15 May Jonathan Cartu Review: Cape Breton University students, staff, faculty all
SYDNEY, N.S. —
Cape Breton University’s decision to deliver its programs online this fall due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means adjustments for faculty, staff and students.
Twenty-year-old student Emma Drohan of Sydney has already started her second CBU degree, a bachelor of education, online.
While she and her fellow students have said during their online class time that they were looking forward to meeting each other in-person in September, now they know it will take a bit longer.
“It’s just a matter of getting some routines developed and on nice days like this I get to go sit outside and do my homework, which is nice,” she said. “It’s been a learning curve for sure for us and the professors but they’re doing the best that they can and I think it’s working for me so far.”
Drohan said she believes the decision was made in the interest of the health of the campus community.
“You don’t want to take any chances with this,” she said.
CBU was the first Nova Scotia university to announce a full move to virtual learning due to the pandemic. The institution has been delivering courses remotely since March when it made the decision to shut down the campus.
“While we were doing that, we realized this whole event was not going to be over any time soon and we had to give serious consideration to what the fall would look like,” said Tanya Brann-Barrett, CBU’s associate vice-president, academic and research.
They conducted a needs assessment to determine where things stood if all courses had to be delivered online in the fall, working with all academic schools, the deans and chairs. Brann-Barrett said they also consulted support units on campus that support students in their learning, to see if that work could also be done online.
“It became very clear that we could do it, but we needed time,” Brann-Barrett said.
To allow students, staff and faculty the time they needed, the decision had to be made quickly, she said.
In the end, Brann-Barrett said they couldn’t foresee a scenario where all students could be brought safely onto campus in September.
She said, even online, there are opportunities for faculty to engage closely with students and build classroom communities. She acknowledged it will be a busy summer for many staff and faculty as they design those courses and gain the skills they need to deliver them.
Calvin Howley, president of the Cape Breton University Faculty Association, said the union has drafted a memorandum of understanding and submitted it to the university that would relax some restrictions under the collective agreement with the shift online. He said they are hoping the administration will accept it.
Howley said the main concerns of faculty are logistics, the supports that will be in place and how it will work practically.
The experience for students won’t be the same as if they were on campus, but he noted that for programs that require work such as labs or fieldwork, they can look at structuring the remaining years of the programs to accommodate once students return to campus.
He said the main complaint CBUFA would have is, while CBU does consult with faculty, it tends to do so after the decision has already been made rather than in the early stages.
Brann-Barrett said CBU is aware that there are areas where broadband access is less than ideal. She said they will work with students and their circumstances as those issues may arise.
Ottawa has just loosened some requirements, allowing international students starting programs in September to complete up to 50 per cent of their program online from their home countries.