Blend of virtual and hands-on learning to reduce on-campus numbers
The winter term at NAIT will begin as scheduled with a blend of virtual and in-person learning, with enhanced health and safety protocols to limit the spread of COVID-19.
More than half of degree, diploma and certificate programs and most apprenticeship courses will offer a blended format of virtual and in-person instruction when winter classes begin Jan. 6. Programs are being encouraged to focus on online as much as possible during the first week in January to reduce on-campus numbers after the holidays.
“We are confident our health and safety protocols, which are aligned with provincial public health measures, will continue to keep the risk of on-campus transmission low during the winter term,” said Dr. Sue Fitzsimmons, vice-president academic and provost, in a message to students.
“We are confident our health and safety protocols … will continue to keep the risk of on-campus transmission low.”
Fitzsimmons said the decision to start the winter term without delays balances provincial health restrictions with students’ needs to receive the full range of hands-on, high-quality polytechnic education NAIT is known for.
“It also allows us to avoid extending or condensing courses into a shorter time frame, which would put additional pressures on many students and unfairly disadvantage those enrolled in courses with shorter duration,” she said.
Protecting student and staff health and safety
Fitzsimmons said all decisions for winter term are aimed at protecting the health and safety of the 7,100 students, apprentices and instructors expected on campus each week this winter.
Only students with scheduled labs or shops are allowed in NAIT facilities, while most staff will continue to work from home. Campus also will not feature regular in-person services such as the fitness centre (recreation has gone virtual) while food services, library services, shop at NAIT and the Computer Commons will open as allowed by provincial restrictions. (See current status of NAIT facilities.)
Anyone coming to campus must first screen themselves using Alberta Health Services’ COVID-19 self-assessment. They must also fill out a check-in form identifying any areas of campus they plan to visit for longer than 15 minutes.
Before students arrive for their classes, they will also need to read and sign a responsibility declaration that affirms they’ve checked themselves for COVID-19 symptoms. They will also be required to complete training for safely being on campus prior to the end of the first week of classes.
Precautions and preventive measures
Students coming to campus for a shop or lab will notice several health and safety measures, including a requirement to wear masks in all indoor, publicly accessible spaces. This means classrooms, lecture theatres, labs, shops, computer commons, library, study spaces, meeting rooms, food kiosks, hallways, stairwells, elevators, pedways and washrooms.
The floor plans of some labs and shops have also been changed to observe physical distancing requirements and limit the risk of infection – work that started this summer when a small handful of programs resumed labs that were suspended in the spring. Workstations in the Denturist Technology lab, for example, are spaced two metres apart with chairs and signage between each reminding students to take precautions.
Power Engineering Technology has directional signage on the lab floor to help with distancing. Other precautions have been put into place to ensure students are wearing protective gear such as masks, face shields and gloves while operating equipment in proximity to each other.
“Everything so far seems to be pretty safe. I feel really comfortable being back on campus,” said Mikael Cotia. The Power Engineering Technology student was back on campus this summer to complete his studies after on-campus activity was suspended last March.
“Everything so far seems to be pretty safe.”
Cotia said wearing a mask and observing distancing hasn’t been difficult, just an adjustment to routine. “It’s very manageable and practical … I don’t mind wearing masks and following the protocols in place.”
Smaller class sizes
Auto Body Technician will rely on a mix of online theory, live demos and smaller cohorts, said program chair Bryce Nelson. One change his students won’t have to get used to is wearing masks.
“N-95 particulate masks, nitrile gloves and face shields are used extensively in our trade already,” he said.
For many students across NAIT, the smaller lab sizes have been a benefit.
“We get a lot more one-on-one time with the instruments and with our instructors and that’s been incredibly helpful,” said Kaley Carter, who is going into her second year of Combined Laboratory and X-Ray Technology and was on campus this summer to finish up labs that were suspended last spring.
Innovative virtual tools
While some labs and shops will proceed this winter, some programs have found innovative ways to help students learn remotely. Instead of spending 10 to 12 hours a week in an electronics equipment lab, students in Computer Engineering Technology will practice on kits they can work on at home or anywhere.
“The equipment will allow students more hands-on opportunities and experience at home,” said Aruna Brennan, department head for the program.
Students in Combined Laboratory and X-Ray Technology will still gain hands-on experience in labs and during work placements in hospitals, but new this year is a virtual program that allows students to simulate radiography techniques.
“It’s innovative and closely aligns with equipment and experience that students would have working in our lab,” said chair Sonja Gauvin (class of ’06 and Bachelor of Technology – Technology Management ’17).
“We’ll continue to make decisions that uphold provincial public health guidelines and protect the health and safety of students and staff.”
Fitzsimmons said she’s confident that students will get the same quality of education and industry experience, but delivered with everyone’s health and safety in mind.
“We know these are challenging times, and I want to thank [students] for their efforts to help keep our community safe. As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, we’ll continue to make decisions that uphold provincial public health guidelines and protect the health and safety of students and staff.”
Watch: First week of classes 2020