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Confronting COVID-19

Government of Canada eases restrictions for international student arrivals

The Government of Canada has announced that as of Oct. 20 it is easing travel restrictions for international students at select learning institutions whose COVID-19 readiness plan has been approved by their provincial or territorial government. Queen’s is among the initial list of designated learning institutions that can now welcome international students to Canada.

In order to have its COVID-19 readiness plan approved, Queen’s engaged in a rigorous process of consultation and assessment with the federal and provincial governments as well as local public health officials. This process has ensured that the plan meets all federal, provincial, and local public health standards.

The Queen’s COVID-19 readiness plan addresses many different aspects in meticulous detail, including outlining all transportation and quarantine requirements. For instance, the university will provide chartered coaches to transport arriving students from the airport to their quarantine location in Kinston. Queen’s has also arranged with local hotels to make quarantine accommodation packages available to arriving international students.

The university is communicating directly with international students to ensure that they understand the public health requirements and protocols for entering Canada, including a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival. All international students must arrange quarantine plans and discuss them with the university before travelling. They must also provide a negative COVID-19 test at the end of the quarantine period before entering the community. Queen’s will help facilitate the COVID-19 test near the end of the 14 days.

While students are in quarantine, Queen’s staff members will be in touch with them daily via phone or email to check in on their physical and mental wellbeing. Students will also have access to remote wellness services and virtual social engagement opportunities while they complete their quarantine.

International students are not required to travel to Kingston, and they can still make progress toward their degrees if they remain outside Canada.

The university is expecting a limited number of students to travel to Canada in the short term. To establish more precise numbers, the Queen’s University International Centre will be conducting a survey of all international students in the coming weeks.

This development does not affect the university’s return-to-campus plans, as the majority of operations will continue to be conducted remotely.

Learn more about the support Queen’s offers for international students considering travel on the Queen’s University International Centre website.

A local food diet can make you and your community healthier during COVID-19

The Conversation: Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increased interest in local food. This demand could be leveraged to help develop community resilience and encourage healthier diets.

Farmer's market
In this photo from before the pandemic, people purchase produce at a farmer's market. (Unsplash/Megan Markham)

This past summer, many students were not able to fill the suggested 700 farming jobs funded by the federal government due to geographical or transportation barriers, limited positions or career irrelevance. At the same time, there was a larger demand for food grown locally in response to initial concerns about international imports during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

News stories from earlier this year covered farm problems such as milk dumping, produce dumping, an anticipated rise in meat prices and concern about a lack of agricultural production to feed the country.

Since March, farmers have continued selling at farmers markets, have sold out of community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares and responded to an increased demand as more people have taken up homesteading activities such as home cooking, gardening and canning.

This turn to local food, a more plant-based diet and home-based food production has been recommended by health professionals, climate scientists and community resilience builders alike. As graduate and medical student researchers, we see that the potential silver lining of COVID-19 health measures may be the fostering of a healthier lifestyle and building community resilience.

A pile of garlic by a road.
A pile of fresh garlic in bunches ready for pickup and market delivery. Ontario garlic prices have risen this summer as a response to rising demand in local foods and fears that imports will be affected. (Kimberly Hill-Tout), Author provided

Health benefits

The most recent version of Canada’s Food Guide was released in March 2020. There was a stark contrast — the new guide was a move away from its lobbyist-informed predecessor. It recommended daily foods comprising half vegetables and fruit, and in the protein section there was reference to alternative protein sources such as beans, nuts, legumes and tofu.

Plant-based diets have for years now been the recommendation for maintaining a healthy body weight, reducing one’s risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. These diets can also lower cholesterol, slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, help with digestion by increasing fibre intake and reduce the risk of developing hypertension .

Eating locally also means that there are fewer chances for food-borne contamination, and better contact tracing within local systems. For example, red onions imported from the United States were the cause of a salmonella outbreak in Canada, infecting 457 people.

Community benefits

Community resilience is the ability of a community to survive and recover from adverse situations and events. Essentially, the resources that a community has — like food — can be affected by an event, and then adapt and grow in a way that will be more effective to withstanding future adverse events.

Social networks can be a crucial part of building community resiliency. The growing interest in local food as a reaction to COVID-19 can ultimately build social networks through farmer and non-farmer interactions as people seek out local farms and attend farmers markets.

An additional factor that builds community resilience is the increased interest in home skills. During quarantine, there was a surge of people taking up home cooking both as a necessary action as well as for stress relief. People also took up baking, preserving foods, gardening and crafting.

This skill building creates community resilience because people learn to manipulate their resources. Whether it be in the form of stress relief or becoming less dependent on outsourced labour, people “bounced forward,” developing and adapting new methods and skills to mitigate future adversities.

