University of Alberta welcomes students back for a fall term unlike any other

With remote classes continuing, ensuring the health and safety of the university community and creating engaging experiences for students remain top priorities.


While most will be attending virtually, students can still expect a rigorous education as a new-feel, safe University of Alberta campus is ready for the start of the 112th school year today.

“I am so impressed by the collaboration and commitment to providing a successful university experience despite the numerous challenges that we are all facing,” said new U of A president Bill Flanagan. “Celebrating U of A pride and resilience with the entire community is especially meaningful this year.”

Flanagan said while some students and instructors will be back on campus for a selection of in-person courses, most teaching and learning will happen online.

“As instructors and front-line staff, we greatly value face-to-face engagement with our students and I know we will miss that,” he said. “However, I also have confidence that while in-person experiences cannot fully be replaced, we have created meaningful experiences online that will uphold the U of A’s signature values and strengths.”

U of A president Bill Flanagan welcomes students to the 2020 fall term.

Campus & Community Recreation facilities have reopened with enhanced safety measures, and they will continue to offer virtual classes.

Residences are open with a smaller capacity. Students will begin their residence life with a physically distanced Move-In Week and through virtual social and community activities via Expedition Connect

While everyone is eager to get back to a normal campus life, Andrew Sharman, vice-president of facilities and operations and executive lead of the university’s COVID-19 response efforts, said the health and safety of students, faculty and staff remain a top priority.

“If we go back to the guiding principles we established back in March for activities on our campuses for the fall and beyond, everything we have done in our planning and in our approvals has been based on the health, safety and wellness of our students, staff, faculty and community,” said Sharman.

One very noticeable change this year from any other is the use of masks in all indoor common areas. This includes libraries, study spaces and computer labs, corridors, stairwells, elevators and lobbies, washrooms, lounge areas and residence common areas, food and beverage kiosks, and any other indoor common spaces.

Masks will not be required in personal office spaces, classrooms and labs so long as people are stationary and can maintain physical distancing. Finally, masks will not be required outdoors unless a two-metre physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Before coming to campus, people are to use the COVID-19 Alberta Health Daily Checklist. If you’re feeling sick, stay home, notify your supervisor or instructor, and follow Alberta Health Services advice.

As well, the university will be following all Government of Alberta health directives on events and gatherings. At this moment, that includes physical distancing and other public health measures, which include 50 people for indoor social gatherings; 200 people for audience-type community outdoor events; and 100 people for other outdoor events and indoor seated/audience events

As for in-person events, no public events will be held for now, with a few important exceptions: the Timms Centre, Convocation Hall, Myer Horowitz Theatre and Camrose Performing Arts Centre may host public events.

“U of A planners are working closely with the chief medical officer of health, and where it makes sense for our community even going beyond guidance outlined for post-secondary institutions,” said Sharman. "Ultimately, community safety is a shared responsibility. With everyone's very best efforts, our community will stay as safe as we can be."

Safety for all can be best achieved by limiting the number of people on campus. U of A administrators, faculty and staff have moved mountains to move to online platforms.

Melissa Padfield, vice-provost and university registrar, said she was amazed and proud of the adaptability and innovation that faculties and staff across campus have shown as they worked to deliver a fall semester. 

She said while about 6,000 students or 12 per cent of students will have an in-person learning requirement, the university has moved to a mostly remote environment, and it's not just classes that have gone online. 

Since the pandemic began, hundreds of U of A professors and instructors have accessed the Centre for Teaching and Learning’s webinars to ready their virtual classrooms.

To help navigate the world of virtual classrooms, the Academic Success Centre has created a student resource for remote learning. The eClass includes short, animated e-learning modules and provides students with information and resources to successfully transition to a remote learning environment.

“Students will also be able to access supports and services such as advising, recreation and health care that serve to round out the student experience,” she said. “The start of the new academic year is always exciting, and this year, although different, is no exception."