Although the pandemic is showing no signs of slowing, vaccinations and other precautions have allowed some students and teachers to return to in-person classes this year.
“When I found out that one of the sections of information technology would have an in-person class, I was so excited,” said Gurhasanpreet Singh Mann, an international student at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT).
Singh Mann spent his first semester at SAIT studying online from India. With classes starting at 7 p.m. local time and finishing at 5 a.m., he was relieved to find one of his classes would be in-person, sparking his move to Calgary.
For Singh Mann, it was not just the in-person class he was looking forward to, but the access to SAIT facilities.
“The thing I was excited for was to roam the college and enjoy the college life,” said Singh Mann.
As an avid basketball fan, Singh Mann enjoys playing scrimmage games with his new friends after class.
For Malcolm Clarke, a second-year hospitality management student at SAIT, there is a different reason he is grateful to be on campus.
“The biggest benefit from being in-person so far is the networking,” said Clarke.
After a year of remote learning, Clarke has enjoyed the chance to have personal conversations with his classmates – something he said was not possible with previous online environments.
“It really makes a big difference – career-wise and enjoyment-wise,” added Clarke.
Richard Stroobant has been an instructor in the radio, television and broadcasting news program at SAIT for over 15 years. Although he has enjoyed opportunities that came with the online delivery of classes, he understands the benefits of being on campus.
“You’ve missed some of the camaraderie, and you’ve missed some of the people just getting together and going to the Gate after class,” said Stroobant.
Stroobant added that he missed the problem-solving and brainstorming that occurred when students were on campus.
“There are multiple dimensions to what students come to an institution for,” said Brad Donaldson, Vice President Academic at SAIT.
“It’s the interactions on campus, the interactions with your classmates. It’s getting involved in clubs and other activities,” Donaldson added.
Donaldson estimates that 75 per cent of students have at least some in-person classes this year.
With SAIT’s vaccination rate close to 90 per cent for both staff and students according to surveys run by the institution, the expectation is that classes will continue to return to in-person in the near future.
However, even with high vaccination rates on campus, the pandemic continues to cause uncertainty surrounding the delivery of classes.
SAIT closed its doors on Sept. 16 following the announcement that Alberta was in a state of public health emergency.
The move had some students questioning how the rest of their semester might look.
“I’m in a state of unease, but I am happier than I was last year,” said Clarke, admitting he was worried about a back and forth of in-person and online classes given the fluidity of the situation.
For Singh Mann, he had only been to class twice when he was notified that SAIT would not be operating in-person classes for the remainder of the week. Thankfully, the disappointment he felt was short-lived.
On Sept. 20, SAIT reopened with the Restrictions Exemption Program in place, requiring students and staff to have either proof of vaccination or a negative test result from the last 72 hours to gain access to the campus.
For now, the campus remains open and operational.
“I’m hoping that come January, we will be a freestyling campus,” said Donaldson, a sentiment echoed by many of the faculty and students alike.