COVID-19 has not produced many pleasant surprises.
So, how smoothly Red Deer College was able to shut down the campus and take all classes online was welcomed by president Peter Nunoda.
“The biggest surprise of all for me, is I felt that this would tax our network in ways that it wasn’t capable of handling,” Nunoda said in an update on Wednesday morning at the Red Deer College Arts Centre.
“Our IT department has done just absolute brilliant work, and I think it speaks to the infrastructure here that we really haven’t had a glitch or system outage of any kind.
“That suggests our capacity is perhaps greater than we originally imagined. But that’s a pleasant surprise and a positive outcome from a difficult situation.”
Nunoda gave full credit to the college’s instructors and other staff.
“Our people have been unbelievably responsive, energetic and positive despite all of the challenges we’ve sat before them,” he said. “Faculty have transitioned to teaching online like they were all doing it all along.
“I believe we are very much still serving our students, but in a manner that complies with all of the COVID-19 protocols for social distancing,” he said, adding many staff are now working from home.
Not that there haven’t been challenges. When the campus library was shut down, it quickly became apparent some students relied on its computers.
The answer was a laptop loaner program that about a dozen students took advantage of, along with four faculty and staff members.
Uncertainty about final exams has also been a student concern.
“We will have definitive answers for students at the end of the week on how those final exams will look.”
Options include online or take-home exams, or eliminating final exams altogether. Which route is taken will depend on the course.
Some students have also been stressed about how final grades will be handled. The University of Alberta has gone to a pass-fail system, and the University of Calgary has given students the option of whether they want a letter grade, or simply pass or fail.
Nunoda said Red Deer College is not changing its marking, nor are Alberta’s other colleges.
“We’ve already made a decision that we will continue with letter grades and percentages, as we have always done,” he said.
“It doesn’t make any sense for us to transition to a pass-fail system, and we understand that would potentially compromise the hopes of students who want to move on to other institutions through university transfer programs.”
Meanwhile, enrolment for spring courses has begun, but they will only be offered online.
Still to be dealt with will be the college’s biggest challenge — how to make ends meet in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions and an already announced 7.4 per cent cut in provincial funding.
“We were looking primarily at revenue solutions to bridge the gap,” said Nunoda.
A big part of that was to have involved stepping up recruitment of foreign students, a revenue pool that has dried up — at least for now — because of travel restrictions.
The college has not laid off any staff, but all options will be on the table during upcoming budget number crunching.