Barriers to access

There are also limitations to the surge of interest in local food and skill-based activities. Similar to the inaccessibility of organic foods to households without disposable income, the affordability of local foods and access to farmers markets during COVID-19 can be a challenge to individuals without transportation or financial means.

An example is Knuckle Down Farm in Stirling, Ont. A small share costs $20 per week, while a large share costs $35 per week, which works out to be between $400 and $700 for a 20-week commitment. These need to be picked up weekly at the farm itself, which is inaccessible by transit. The price increases by $5 per week for delivery to the Toronto region, where it would still need to be picked up from an east-end address.

Encouraging healthy diets during a pandemic

The federal government needs to consider both larger social factors involved in overcoming adverse conditions and support communities that are in need of assistance. CERB financial relief can help cover a few monthly costs, but may not help everyone in taking up healthier diets or fostering community resilience.

To increase access and participation in local food markets, governments need to subsidise local food and deter the dumping of agricultural goods. Community resilience can also be encouraged by offering courses in skills-based activities like food prep and preserving.

COVID-19 has disrupted and changed the way we live our lives. Food can provide a means to encourage healthy diets, improve community relationships and address social inequalities as a way to enhance community resilience.The Conversation

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Kimberly Hill-Tout, Ph.D. Student, Geography and Planning, Queen's University and William Tyler Hartwig, M.D. Student, University of Toronto

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Make your whole day matter

Queen’s University researchers contribute to new health guidelines that recommend moving more, sleeping well, and cutting down sedentary time.

With COVID-19 posing many challenges to overall physical and mental health, it is more important than ever for people to have a clear understanding of what they can do throughout the day to stay healthy.  

Robert Ross

Queen’s University researchers Robert Ross and Jennifer Tomasone have helped develop the first ever 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Adults that show what a healthy use of 24 hours looks like. The guidelines are unique because they integrate the three movement behaviours (physical activity, sedentary, and sleep behaviours) for those aged 18-64 and 65 and older. They also feature new recommendations on light physical activity including standing. 

“These guidelines pull together the best available evidence from across the globe to show Canadians how to make their whole day matter when it comes to movement behaviour,” says Dr. Ross (School of Kinesiology and Health Studies), Chair, Guideline Development Panel. “They are arriving at a critical juncture in the country’s overall health. It’s important that Canadians understand that while it may feel challenging at times, some activity is always better than none and progressing towards any of the guideline targets will result in important health benefits.” 

Jennifer Tomasone

The guidelines were developed by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP), the Public Health Agency of Canada, Queen’s University, ParticipACTION, and a network of researchers and stakeholders from across Canada. 

Even before COVID-19, Canadian adults received a grade of “D” for overall physical activity according to the ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Adults. The Report Card also showed 29 per cent of adults in Canada fall within the “low active” lifestyle category and adults 18 to 79 years old are sedentary for almost 10 hours per day. 

“To increase Canadians’ awareness of the new guidelines, our knowledge translation team has created a suite of evidence-based public-facing materials,” says Dr. Tomasone (School of Kinesiology and Health Studies), Chair, Knowledge Translation Team. “These materials are designed to highlight that by moving more, reducing sedentary time, and sleeping well, we can make our whole day matter for our health. The materials are freely and openly available for sharing at csepguidelines.ca and ParticipACTION.com” 

The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines focus on three core recommendations for adults: 

  • Move More: Add movement throughout your day, including a variety of types and intensities.  Aim to accumulate at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity, muscle strengthening activities at least twice a week, and several hours of light physical activities, including standing. Those 65+ should also include physical activities that challenge balance.
  • Reduce Sedentary Time: Limit sedentary time to eight hours or less per day including no more than three hours of recreational screen time and breaking up long periods of sitting where possible. 
  • Sleep Well: For those aged 18-64 set yourself up for seven to nine hours of good quality sleep on a regular basis, and seven to eight hours for those 65+ years.  Consistent bed and wake up times are also key. 

According to the research, adults following the guidelines can achieve health benefits including a lower risk of death, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, weight gain, several cancers, and improved bone health. Specific to psychosocial health, participation in optimal levels of movement behaviours has been linked to improved anxiety, depression, dementia, cognition and quality of life. For adults 65+, they can also see a lower risk of falls and fall-related injuries. 

To learn more about the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Adults, visit csepGuidelines.ca. For ideas and resources on how to get more active, visit ParticipACTION.com and download the ParticipACTION app.  

A direct peer-to-peer message

Queen’s students collaborate on two new videos urging their peers to follow public health guidelines.

