Office of the Provost and Vice-President Academic

COVID-19 Academic Response

Dr. James Mandigo
Provost & Vice-President Academic
June 23, 2020

June 15 marked the three-month anniversary of UFV announcing that it would move the majority of its academic programming to remote forms of learning. A lot has changed, both in our personal and professional lives, since that announcement was made. The way in which we buy groceries; the way in which we take part in our children’s education while balancing our work responsibilities; the way in which we enjoy BC’s beautiful outdoors; the way in which we interact with our neighbours and friends; and the way in which we teach our students and communicate with our colleagues has all changed abruptly. And while it has only been 90 days since the pandemic took us in its grip, it seems like an eternity ago when we were able to interact with our students in our learning environments and were able to meet and discuss issues with our colleagues face-to-face.

Humanity, however, has a habit of facing adversity head on and emerging stronger than ever after a crisis. I have been inspired over the past three months by how well members of the UFV community have responded to the rapidly changing environment in which we live and work. While it has not been easy and has often involved personal sacrifices, faculty and staff have rallied around a commitment to support the educational journey of our students through what has likely been the most difficult of times in our 46-year history. These acts of professionalism and commitment to UFV’s Vision are carrying UFV’s response to our first pandemic, and will be the foundation that ensures we emerge as strong as ever once the dark shadow of the pandemic has lifted.

The phrase “we will get through this together” has become symbolic to the societal response to COVID-19. Thinking about what we’ve accomplished together, I want to take a moment to tell the whole story of the last three months and our how we shaped our plan to face the COVID-19 threat in the future.

The “Early” Days

The week of March 9, 2020 will go down in history as the week our world changed, at UFV and across the country. It started with Washington State University (WSU) becoming the first post-secondary institution in North America to suspend face-to-face classes and transition to online learning. On March 11, the same day that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic, Laurentian University became the first Canadian institution to follow WSU and move completely online. Two days later, the UFV Senate passed the following motion:

THAT the UFV Senate, in the event that UFV is forced to close or suspend face-to-face delivery for a sustained period of time in response to COVID-19, delegates the President, on the advice of the Emergency Policy Group, with the authority to enact a plan that supports students to complete their courses, program and/or assessment requirements by the end of the current session, or as soon as possible thereafter.

Following announcements from UBC, SFU, and UVic that they would be transitioning to online learning, the Deans’ Council held an emergency meeting on March 14 and recommended to the Emergency Policy Group (EPG), chaired by the President, that UFV pause classes for one week to transition to remote learning to complete the Winter 2020 term. This recommendation was approved and the official announcement that UFV was transitioning to remote forms of learning took place on Sunday, March 15.

Completing the Winter Term

As faculty worked tirelessly to transition their courses to remote learning, a number of pressing issues and questions emerged. Borders around the world were closing. Provincial directives were issued limiting gathering sizes that ended up closing all but essential public spaces. Concerns over securing personal protective equipment and cleaning solutions were reported. Non-essential travel and work-from-home directives were instituted. Vulnerable populations most at risk to the virus were identified. Lack of access to technology for students was flagged as a barrier. A common cough was suddenly seen as a symptom of a deadly disease with no known cure. Parents were expected to take over their children’s educational supervision on top of their work duties. It seemed that each hour of the day brought a new challenge and a different response to the challenges of the previous day.

The Emergency Operations Committee (EOC) met daily and brought recommendations to the EPG each evening. In addition, the Senior Academic Leadership Team (SALT) submitted daily reports and met every morning at 8:00 am to discuss pressing academic issues, bringing forward recommendations to the EPG who met each morning at 9:00 am. A series of decisions were implemented that followed the directives of the Public Health Officer which prioritized the health and safety of the UFV community while also helping to ensure that students could complete the Winter term:

  • Move all courses to remote learning
  • Suspend all face-to-face final exams
  • Close the library effective March 18
  • Amend policy so that students could choose a final letter grade, a pass for any course with a D or higher, or a withdrawal by May 8, 2020
  • Adopt new protocols for research to align with provincial directives around essential services and physical distancing
  • Suspend international travel and help repatriate 19 students from seven different countries
  • Allow experiential learning to continue at hosts’ discretion (however, most health studies clinical placements were suspended)
  • Support delivery of quality online courses through recommendations put forward by the online learning task force

At the April 17, 2020 Senate Meeting, the following motion was passed:

THAT the UFV Senate, delegates the President, on the advice of the Emergency Policy Group, with the authority to enact a plan that supports remote learning environments that limit face-to-face delivery of courses during the Summer and Fall, 2020 semesters. This plan must be consistent with directives in effect at the time by the Provincial Health Authority and the Ministry of Advanced Education Skills and Training.

THAT the recommendations will be reviewed at the May 8, 2020 meeting of Senate.

The Fall Decision

As faculty transitioned to remote delivery of their courses and students adjusted to completing their terms online, questions then turned to how long this “new normal” of remote delivery would continue and how it would impact the start of a new academic term set to begin in September 2020.

