Introducing our combined approach for fall term learning

Friday, May 15, 2020

This message was originally sent to employees by Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor.


It is now nine weeks since we took unprecedented steps to move our University to remote learning and working. Today, I am writing to share details of our plan to come back to campus when conditions allow.

As I have said many times, COVID-19 has created extraordinary challenges for everyone. I am so proud of your response to these challenges and how we have come together to make sure we give our students the academic experience they deserve.

Our resilience and spirit make us a University built for change. I am confident that Waterloo has the people, knowledge and skill to emerge from the pandemic stronger than before.

As Ontario and Canada begin to flatten the curve, we can reveal our plan for the fall term and the principles that underpin our thinking.

Most importantly, I want to be clear:

  • we will be offering a full fall term for every student whether they are new to Waterloo or returning,
  • we will follow the advice and guidance of public health officials, as well as internal and external experts,
  • we hope to enable on-campus experiences and supports for as many students as possible, subject to public health advice, and
  • we will support the academic progress of every student who registers, no matter where they are for the fall term.

Large classes will happen online with some in-person classes and supports

Throughout the pandemic we have delivered the highest quality courses and experiences for our students at a distance. This will continue into fall Term. As we apply learnings from the extensive Spring term at Waterloo and invest in further upgrades to distance learning, we will continue to put students in the centre of everything we do.

Starting September, we will continue to deliver all large courses online. This means most of our first-year classes will happen online although we hope some course elements such as labs or tutorials will be available in person. Though the COVID-19 situation may change throughout the term, all large classes will stay online throughout fall term.

We are working on a plan for some activity to happen in person, if the conditions allow. This could mean clinical programs, smaller undergraduate classes or seminars and research-based graduate students working in labs. Any in-person activity will meet strict guidelines for physical distancing and other public health requirements.

I have asked our academic leaders to develop plans for this combined approach to the fall Term. I expect to share more information on this soon.

We will operate on-campus supports as conditions allow

To support a measured return to in-person learning in the fall term, we are making plans to open our campus to support students. We know that some students will want to come to Waterloo to study, even if our buildings are not fully open.

We will ensure that those students who are unable to return to campus in the fall will continue to be equally well supported.

As well as the highest-quality instruction, students can expect to get the highest-quality supports we can offer them. This could mean limited access to libraries or computer labs and other learning and personal resources. For students learning at a distance, we will continue to offer the same high-quality supports we are currently providing.

Timing for when and how we can make our campus available will depend on guidance we get from public health authorities. We will share more detailed information – including our plans for residences and other activities – when we have it.

We will continue to ensure we protect the health and well-being of our whole community

Heading into the fall, some people may return to working on campus depending on the needs of their unit. Making sure that we continue to play our part in preventing the spread of COVID-19 remains vital. So, for some of our employees this means they may not return to our traditional workplaces for some time.

We are working on a plan for a phased approach to restarting the research enterprise. We will share more information on this soon.

We are preparing plans for a staged and safe return to campus for other employees that will consider function, role, conditions and equity. Whatever we decide, we will stay in lockstep with the direction we get from all levels of government to ensure we can resume operations safely.

We will support our community to recover from COVID-19

While we are preparing for the fall term, we are developing plans to support students who need it. This includes support for students in financial difficulty, people who need health and mental health advice, and people who need academic support. Our employees can expect to get the help they need to teach, research, learn and work.

We are keen to lend the power of Waterloo to our community and our country in kick-starting our economy and combatting and ultimately beating this virus. We are also keen to come back together, in person, as soon as it is safe. I want to emphasize that the following principles have guided our thinking for the fall term in 2020:

  • We will continue to prioritize health and well-being of everyone in our community.
  • We will deliver quality learning experiences worthy of our students in any format.
  • We will phase in in-person activities when public health authorities say it is safe.

We will stay focused on efforts to develop the talent required by Canada for our economic and social recovery. Most people characterize the last nine weeks as a challenge. I'm choosing to characterize them now as a call to action. For a university like ours - one that thrives on change and creating real-world impact - these are times to step forward and embolden our people, knowledge and entrepreneurial and community spirit.

We have an opportunity now to lead into a new phase of our University's life and build better outcomes for our students and the world. Thank you for your dedication to Waterloo and to the people who make this place not just special, but essential.

I look forward to working with you as we get ready for what comes next - and to seeing you outside Needles Hall sometime in the 2020-21 academic year.

Visit the University’s COVID-19 Information website for the latest updates and news.