Queen’s students are sharing public health messages with their peers in two new videos urging students to “mask up or pack up” and “space out or move out.” Inspired by similar videos at U.S. universities, the students partnered with Queen’s staff members to produce the messages about the importance of physical distancing and wearing masks.

“We are pleased to support our students in delivering such powerful peer-to-peer messages," says Ann Tierney, Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs. “The majority of our students are taking all the recommended precautions and are following public health guidelines. Our students want everyone to stay safe and have a positive experience and these videos help to emphasize these goals.”

Leaders from the student community are amongst those featured in the videos. Queen’s Rector Sam Hiemstra wears a mask and asks his peers to take precautions.

“It is easy to forget that you're a part of a larger community when you are sitting inside at your desk all day. These videos highlight that we need to be a community now more than ever to fight this pandemic. We cannot hope to end this as individuals; we need come together and be united in our efforts," says Hiemstra.

Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) President Justine Aman takes part as well.

"It has been incredibly inspiring to see so many Queen's students coming together to protect our community. Following public health guidelines is as important as ever and it is our hope that this video will reflect that. Working together we can ensure our community stays safe and thriving," says Aman.

The videos started circulating social media on Oct. 2, and they can be found on the Queen’s COVID-19 information website.

Health Canada green lights ventilator project

The Mechanical Ventilator Milano project, with a Canadian team led by Nobel Laureate Arthur McDonald, reaches critical milestone with Health Canada approval

The Canadian members of the Mechanical Ventilator Milano (MVM) consortium, including Queen’s University researcher and Nobel Laureate Arthur McDonald, have announced Health Canada has given Vexos Inc. authorization for the MVM ventilator to be manufactured in Canada. 

This paves the way for Vexos to manufacture and supply 10,000 ventilators as part of a national effort to treat patients most severely affected by the COVID-19 virus. 

“We are very pleased to receive authorization from Health Canada that will enable manufacturing to begin by Vexos for our order from the federal government for 10,000 ventilators,” says Dr. McDonald. “It has been wonderful to be part of this important humanitarian process where such a dedicated international group, including people from Queen's and the McDonald Institute who have contributed substantially to our team’s efforts and generous donors who have supported us at a critical time in the project.” 

The team of Canadian physicists and engineers played a significant role in the international initiative led by Professor Cristiano Galbiati to create an easy-to-build ventilator that can help treat COVID-19 patients. Their efforts, led in Canada by Dr. McDonald, harnessed the broad talents of the team, many of whom would normally be spending their time working on experiments to solve the mysteries of dark matter. 

The project gained public attention in early April after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted the project as one of the key examples of how Canadian researchers were working together to provide effective and creative solutions to supply shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The team received continuing participation from the lab directors and teams at: 

  • The McDonald Institute - The Canadian hub for astroparticle physics research, uniting researchers, theorists, and technical experts across the country with a central organization based at Queen’s University. 
  • Canadian Nuclear Laboratories - A world leader in developing peaceful and innovative applications from nuclear technology through its expertise in physics, metallurgy, chemistry, biology, safety and engineering. 
  • SNOLAB - A leading underground science facility focused on discovery research in sub-atomic physics, largely neutrino and dark matter physics, but also other interdisciplinary fields using high sensitivity radioisotope assay.   
  • TRIUMF - Canada's national particle accelerator centre. It is one of Canada's premier multidisciplinary big-science laboratories, and is a leading subatomic physics research center internationally.   

“Canada appears to be in the early stages of the predicted second wave of COVID-19 and there is concern this second wave could be more severe,” says Dr. McDonald. “The pandemic has highlighted the need for a stockpile that could become important during a future outbreak, to be deployed where most needed.” 

Learn more about the project on the Research at Queen’s website. 

Digital technologies will help build resilient communities after the coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in increased adoption of communication and network technologies. (Shutterstock)

Amid the horrific public health and economic fallout from a fast-moving pandemic, a more positive phenomenon is playing out: COVID-19 has provided opportunities to businesses, universities and communities to become hothouses of innovation.

Around the world, digital technologies are driving high-impact interventions. Community and public health leaders are handling time-sensitive tasks and meeting pressing needs with technologies that are affordable and inclusive, and don’t require much technical knowledge.

Our research reveals the outsized impact of inexpensive, readily available digital technologies. In the midst of a maelstrom, these technologies — among them social media, mobile apps, analytics and cloud computing — help communities cope with the pandemic and learn crucial lessons.

To gauge how this potential is playing out, our research team looked at how communities incorporate readily available digital technologies in their responses to disasters.

