Red Deer College promises its roughly 5,500 online students an improved virtual education this fall.
RDC classes started Sept. 3, and about 80 per cent of its 6,200 students are enrolled in online classes. The rest will require labs and industry-related training on campus in small groups.
Kylie Thomas, RDC vice-president of academics and research, said the virtual learning environment won’t ever replace the quality of a face-to-face environment, but staff are now better prepared.
“Student support services and faculty have spent the summer ensuring learners this fall are coming back in a way that wasn’t created out of the emergency online leap when the pandemic came down at its worst in mid-march,” Thomas said.
“Students won’t experience what the learning experience was in March.”
Brittany Lausen, president of the Students’ Association of Red Deer College, said the online buzz from students about virtual learning has been encouraging.
“I’ve seen comments from students that their instructors have really gone above and beyond to make online learning as easy and flexible as possible,” Lausen said.
RDC president Peter Nunoda said tuition will not be adjusted because of the recent online enhancements.
He said enrolment is at about 90 per cent compared to last year, which was anticipated. Most international students enrolled last year are back, but COVID-19 and travel restrictions prevented the college from attracting the 500 new international students it had hoped to bring in.
He said the recent decision by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada that any online education taken by international students would count towards their post-graduate work permits is good news for the college. Previously, students first had to have a study permit before that class time would count.
He said it is hoped that travel will open up by early next year, so a concerted recruitment effort of international students is also underway, in addition to RDC soon launching a new platform to improve its program delivery to rural, remote and northern communities in Alberta.
A private/public partnership to deliver some programs through Sterling College in British Columbia is in the works as well.
Last week, RDC administration approved on-campus training in small groups for student athletes, similar to allowances for apprentices and lab students.
“We’re not treating student athletes preferentially. We believe that it is in the athletes’ best interests to keep their skills up, and fitness levels up, in the eventuality there will be a season,” Nunoda said.
The Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference has yet to announce a decision on the winter season.
Nunoda said small summer camps operated safely on campus, and monitoring and cleaning will be the ongoing focus for the safety of students and staff.
“I am very optimistic about our abilities to keep our doors open throughout this crisis.”
Any RDC student is allowed on campus for student services, or the library, as long as they book appointments, and complete the COVID-19 assessment available through the Safe RDC app.
Meanwhile, the wait for university status continues. A preliminary report on the province’s system review of post-secondary institutions should be complete near the end of November, and the final report ready in January.
“University status is going forward, but we need to wait until the system review is complete to understand what the timelines actually look like,” Nunoda said.