NVIT will be bringing students back to class for the fall semester, but it will look different than previous years as the post-secondary institution adapts to teaching during the pandemic.
President of NVIT Ken Tourand discussed some of the changes being made to keep students and staff safe while still delivering courses and helping students complete their studies.
“At NVIT we are moving to what we call a hybrid learning environment,” said Tourand.
“And what that means is we’ve got a COVID-19 protocol and on campus etiquette document that’s on our website which basically will outline how students will return back to class and what measures we’ve taken.”
Like other public places and indoor spaces where people are interacting, barriers have been installed and guidelines for social distancing are being implemented.
“We’ve got sneeze guards and directional arrows and all of that type of stuff that are ready to go in the campus already, and what we’ve done is we’ve removed a certain number of desks from each classroom so that we’ve got each classroom limited in terms of the number of students that each classroom can accommodate, based on social distancing protocols,” Tourand explained.
In addition, NVIT is providing a new level of flexibility, offering classes online and remotely if students are unable to attend due to health concerns, or uncomfortable sharing space with others during this public health emergency.
“The plan is if the class is small enough and it will fit in a classroom, then it will be regular classes, classes will be scheduled as per regular and the instructor will be standing at the front of the classroom and teaching, as per regular,” said Tourand.
“In the event that there’s more students in the class than the classroom can accommodate, where we don’t have enough space to accommodate, then what will happen is it will be a hybrid learning environment. So, students, if they don’t want to attend on campus, it will be synchronous learning, it will be scheduled learning, so the faculty member will be in the classroom, but you can access that class online.”
Currently, staff are organizing the classrooms according to the program that will take place. Programs are assigned to classrooms depending on the number of students who will be attending and how much space is needed to maintain adequate social distance. For the most part, students will have the option to attend in class or via online technology such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
“That way if students aren’t feeling well, we obviously are closely following the Public Health Officer and those orders,” said Tourand.
“So, if anybody is feeling unwell, they’re not allowed on campus. But then students don’t necessarily have to miss class, they can join remotely through the hybrid learning.”
However, Tourand notes that this does present some challenges for some programs that rely on hands-on learning.
“We do have a couple classes where it’s tough, Culinary Arts, for instance,” said Tourand.
“That’s a little bit more difficult to do remotely, so the chef is trying to figure out exactly how that’s going to work, and the same with some of our trades programs like electrical. Those ones we were able to have running, but in a socially distanced, safe, manner. It will depend on the program whether you have to be here or not.”
Additional safety measures include providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to staff, and eliminating several common areas, or altering their layout to allow for students to remain a safe distance from each other.
“We’ve removed the couches; we’re going to try and take all of the safety measures that we can so that students are not congregating in groups. Come to your class and then go home, or if you need to study in the learning commons then we’re setting that area up so that you can be socially distanced. What we have offered for our employees is additional personal protective equipment, so if our faculty wants a face shield or anything like that then we’re willing to get that for them as well.”
While masks will not be made mandatory on campus, students and faculty will be encouraged to wear them.
“We’re not making masks mandatory, but they’re going to be encouraged. All students at NVIT will be encouraged to wear a mask if they’re on campus, as will our employees.”
The NVIT Elders council has always played an important role on campus, and Tourand assures that that will remain the case, despite the pandemic.
“What we’ve done with our elders is we’ve asked our elders not to come on campus, because they are in that high-risk group,” said Tourand.
“We’ve outfitted all of our Elders Council with iPads so they will be accessible to students and accessible to employees. They’ll still be scheduled, and we’ll have Pat Brown as the elders coordinator so students and employees can ask Pat, find out which elder is available on a certain day, and then students or the employee can contact the elder and have a Zoom call or Microsoft Teams call with the elder. They’re still going to be playing a large role, they’re just going to be doing it remotely rather than on campus.”
All other necessary technology has been updated or is in the process of being updated for the fall semester, which will aid in keeping teachers and students connected through digital means for those taking courses remotely.
“We’ve done a large investment in our information technology, so all of our classrooms are now going through a technology upgrade to be able to offer this hybrid learning,” Tourand explained.
“All of our faculty have new laptops and everything. I think we’re ready to go, we’re excited.”
The excitement is true for the beginning of any new school year, although this year, of course, presents certain challenges and some unpredictability.
“For the most part I think faculty are excited to get back in class, lots of them are hoping that it goes well in terms of face-to-face and we can offer classes,” said Tourand.
“There’s obviously some nervousness, I fully expect it, but at least there’s some certainty. We’ve got a plan on how it’s going to happen. Our hope is that we can do this safely and if at any point in time there looks like there’s a community outbreak in Merritt or the risk is such that we shouldn’t be operating in a hybrid then we will pivot to remote like we did in March.”
Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald