COVID-19: return to the college campus or keep on

Martine Chapdelaine thought she was leaving distance education. A visual arts student at Concordia University experienced the surprise of her life when she saw the fall semester schedule: all of her classes are online with some optional classroom activities, despite Quebec City’s directive to return to campus. She left the study discouraged.

A year and a half after the outbreak of the pandemic, some university faculties continue to teach virtual instruction. With the full onset of the fourth wave, it is primarily a question of health. However, proponents of blended learning say they would not want to return to the world “before.”

Fiery debate divides universities. On the one hand, there are proponents of enhanced health measures such as vaccination passports and virtual education. On the other hand, those who rejoice in preparing to return to class with current health measures, even if it means painting with the virus.

“The government has given a password to return to campuses. I can’t imagine taking distance learning courses 19 months after the pandemic. I find it disgusting, “says Martine Chapdelaine.

The 61-year-old retiree longed to return to school at Concordia University. No way to stay in virtual education. He will finish his studies. She is sorry for the young people, who are again interested in the lessons on Zoom.

“Where the visual arts take place in the studio,” he explains. You have to touch the material. To feel. Communicate with teachers and students. Observe the work of others. Compare. All this is impossible in front of a computer screen from home. »

A hybrid future

Annie Gérinová, Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University, understands the frustration of her student. But Martine Chapdelaine will be able to come and take practical courses to the workshop, the dean explains. Most of the theoretical training at FF UK remains distance, but 85% of the courses will offer some optional activities in person.

Why do theoretical courses remain virtual? “Because of my health. There are many contacts in fine art classes. The students are constantly moving in the workshop, “explains Annie Gérin.

The decision to keep the theoretical courses in virtual mode was not taken lightly, he explains. Personal workshops are optional because many teachers and students fear returning to campus. Many have health problems that make them vulnerable to COVID-19. Some simply enjoy distance learning. Others are wary of the coming fourth wave.

For at least fifteen years, we have been thinking about whether the traditional way of teaching is the best

“It is possible that the public health service will order a return to distance education in the autumn. Outbreaks can also lead to class closure. We will not be surprised as in March 2020, “said Annie Gérin.

He thinks that hybrid education is likely to remain in place during the “transition period”. However, part of the lessons will remain long-distance in the long run: “We have been thinking for at least fifteen years whether the traditional way of teaching is the best. I have the impression that we are moving towards a hybrid model, even if the pandemic ends. »

The hybrid formula appeals to 272 professors and lecturers who published a letter on Friday demanding the freedom to offer or take courses online. The uncertainty surrounding the emergence of the Delta variant justifies the precautionary principle, believes Denis Réale, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM).

The signatories are calling for an “emergency plan” to strengthen health measures in universities, including the introduction of a health passport.

“Quebec universities bring together about half a million people who have family and friendly ties or professional ties outside academia. This situation could transform our universities into an impressive cultural environment for the Delta variant and support the likelihood of new, more dangerous mutations because they are more infectious or virulent. We all long to return to the university, but this impatience, accompanied by a lax plan, will expose Quebec to general imprisonment in the coming months, ”the signatories said.

About 15% of students are not vaccinated. It is starting to attract a lot of people to a three-hour course in crowded amphitheaters, without real distance, with uncertain ventilation, Denis Réale underlines.

live with the virus

CEGEP and university managers see things differently: 85% find vaccination to be extremely reassuring. A vaccination passport is already required for some sports or artistic activities. Wearing a mask is mandatory in all circumstances. The level of risk is controlled at universities, they say.

Dr Patrick Provost, Professor at the Department of Microbiology-Infectious and Immunology, Laval University School of Medicine, goes even further. “The medical emergency is over and authoritative control measures are scientifically unjustified,” he says openly.

He notes that vaccination works: the number of infections is increasing, but the vast majority of those infected will pass. The number of deaths and hospitalizations remains much lower than during the first waves.

“The virus is becoming endemic. We will have to learn to live with it because it is not going to fade like the flu, the professor and researcher adds. I think we need to take a step back. It is time to get democracy back on track. »

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