Although we had more time to plan the fall semester and transition courses online, we also recognized the need to use that time wisely and to act quickly. The Academic Continuity Committee (ACC) was formed on April 9. Membership included me as Provost and VP Academic (Chair), the VP Students (Vice-Chair), the Vice Provost and AVP Academic, the Deans, the Associate Deans, the Registrar, the Librarian, the AVP Research, Engagement and Graduate Studies, and the AVP Teaching and Learning. The purpose of the ACC is to “provide academic oversight during a declared emergency and to make recommendations to the Emergency Policy Group on matters impacting the continuity of UFV’s academic programming.” The ACC quickly established four task forces to address the urgent challenges to maintaining UFV’s programming in the 2020-21 academic year. The focus of these task forces included face-to-face delivery of courses, scheduling, online learning, and contingency planning; they included members of the ACC as well as other specialists from the UFV community to provide support and insight.

Following three weeks of daily meetings of the task force groups and the ACC, the Emergency Policy Group approved the following 10 institutional standards for delivery of academic programming developed by the ACC:

  1. Necessity: Wherever possible, courses and forms of assessment within programs will be delivered in a remote/online format for the entire duration of the Fall 2020 semester. For courses, or components of courses including forms of assessment, where achieving the learning outcomes and objectives through a remote format is deemed to be impossible and where scheduling the course in the Winter 2021 term is not a viable option, in-class instruction may be considered by completing a Standards and Protocol Form that is approved by the Faculty Dean, Health and Safety, and the Provost.
  2. Awareness: All individuals need to be able to self-monitor prior to being physically present on any of UFV campuses. They are also expected to know what to do in the event they are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 or require additional self-isolation based on current BC Orders, Notices, and Guidance. Individuals who are symptomatic and/or are required to self-isolate or be in quarantine and are prohibited from being physically present on UFV property. No individual will be negatively impacted in the event they are required to self-isolate and/or be in quarantine.
  3. Physical Distancing: All occupants within any space at UFV must remain 2 metres apart from one another at all times; including entry into and exit from spaces.
  4. Touch Points: In addition to maintaining physical distancing, every effort must be made to minimize occupants’ exposure from contact with various touch points such as surfaces, equipment, tools, and other objects.
  5. Sanitization: All learning environments are to be sanitized prior to the start of the next instructional class in that space. This also includes any specialized equipment, materials and tools utilized during an instructional class that may be unique to a program/course delivery.
  6. Contingency Planning: The Academic Continuity Committee and the Operations Continuity Committee will continue to develop contingency plans in the event that changes to Federal, Provincial, and/or Local directives are required.
  7. Communication: Students will receive clear and timely information on the methods of course delivery, their options for academic programming, and their responsibilities when on campus and attending face-to-face classes.
  8. Preparation: Those who are delivering face-to-face instruction and services on campus will participate in mandatory training sessions specific to their terms of employment to ensure their personal safety and the safety of others in their work environment
  9. Quality Online Learning: UFV is committed to providing a quality educational experience through the use of a variety of educational technologies that can be delivered through online/remote methods of delivery by instructors and accessed by students.
  10. Continuous Learning: Recognizing the dynamic and unknown nature of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, UFV will support students’ continuing learning progression towards program completion through a variety of proactive and reactive (if necessary) scheduling options

The recommendations from the ACC were presented at the May 8 meeting of Senate. The University community was provided with an update on the Fall plans on May 13 by President MacLean.

Our New Normal

As BC transitions into Phase 3 of the province’s Go Forward Management Strategy, we are starting to see a gradual shift to our new normal of living with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Under the leadership of BC’s chief public health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, physical distancing, personal hygiene, and self-monitoring have become the cornerstones of BC’s ability to flatten the curve and create safe environments for a gradual return to the activities we enjoyed (and as it turns out, took for granted) before the onset of the pandemic. As the province continually adds to its list of sectors identified by WorkSafeBC that can operate safely under the Go Forward Plan, UFV has been able to continue to deliver the majority of its academic programming remotely as well as restart some of the applied programs that had to be paused in March.

Using UFV’s new Standards and Protocol Form for Face-to-Face Instruction, we have been able to safely restart limited in-person instruction in the Dental Assistant, Welding, Culinary, Joinery, Electrical, Automotive, and Assessment Services programs while ensuring all provincial health directives are in place. Plans are also in development to restart other applied programs in the Trades and Health Studies throughout the summer. For the fall, a limited number of programs have had components (e.g., labs, studio, clinical, shop) of their courses pre-approved for face-to-face delivery following a similar process used to restart courses during the summer term. A select number of courses in biology, chemistry, agriculture, visual arts, kinesiology, and nursing will restart in-person instruction under strict protocols. The Fall 2020 Timetable is now posted and students will be able to begin registering for classes on July 2.

By the end of June, we expect that Provincial Guidelines for Post-Secondary Institutions will be posted on the WorkSafeBC webpage. UFV’s Operations Continuity Committee (OCC) has been proactively creating UFV’s COVID-19 Exposure Control Plan that will be used to help us meet the guidelines in a way that is consistent with the BC Go Forward Management Strategy. While there should be nothing surprising or inconsistent with other sector guidelines already approved by WorkSafeBC, UFV is in close contact with the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills, and Training so that we are as informed as possible as we take the next steps in ensuring the safety of all members of the UFV community and their families.

Final Thoughts

The health and safety of our UFV community has been our top priority while also supporting the health and safety of our communities, our province, our countries, and our world. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has been so courageous in their extraordinary responses to the situation. I wish there was a bigger term I could use than “Thank You” to express the gratitude and inspiration I feel towards all members of our UFV community. Not only will we get through this together, we are getting through this together. Your kindness and compassion have not gone unnoticed. I look forward to the day when I can offer my sincere appreciation to each of you face-to-face.

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