By Nathaniel Tschupruk, March 19 2021—
If this past year has taught us anything, it would be resiliency and the ability to adapt to new circumstances. If the University of Calgary was a cocoon during the height of the pandemic, it’s now time to emerge a butterfly. Recently, many Canadian universities including the University of Lethbridge and the University of Alberta have announced details on reopening and all universities’ plans have shown that if anything is certain, it is that the future is uncertain. Many institutions have announced a hybrid model, where there are still restrictions and online portions to classes. The University of Calgary should follow suit and announce a hybrid format as well. Why a hybrid? Well there are a few reasons.
Adaptability is one reason for the University of Calgary to embrace a hybrid model. The beauty of a hybrid format is that it can change. If the pandemic went out of control again due to a new strain that requires a new vaccine, a hybrid can mean moving classes mostly online again. If a majority of students are vaccinated by fall 2021, as per current provincial vaccination plans, then it could mean that virtual options would be more limited due to the possible re-availability to a return to campus. It could mean a 50/50 split so all students can experience the campus lifestyle while still staying safe and waiting out for herd immunity from vaccination. A hybrid model shows versatility and adaptability, which is what a hybrid is all about. Given the volatility of the current situation, a hybrid model seems like the best method for reopening. It allows for change and it allows for stretching and moving so that there is always a plan to keep students safe. For an adaptable hybrid model to work, the University of Calgary must outline — in detail — their plans and continue to communicate changes to students. Many university students also live in residence, and the university needs to make paying fees and moving-in timeframes more flexible so that accommodation for students moving in is more frequent in uncertain times. They also need assurance that they can have an equal or similar quality of education if they cannot come back to Calgary or Canada for whatever reason. That is what adaptability is all about.
Another part of a hybrid plan would be to provide options, which is essential. Whether or not we are all vaccinated in the fall, some may still not feel safe or comfortable coming to class. Additionally, whether international students are going to be able to make it to Canada for the fall is largely unknown, so there needs to be an option for them as well. If classes become in-person, the university must ensure that they are recorded in some way so that students who cannot make it for whatever reason, including safety, can still study from the comfort of their own homes. Not only will this provide choice, but will also loosen the load on campus capacity, given many will take advantage of online classes as it saves a great amount of time.
The University of Calgary has heavily invested in COVID precautionary measures and technology such as Zoom during the past year and that brings us the final reasoning for hybrid learning — the future. As mentioned earlier, the future is hard to predict, so this shows that the University of Calgary needs to take some hard learned lessons from this past year and incorporate them into their future plans. For example, it makes a lot more sense keeping Zoom past the fall, as sometimes professors or teaching assistants might not be able to make it to campus due to weather conditions or other reasons. They can then hop on Zoom and record a class to post asynchronously or invite their students to join synchronously. A professor may decide to host their office hours online via Zoom so they can be more focused on marking, lesson planning or allowing more students to join their office hours so that there isn’t a huge line outside of their door. Students and clubs may still want to use Zoom for events in order to access and host guest speakers they normally may not have been able to. While there have been some downfalls with Zoom and club engagement such as lack of diversity in activity, there have been a lot of good things. Some include virtual game nights, being able to connect with once-expensive guest speakers for cheaper and higher engagement due to lockdown boredom. The University of Calgary should move some remote learning classes such as ones partnered with Red Deer College, or adult learning/upgrading classes to Zoom so that students — young and mature alike — do not have to travel in what may be very busy lives. Moreover, they should offer opportunities that don’t require extensive travel in the digital realm.
While unexpected, COVID-19 has shown students and the University of Calgary alike, that there are flaws with both the in-person model of classes along with virtual learning, and we must look to the future to determine what comes next, what should happen and how to prepare. The University of Calgary must look forward and present a hybrid learning model, — one that can adapt to the whims of what comes next.
This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.