Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

What students can expect at NAIT this fall

COVID check-ins among the new requirements

Daily COVID check-ins, limited entry points, enhanced sanitization and reconfigured shops and labs are some of the changes in store for the reduced number of students who will be on campus this fall.

cleaning staff sanitizing doorsMore than half of degree, diploma and certificate programs and most apprenticeship courses will offer a blended format of virtual and in-person instruction when the fall term begins. This will help ensure student safety and limit the spread of COVID-19, while delivering the same experiential education NAIT is known for.

“We’re still providing those opportunities for students,” says Dr. Sue Fitzsimmons, vice-president academic and provost. “Really for us, it’s about changing the mix of what’s done virtually and what’s done physically. In terms of Alberta’s relaunch, we have an opportunity to create a blend.”

”It’s about changing the mix of what’s done virtually and what’s done physically.”

Decisions about how learning is delivered are happening at the program level. As well, every program that is offering an in-person shop or lab will be required to develop its own safety plan, following provincial COVID-19 guidelines.

“We’re trying to open up as we can allow,” Fitzsimmons says. “Hopefully, we don’t have to contract [operations] if we plan and prepare things well, but we just don’t know what’s going to happen with the pandemic. No one does.”

A phased, rigorous approach to relaunch

Fitzsimmons likens the strategy to turning a dial as opposed to flipping a switch – recognizing that a second wave of the coronavirus is possible and could disrupt learning if classes were delivered primarily in person.

NAIT’s relaunch has been gradual with all decisions aimed at protecting the health and safety of the 5,900 students, apprentices and instructors expected on campus each week this fall. Only students with scheduled labs or shops are allowed in NAIT facilities, while most staff will continue to work from home. Campus also won’t feature regular in-person services such as the fitness centre (recreation has gone virtual), however food services, library services, shop at NAIT and the Computer Commons remain open in modified form. (See current status of NAIT facilities.)

COVID declaration, screenings, daily check-in

COVID-19 signage on doors

Anyone coming to campus must first screen themselves using Alberta Health Services’ COVID-19 self-assessment. They must also fill out a daily check-in form identifying which area of campus they plan to visit.

Before students arrive for their classes, they will also need to read and sign a responsibility declaration that affirms they’ve checked themselves for COVID-19 symptoms. (See NAIT’s Coming to campus checklist.) Prior to September, they will also be required to complete training for safely being on campus at this time.

Precautions and preventive measures

Instead of the regular flow of activity that’s typical for campus in September, expect fewer entry points to buildings and signage directing foot traffic.

Students coming to campus for a shop or lab will notice several new health and safety measures, including a requirement to wear masks in all indoor, publicly accessible spaces. This means classrooms, lecture theatres, labs, shops, computer commons, library, study spaces, meeting rooms, food kiosks, hallways, stairwells, elevators, pedways and washrooms.

Study area closed due to COVID-19

The layout of some labs and shops have also been changed to observe physical distancing requirements and limit the risk of infection – work that started this summer when a small handful of programs resumed labs that were suspended in the spring. Workstations in the Denturist Technology lab, for example, are spaced two metres apart with chairs and signage between each reminding students to take precautions.

“Everything so far seems to be pretty safe. I feel really comfortable being back on campus.”

Power Engineering Technology has directional signage on the lab floor to help with distancing. Other precautions have been put into place to ensure students are wearing protective gear such as masks, face shields and gloves while operating equipment in proximity to each other.

“Everything so far seems to be pretty safe. I feel really comfortable being back on campus,” says Mikael Cotia. The Power Engineering Technology student was back on campus this summer to complete his studies after on-campus activity was suspended last March.

Cotia says wearing a mask and observing distancing hasn’t been difficult, just an adjustment to routine. “It’s very manageable and practical … I don’t mind wearing masks and following the protocols in place.”

Smaller class sizes

In addition to physical distancing, programs such as Baking and Pastry Arts have reduced the size of their labs to 15 students. This helps with distancing, says chair Alan Dumonceaux (Baking ’05), although masks and face shields will be required in areas where students cluster together, such as ovens and the dough proofer.

To accommodate smaller classes, the bakery will operate on three shifts, the first starting at 6:30 a.m. and the last ending at 9:30 p.m. Changes are also in the works for learning outside the lab.

“All our theory will be online and in [learning software platform] Moodle,” Dumonceaux explains. “On days where students would have a full day of demonstrations, this will be a live-streamed class.”

Auto Body Technician will also rely on a mix of online theory, live demos and smaller cohorts, says program chair Bryce Nelson. One change his students won’t have to get used to is wearing masks.

“N-95 particular masks, nitrile gloves and face shields are used extensively in our trade already,” he says.

For many students across NAIT, the smaller lab sizes have been a benefit.

“We get a lot more one-on-one time with the instruments and with our instructors and that’s been incredibly helpful,” says Kaley Carter, who is going into her second year of Combined Laboratory and X-Ray Technology and was on campus this summer to finish up labs that were suspended last spring.

Innovative virtual tools

While some labs and shops will proceed this fall, some programs have found innovative ways to help students learn remotely. Instead of spending 10 to 12 hours a week in an electronics equipment lab, students in Computer Engineering Technology will practice on kits they can work on at home or anywhere.

“The equipment will allow students more hands-on opportunities and experience at home,” says Aruna Brennan, department head for the program.

“The equipment will allow students more hands-on opportunities and experience at home.”

Students in Combined Laboratory and X-Ray Technology will still gain hands-on experience in labs and during work placements in hospitals, but new this year is a virtual program that allows students to simulate radiography techniques.

“It’s innovative and closely aligns with equipment and experience that students would have working in our lab,” says chair Sonja Gauvin (class of ’06 and Bachelor of Technology – Technology Management ’17).

Fitzsimmons says she’s confident that students will get the same quality of education and industry experience, but delivered with everyone’s health and safety in mind.

“I think it’s normal to be nervous, but some of the innovation and creativity we’re seeing from our instructors and our programs is really exciting,” she says. “We’re doing everything we can to make students feel comfortable and safe.”

Watch: Your safety on campus


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