Publishing School in the Pandemic: Making plans in uncertain times

Cherry blossoms in Vancouver, April 2020

Are we disrupted by the pandemic? Hell yes, we are all disrupted. But we remain committed to our students and our mission and to the well-being of our communities. As an academic institution, we are in a position to keep going, even if it means adjusting how we operate.

In mid-March, Simon Fraser University made the decision to suspend all in-class instruction. That meant we scrambled to pick up all of our existing courses — both graduate and undergraduate — and keep them going online. SFU is invested in the Canvas LMS, which provided a core infrastructure to rely on. And of course, we have expertise in online education, digital publishing, and web-based communications, so this didn’t prove too much of a hurdle for us technically. As with everything in this pandemic, many of the biggest adjustments are social.

For summer term at SFU, the official policy is to continue online instruction. So all our regular courses this summer will be offered digitally as well, and they are seeing healthy enrollments; students want to take courses and complete their degrees, and so we’re offering our summer undergraduate curriculum online.

What will all of this look like come September? No one can say exactly, though we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to be back in the classroom. British Columbia’s relative success at flattening the curve is one source of optimism. But it’s not the whole story; the dynamics of the pandemic could surprise us yet, and it’s possible that we’ll continue to deliver courses online during the fall semester. We are actively planning for that contingency.

A crucial issue for us is our international students. Many of our classes, and especially the Master of Publishing program, have lots of international students. So we also have to think about a scenario in which it is possible to be back in the classroom here in Vancouver, but where travel restrictions mean our international students can’t join us. Here, it’s might help to think about offering our fall courses in a “blended” mode, combining in-class and online interactions. That might allow our international colleagues to join us virtually at first, and in person when it becomes possible to do so.

Because it’s impossible right now to plan for any one situation, we’re instead planning for multiple scenarios and preparing to iterate and make changes as the situation in the world evolves. 

So plan we will, and we’ll keep you updated as things become clearer. Stay tuned!

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