Monday, January 24, 2022 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and happy International Day of Education!
If you prefer, you can also choose to celebrate beer cans, belly laughs, or peanut butter. (As for me, I’m looking forward to delivering virtual presentations today at Kwantlen Polytechnic University!)
If you’re looking for my usual Monday “Pandemic Précis,” I refer you to my 4 issues last week taking a comprehensive look at what didn’t change over the holidays, what did, the 17 harsh lessons Omicron taught us, and a fairly optimistic look forward to spring and next Fall. (If you only want to read one, read that last one.)
Instead, we’re going to take a look at how CdnPSEs tried to emerge from their 20-month hibernation and return to campus this month. To torture the metaphor, if institutions were groundhogs, most unfortunately surfaced a few weeks too early – saw their shadows, and the vast majority were forced to retreat for a few more weeks.
No doubt you recall that CdnPSE was astounded by the explosion of COVID19 outbreaks on their campuses in December…
Optimism Turns to Alarm
Throughout the Fall, as the Delta wave subsided and vaccinations became widespread, almost all CdnPSEs were optimistically forecasting a “full return to campus,” a “gradual return to normal,” or a “near-normal” academic and extracurricular experience for the Winter 2022 term. But then, along came Omicron, in late November. Many institutions crossed their fingers and proceeded with exams, hoping to get scurry everybody off campus and home for the holidays before it would matter. But Omicron was sparking massive outbreaks on campuses (like Queen’s, StFX, and uVic, to name only the most prominent) and students were protesting that in-person exams were unsafe.
Since my last summary Dec 18, even though many CdnPSEs sent students packing, a few more COVID19 outbreaks made the news. Laurentian U reported 4 cases on campus Dec 22 (and not surprisingly we heard later they were confirmed as Omicron). uManitoba reported 6 medical students suspected or confirmed after their Winter Formal was held Dec 17, and within days it was up to at least 17 students infected. (“In hindsight, we should have pivoted,” said an organizer.) That uVic outbreak rose to 181 cases. uToronto had 9 campus outbreaks and 81 confirmed cases on campus from Dec 20 to Jan 5 (and those numbers “are likely an underestimate”). RRC Polytechnic reported 5 cases on campus Jan 10-11. uWaterloo reported 3 confirmed cases on campus Dec 22 and 29, and UBC 1 (a student who attended an in-person exam).
No Longer Counting
Since Canada is generally starting to treat COVID19 as an endemic disease now, and most PHOs have abandoned testing and tracing in the face of overwhelming infections, most CdnPSEs are unlikely to share many exposure notices or reports going forward. (As Dalhousie puts it, “providing accurate data in this manner is no longer feasible.”) Some outbreaks may still make the news, of course, but I’m reiterating what I said back in September: I think I can stop reporting campus cases.
So, about that return to campus for Winter 2022… (I don’t know why I do this to myself!) I waded through a nightmarish pile of about 350 news clippings, media releases, and tweets – and then went back to check 100 or so institutional websites. I compiled what I found as best I could in yet another Google spreadsheet. It tracks about 160 CdnPSEs, with colour-coded course delivery plans for the Winter 2022 term, week by week. (There’s definitely some overlap between “largely online” or “online whenever possible” or “blended” etc. Let me know if you spot errors or oversights.)
We’re One-Quarter Back
As you can see, about 12% of my sample were fully back F2F by the week of Jan 10 – and NOBODY east of Saskatchewan. (It was mostly BC colleges and some rural SK institutions. I’m not counting the institutions operating in blended, mostly online, or gradually returning to classrooms.) More institutions (18%) chose to suspend classes for the week. Last week, a few more institutions in Nova Scotia and Quebec joined them, but really today marks the first big return to campus: 27% of CdnPSE appears to be back in largely F2F classes this week, with the addition of more colleges in BC and Alberta.
Next week, as we enter February, the proportion of CdnPSEs back to in-person instruction will almost double to 48%, with a ton of Ontario and Quebec additions. We’ll be halfway back as a country, it seems…
BC: Almost All Back
Almost all of BC will be back F2F next month (although UCW, UBC, and Quest are staying virtual one more week). In fact, most BC colleges dutifully returned to classrooms on Jan 10, after one week’s pause, as directed by PHO Bonnie Henry on Dec 21. (That aligned them with the K-12 system too.) BC’s universities have been a little less willing to fall in line, though: 11 of them announced 2 or more weeks of online instruction for January, including SFU and uVic. UNBC said it would develop “a solution for the winter semester that is right for UNBC.” With its unique block plan, Quest U simply shifted Block 1 (Jan 10 – Feb 2) entirely online. PHO Henry wrote to BCpses again on Friday, urging them to get students back on campus.
AB: Mostly NOT
Most of Alberta, on the other hand, has extended hybrid, virtual, or mostly virtual instruction through the entire month (except for 4 colleges in smaller communities and AUArts).
