Edmonton post-secondary schools still undecided about cancelling classes amid COVID-19 outbreak

University of Alberta classes and exams have been temporarily suspended through the weekend, but the status of classes beyond Sunday remains unknown. 

University president David Turpin said Friday the school is “seeking clarification” and taking a pause for staff to prepare their next steps. 

“We are committing to our students that we will work with them, to do everything we can to ensure continuity of programming, continuity of exams,” Turpin said.  

On Friday afternoon, the province said post-secondary institutions have not been advised to close at this time. 

‘Building the bandwidth’ 

Andrew Sharman, University of Alberta’s vice president of facilities and operations, said the school is determining which courses can be taken remotely and which ones need to be cancelled. 

“We can’t shift our programming with three weeks left with the academic year, we can’t change the time that classes finish,” he said. 

Sharman said the university wants to ensure students can finish their studies by this semester and they’re bringing in more IT tools to be able to move their courses online. 

“The challenge is, without building the bandwidth and bringing in some more IT tools, if we suddenly allowed it to happen and everybody jumped without a centralized decision, we would fail in our academic mission.” 

A sign that hangs at the Student’s Union Building on Friday. (David Bajer/CBC)

The University of Alberta has thousands of classes. Sharman said instructors have been told to prepare to teach remotely and be available through video. 

The school is also purchasing new software to prepare to deliver classes online, which is costing at least a few hundred thousand dollars, he said. 

“We are being prepared to put the maximum amount online,” Sharman said, adding the university will be ready to do that by Tuesday. 

Delay in decision

Noreen Hoskins, a working professional enrolled in classes for the business analysis certificate, said she believes the university should’ve made a decision by now. 

On Thursday morning, Hoskins inquired about whether her weekend classes will be cancelled. 

“I’m looking towards leadership at the university to make the decision to cancel classes at least for a period of time,” she said. 

“I was quite surprised that at this late date, there isn’t a strong message or a decision coming out of the university, especially since the university is open to the public.” 

Students support online learning 

Hoskins said she supports moving classes to an online system and other students also agree. 

“I think that’s good control for protecting all the students and faculty,” said Yajing Ban, a post-doctorate student enrolled in the university’s animal science program.  

Ban says she’s preparing to finish her work offline. 

“Teaching will not be the issue, but for the lab work, that might be the big problem,” she said. 

Jarred Verge, a third-year mechanical engineering student, says he’s worried about the transition, but also supports the idea. 

“I’m just worried about getting the information I need and making sure I learn and stay on top of things,” Verge said. 

“Meeting deadlines and allowing students to have access to the stuff online … since it’s relatively new, to pioneer most of the learning, that will be a difficulty,” he said.  

As of Friday morning, MacEwan University and Northern Alberta Institute of Technology say classes will continue. The Concordia University of Edmonton said some classes will be delivered online. 

The University of Alberta is expected to make a decision by Sunday night. 

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