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Fall term online. Work-from-home continues

A message for staff and faculty from Concordia President Graham Carr
May 14, 2020
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By Graham Carr

I hope that you and those close to you are doing well and taking the necessary precautions to protect your and our collective health during these difficult times.

As anticipated in my message to the community of May 1, I’m writing today to confirm that the fall 2020 term will be delivered almost entirely online, accessible anytime, from anywhere in the world. The vast majority of our faculty and staff will continue to work from home for the foreseeable future.

In what follows, I will provide some specific examples of what this decision will mean in terms of summer preparations and the fall term. The examples are by no means comprehensive as there is much planning still to do.

Before going any further, I want to reiterate how deeply grateful I am for all the efforts you are making on behalf of the university. The region of Greater Montreal continues to be a hot spot, and I know that the impact of the pandemic is wearing on everyone.

As you know, health and safety have been uppermost in our minds since the origins of the crisis. It is still the case today and will remain paramount as we look ahead to the fall term.

Public health authorities have been abundantly clear that physical distancing will prevail in Montreal for an indefinite period. They have also expressed concerns that a second wave of COVID-19 may occur in the future. It is also difficult to predict what the future of travel will look like for students hoping to come to Montreal, whether from elsewhere in Canada or around the globe.

These factors are critical to our decisions with respect to fall. From a community health standpoint, we need to make responsible choices both for the Concordia community and for the region of Greater Montreal of which we are such an integral part.

Physical distancing is an unimaginable challenge for a university that normally welcomes tens of thousands of people per day; add to that the logistics of distancing on public transit, the main means by which most of our community travel to and from our campuses each day.

We are piloting a very gradual return to labs on each campus in the coming weeks. But opening a select few labs to limited research personnel is a far cry from opening a campus to the normal teaching and work activities of university life.

Like all of you, I hope that conditions will improve sooner rather than later. But based on what we know today, the wisest course of action is to acknowledge that in-person, on-campus activities will be extremely limited this fall. We must instead focus our energies on developing the best-quality online experience for our students.

What this means for faculty

The following principles will guide how we deliver instruction this fall:

Principle 1: The majority of coursework and teaching activities will be conducted online.

  • A Teaching and Learning working group led by the vice-provost of innovation in teaching and learning is working with the faculties and members of the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL), IITS, the Library, Student Services and KnowledgeOne (K1) to develop protocols and best practices for online delivery of our classes.
  • Guidance on how to design courses for an online context will be readily available from our experts in the CTL and K1.
  • Technical assistance, as well as mechanisms to address software and technical needs, are also being identified and developed by the working group to help deliver quality learning experiences.
  • Our goal is to transform our online course delivery to provide students a much richer learning experience than we were able to under tight time constraints in the winter term.

Principle 2: Within any course, only a limited number of activities where a hands-on element is key will take place on campus — for example, experiments, teaching labs and studio work that require a physical demonstration of skill, competencies and knowledge.

  • The Teaching and Learning working group is working with faculties and departments to identify which activities absolutely require a physical presence.
  • We are developing protocols to establish how in-person activities will be conducted to conform with physical distancing and health and safety measures mandated by public health authorities.
  • In making good on our responsibility to be accessible and equitable, we also commit to providing an online version of such sessions for those who can’t be in Montreal — for example, our sizable international cohort — or who choose not to come to campus, for health or other reasons.

Although our libraries remain physically closed, access to digital collections, “Ask a Librarian,” consultations with subject librarians, interlibrary loans and other online services are functional, and will continue to expand to include instruction and additional digital resources. We are planning to provide restricted access to our physical collections over the summer and fall terms. For Course Reserves, the Library will ensure the best access possible for your students as well as copyright compliance on your behalf.

What this means for staff

For the vast majority of staff members, it is highly unlikely that anything will change over the summer.

  • Whether you’re currently working remotely or onsite, you will continue to do so until further notice.
  • In the late summer and fall we will re-evaluate the possibility of piloting some gradual return-to-work plans on campus based on lessons learned from the phase-in of external construction and lab activities this summer.
  • We will continue to provide guidance on working from home through the CU at Home website as well as regular virtual meetings and town halls for units, their supervisors and members of the administration.

The Student Experience

While accessing courses online will not be the same as attending in person, we are working hard to ensure that being part of the Concordia community remains exciting, and that we retain the vibrant student experience that happens in parallel to in-class learning.

In addition to the regular pre-arrival communications to students, we are developing virtual orientation and welcome-back events. HomeRoom is a new initiative that will provide a virtual space for students to meet and bond with their peers and get to know their department. FutureReady and GradProSkills will continue to offer professional and academic skills-development opportunities.

We are also adapting our services overall to support our students throughout their time at Concordia — providing more online student advising, mental health counselling, peer-to-peer and mentoring exchanges, and more. We encourage everyone to consider the circumstances of our new and returning students and to be as responsive as possible to their questions and concerns about an online term.

We will continue to act as a Montreal anchor institution by engaging with the city — albeit at a distance. Through new, innovative cultural and community partnerships we hope, virtually, to help our students enjoy the experience of one of the greatest cities in the world.

Unfortunately, our residences aren’t conducive to physical distancing. We will suspend all residence operations for the 2020/21 academic year so we can upgrade the infrastructure. We are finding accommodation for the few remaining students in residence who cannot go home, and we will work directly with prospective students who were hoping for a residence room to help them find alternative accommodation.

We can do this

This fall will be an incredible challenge for educational institutions around the globe. It will also be a true test of Concordia’s well-earned reputation as a next-gen university. As ever, our goal will be to continue to deliver the highest quality, most personalized education possible under the circumstances. Doing so will require us all to be flexible, creative and fully committed to our students’ success. Luckily, those are some of the strengths for which we are known.

The months ahead are far from what any of us envision as an ideal. It goes without saying that there are many great things about how we teach and help students learn in face-to-face contexts that circumstances will not allow us to perform. But even in adversity I am confident that we can and should strive to do great things.

I hope and I believe that we can demonstrate to our students and to the wider public that we are capable of being innovative, solutions-oriented and inspiring in a time of great disruption. And if we do precisely that, Concordia will come through this situation as an even stronger, more dynamic university than it is now.

The unusual preparations that we must all make to get ready for fall means it’s going to be a very different summer for faculty and staff alike. Developing new forms of course delivery and assessments will be a challenge and I appreciate very well the additional stresses that many are experiencing as they work from home — which is all the more reason why it’s important that each of you also take some vacation, disconnect and try to find time and space to relax and recharge.

Mental health is vital to our individual well-being and collective morale. And part of being a strong community is doing our best to be there for each other. If we can succeed in looking after ourselves and each other it will reaffirm that Concordia is a great place to work and study.

In the weeks ahead, we will continue to provide regular updates on preparations for the fall term:

  • If you have questions in the interim, you can direct them to covid19info@concordia.ca.
  • You can also consult our COVID-19 FAQ, which we update regularly.
  • Our team at our Centre for Teaching and Learning is ready to support faculty and instructors in adapting their courses. For help, please contact teaching@concordia.ca.
  • For technical issues related to Moodle and more, contact the IITS service desk at help@concordia.ca.

My sincere thanks for all your efforts to ensure our students emerge from this crisis equipped to contribute to a brighter future for all.
 

Graham Carr

President and Vice-Chancellor
Concordia University

 




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