It will be quiet on campus this year as about 90 per cent of students attending Thompson Rivers University will do so via online courses because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All theory-based classes will be distributed virtually in both the fall and winter semesters, though some science labs and practicums will occur in person, TRU vice-president of finance and administration Matt Milovick said.
Most trades programs will also be occurring on campus as they have small class sizes and distancing protocols in place.
“By and large, if it can be delivered online, it will be delivered online,” Milovick said.
Universities aren’t bound by the 50-person gathering limit in B.C., but there were a number of reasons TRU opted against bringing students back to campus.
Planning for the fall semester had already been completed in April before that exemption was implemented, but university staff were concerned about allowing a mass return of students in the fall, Milovick said.
“And the same hold true in winter,” he said. “We have some general concerns about the unpredictability of the pandemic and what it will do in the winter time and we don’t want to start bringing people back [to campus], only to have to shift back [online],” he said.
Milovick said it’s inconvenient to change from one modality of learning to another between semesters, and people would be less inclined to make housing arrangements for school in the winter if not doing so in the fall.
Due to the pandemic, TRU transitioned to virtual classes this past March to finish the 2019-2020 school year.
When it comes to on-campus housing, which stands at about 30 per cent occupancy, TRU is allowing two people per suite, which normally accommodates four people, unless a quartet makes a specific request to be housed together. There will also be extra cleaning protocols, while a number of common areas will not available for use in residences.
Milovick said the low occupancy of students on campus has allowed the university to quarantine international students in residences for the two-week requirement upon their arrival.
The library is closed to in-person visitors this year, but there will be curbside pickup available. The library is also offering to scan chapters or mail materials to students, and, Milovick said, plenty of library materials are available online.
This summer, the library was moved into the Brown Family House of Learning while the building that formerly housed it has been converted into research and administrative space.
The university will also open room 190, the amphitheatre in the House of Learning, as a study space where students can maintain distancing. Computer labs will be made available to students, with distancing requirements in place. Food services on campus will be open, but with limited hours.
“A lot of these things are scalable,” Milovick said of food services. “If we have more people on campus and more demand on service, we can add them.”
Staff who do not need to be on campus will work remotely and those who must be on site will have health protocols in place. Milovick said he anticipates about 30 per cent of faculty and other staff will be on campus at any given time during regular business hours.
Before arriving on the TRU campus for work, class or athletics, employees and students will need to complete three online training courses on exposure control and personal protective equipment that take a few hours.
Anyone attending the university campus is advised to wear a non-medical mask as there may be times they wish to wear one if and when physical distancing is not possible, such as in labs and shops. Health and safety measures in place for the fall include increased cleaning, closing some rooms and spaces and rearranging furniture to allow for physical distancing.
Signage is posted throughout campus to identify room occupancies, traffic flow and physical distancing. Some students and staff may need to sign in to classrooms in the event contact tracing is needed. The university is also running its fans longer and changing filters more frequently to increase ventilation.
In 2019-2020, TRU had an on-campus student population of 15,150.