Classes at Yukon University will be moving mostly online this year.
Unlike high schools, university classes tend to have much larger classrooms and more movement, making a return to safe in-person learning difficult, according to Janet Welch, vice-president Academic and Student Services.
“The preparation has been at the school level, so each school has looked at their courses and looked at how things could be taught in a virtual way; what would be the ideal way if we couldn’t get back face to face?” said Welch.
She said since the beginning, the university has prioritized remote learning, so many programs already had a plan to deliver distance learning options.
No courses have been cancelled so far, although programs that require extensive hands-on learning, such as multimedia and culinary arts, have been placed on hold until January.
Some in-person learning will still take place when necessary for science and nursing labs, trades program shop classes, practicum placements, field schools and certain continuing studies courses.
Welch said overall enrollment numbers have seen a small decline, around 10 per cent so far, but she also said students are still making final decisions and numbers will be hard to evaluate this year.
Some courses have seen an increase in enrollment, possibly a result of more people staying put in the territory.
“We are really hopeful that our students will stay with us, but we completely understand if it is too much of a challenge,” she said.
Andrea Bacchetta, a second-year student in northern outdoor environmental studies and vice president internal of the student’s union, said he is preparing for that challenge next month when the semester begins.
“I’m not super excited about studying online, but I think that is a shared feeling among most students,” he said. “It’s just when you are by yourself studying at home, you have to hold yourself accountable. You need to have a strict routine and try to stay on top of things.”
Bacchetta said his situation is fortunate because he has both a high-speed internet connection in Whitehorse and a roommate who is a fellow student.
Others across the Yukon may be dealing with limited internet access, technology or a lack of quiet space to study in the home.
Welch said university staff are working with students to find solutions.
Computer labs and individual study spaces will be available to students in Whitehorse, and other arrangements will be made at satellite campuses.
“I think that’s the case all across Canada, but in the Yukon, I’m really worried that students won’t have internet access at home, for example,” she said. “It’s tough to learn online. We recognize that.”
“So we have a strategy to allow students to come on campus to take their courses, but it will be an open environment online with lots of support around that,” she said.
Bacchetta said he knows of other students who were enrolled in programs that will now be deferred to January, or others who have elected to take a break from school until the pandemic lessens.
Both Bacchetta and Ratan Singh, president of the student’s union and a multimedia communications student, are international students.
Singh said as an international student, he would face challenges with his immigration status if he wasn’t able to attend school and appreciated that the university worked to accommodate him despite the pandemic.
“Right now in my country, in India, students are facing difficulties in learning online. One thing I really liked about the college was they made an effort and provided an opportunity to complete a semester,” he said.
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