“This year has started differently than anyone could have hoped… Unfortunately, the Omicron variant continues to spread aggressively across the country and new data forecasts the peak in Alberta for late January or early February.” – Bill Flanagan, president, uAlberta
SK & MB: Colleges Back
Saskatchewan will be back with 2 major exceptions – uRegina and uSaskatchewan – and my take on it is that Parkland and Cumberland are planning to stay hybrid all term. In Manitoba, it’s mainly just the religious colleges, and Assiniboine CC, who expect to be fully F2F next month, although Brandon U is planning a gradual return to the classroom.
ON: A Mixed Bag
In Ontario, the colleges actually lean toward mostly online (10) or blended (4) delivery next month, while 5 plan to be F2F and 3 gradually returning. The universities, on the other hand, lean toward fully F2F (10) or gradually scaling it back (10), while 5 plan to be blended and just 2 say they will be mostly virtual for February. (It’s quite counter-intuitive. The universities were the more likely ones to embrace 2-3 weeks of fully virtual instruction in January.)
QC: Get Back or Else!
Quebec’s higher ed minister made it clear to CEGEPs and universities that they should return to classrooms on Jan 17, although they could have a “2-week grace period.” (K-12 schools returned to classrooms on Jan 17.) Most institutions have taken that grace period, although Bishop’s and McGill are now back in class – and reportedly John Abbott College wants to wait until March!
Atlantic: Mostly Back
New Brunswick institutions are largely still remote for the first week of February, but then all will be F2F by month-end – and Nova Scotia even more so. In PEI, it looks like Holland College expects to be F2F in February, while UPEI (as of Friday) plans to stay remote throughout. Whereas in Newfoundland & Labrador it’s the opposite: the university plans to be back F2F for February, while CNA hasn’t quite said yet.
“While COVID risks can be managed… the serious negative consequences of losing another full term of in-person learning are very real… In most of our academic programs, the best student experience is in the classroom.” – Frank Harvey, provost, Dalhousie U
Reading through all 300 announcements in the order they unfolded over the past 6 weeks, I was struck by the very different decision-making styles in CdnPSE…
Determined to get F2F
Although about 20 CdnPSEs postponed the start of classes in January by a week or two, OCADU announced in mid-December that it would delay it a full month. (They were determined to give students an in-person experience worth waiting for.) Redeemer U, on the other hand, brought students back to on-campus classes Jan 10, with the option to participate remotely for the first 2 weeks (later extended to 3 weeks).
“On-campus experiences are foundational to our mission. The last 20 months have been challenging for all of us, despite the extraordinary efforts of everyone involved. The importance of learning and working together has been made increasingly clear to all of us.” – Robert Gordon, president, uWindsor
Wait for Reading Week
I have to admire the institutions that tried to make things easier on students, who might have to make decisions early about where to live. In mid-December, when most Ontario institutions were announcing 2-3 weeks of virtual learning for January, Queen’s announced it would stay virtual right through February reading week, to align with Ontario’s plan to roll out booster doses to those aged 18+. In January, Georgian Collegeextended mostly-remote delivery until Mar 4 (the end of its study week). Several other CdnPSEs have also aligned changes in delivery mode with their spring break.
It’s one thing for universities like Carleton and Ottawa to decide way back in December to stay blended or mostly online right through March. It’s quite another for colleges like Keyano, Parkland/Cumberland, RRC Polytech, Confederation, Fleming, and Sault to do so as well. (Some others joined them belatedly, like uSte Anne, Mohawk and Cambrian, but they made those decisions well into January.)
Until Further Notice
From what I can see, there are at least 20 CdnPSEs that simply haven’t ventured a hint as to when they might return to F2F classes, but only one I noticed took an even more clever tack: back before Christmas, Keyano College announced it would pivot to online/blended delivery for the Winter 2022 semester “until further notice.” Since then, they have simply provided a stream of updates that confirm nothing has changed yet!
Pretty much no matter WHAT decisions CdnPSEs made about January, students and faculty were displeased. There have been protests and petitions fighting to stay virtual, to get back to campus, to have the choice, and more. And oh, how they hated decisions that kept changing!
Join me tomorrow for part 2: You Can’t Please Everybody!
SaskPoly is one of just a few CdnPSEs that have been back in-person since the year began, and somehow this spot captures the drive everybody’s feeling…
So Let’s Get to It!
Saskatchewan Polytechnic released this :30-sec commercial just before Christmas, and perhaps it speaks to the province’s success in getting back to classrooms: “Here in Saskatchewan, we are driven, determined, and ambitious. Unafraid to roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, and redefine what is possible. So why should education be any different?” Nice shots, fast-paced editing, and an upbeat feel! YouTube
As always, thanks for reading. I hope your week is off to a great start, whether you’re on-campus or not!
Either way: stay safe out there,
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