick days, conference expenses, etc.

So far, only Mohawk has said it will be making decisions about cancelling events on a case by case basis going forward. No other institution seems to have mentioned it yet.

uVic and Humber have indicated that they will waive the requirement for students to get a doctor’s note for absences up to 14 days.

uVic and uCalgary have indicated that they will ensure employee pay continues uninterrupted, even if their sick days are exhausted.

So far, no one seems to be encouraging remote work or online meetings.

An increasing number of US institutions are switching live classes to online delivery for at least a few weeks after spring break. Humber reports that “academic continuity kits” have been prepared for faculty – which sounds like the first mention of moving classes online (?).

No one has yet closed a residence or campus, among these institutions.

The situation south of the border is more extreme. Harvard, Stanford and others have announced their campuses will be closed after spring break, and students are being evicted from some dorms.

I’m building a playlist on YouTube of institutional updates and messages, town halls etc.


I spoke too soon. Laurentian University just acknowledged its first case of Covid-19, and announced that it would be suspending all classes.

All the predictions are that cases of COVID-19 will skyrocket in the next week in North America, as they did in Italy.

Hang tight everybody!


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