Community potential

As a starting point, we used a model of crisis management developed in 1988 by organizational theorist Ian Mitroff. The model has five phases:

  • signal detection to identify warning signs
  • probing and prevention to actively search and reduce risk factors
  • damage containment to limit its spread
  • recovery to normal operations
  • learning to glean actionable insights to apply to the next incident

Although this model was developed for organizations dealing with crises, it is applicable to communities under duress and has been used to analyze organizational responses to the current pandemic.

Our research showed that readily available digital technologies can be deployed effectively during each phase of a crisis.

Phase 1: Signal detection

Being able to identify potential threats from rivers of data is no easy task. Readily available digital technologies such as social media and mobile apps are useful for signal detection. They offer connectivity any time and anywhere, and allow for rapid sharing and transmission of information.

New Zealand, for example, has been exploring an early warning system for landslides based on both internet-of-things sensors and digital transmission through social media channels such as Twitter.

Phase 2: Prevention and preparation

Readily available digital technologies such as cloud computing and analytics enable remote and decentralized activities to support training and simulations that heighten community preparedness. The federal government, for example, has developed the COVID Alert app for mobile devices that will tell users whether they have been near someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 during the previous two weeks.

Phase 3: Containment

Although crises cannot always be averted, they can be contained. Big data analytics can isolate hot spots and “superspreaders,” limiting exposure of larger populations to the virus. Taiwan implemented active surveillance and screening systems to quickly react to COVID-19 cases and implement measures to control its spread.

A Taiwanese postal worker holding a thermometer.
A woman checks temperatures at the entrance to a post office in Taipei, Taiwan amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shutterstock)

Phase 4: Recovery

Social capital, personal and community networks and shared post-crisis communication are essential factors for the recovery process. Readily available digital technologies can help a community get back on its feet by enabling people to share experiences and resource information.

For example, residents of Fort McMurray, Alta., have experienced the pandemic, flooding and the threat of wildfires. As part of the response, the provincial government offers northern Alberta residents virtual addiction treatment support via Zoom videoconferencing.

During recovery, it is also important to foster equity to avoid a privileged set of community members receiving preferential services. To address this need, anti-hoarding apps for personal protective equipment and apps that promote volunteerism can prove useful.

Phase 5: Learning

It is usually difficult for communities to gather knowledge on recovery and renewal from multiple sources. Readily available digital technologies can be used to provide local and remote computing power, enable information retrieval and analysis and disseminate emergent knowledge. The global learning platform launched by UNICEF and Microsoft helps youth affected by COVID-19.

A sixth phase

Our research suggests a sixth phase of crisis management: community resilience, which is the sustained ability of communities to withstand, adapt to and recover from adversity. Communities must develop the capacity to absorb the impact of pandemics and other disasters.

When face-to-face interactions are limited — like in a pandemic — readily available digital technologies can enable community participation through social media groups, virtual meeting software and cloud- and mobile-driven engagement and decision-making platforms.

Technologies that provide transparent information services such as analytics-based dashboards and real-time updates can create a sense of equity and caring. Apps and portals can connect vulnerable populations to critical care, resources and infrastructure services.

For example, the government of Karnataka, India, partnered with local vendors and hyper-local food delivery services for home delivery of groceries and other essential materials for households quarantined because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Readily available digital technologies help remote communities develop a sense of belonging, sharing and self-efficacy while incrementally building shared knowledge over multiple crises.

Moving forward

The 2003 SARS epidemic taught us valuable lessons about the use of technology during a pandemic. At the time, readily available digital technologies were largely overlooked, because bigger and more expensive solutions were the focus.

In responding to the present circumstances, it is time we explore the benefit of common technologies. The federal government’s recent announcement of funding to support the use of digital solutions in community responses to COVID-19 is a promising step.

Investing in resilient infrastructure is also important, since communities depend on public digital infrastructure for access to the internet and other telecommunication networks. This infrastructure must be affordable, sustainable and inclusive.

But we should not lose sight of the need to support communities in developing their own resiliency — to help them envision their own solutions using readily available digital technologies.The Conversation

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Yolande E. Chan, Associate Dean (Research & PhD/MSc Programs) and E. Marie Shantz Professor of Information Technology Management, Smith School of Business at Queen's University; Arman Sadreddin, Assistant Professor, Business Technology Management, Concordia University, and Suchit Ahuja, Assistant Professor, Business Technology Management, Concordia University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Tackling COVID-19 spread by monitoring wastewater

Interdisciplinary research team at Queen’s University joins national network.

An interdisciplinary research team at Queen’s University is taking the first step in establishing a local group in the  National Sewage Sentinel Surveillance  in Canada. The pilot project is developing capacity to detect SARS-CoV-2 (the infectious agent that causes COVID-19) in sewage and septic samples. 

This work, being conducted at the Beaty Water Research Centre (BWRC), will help with early detection of community-borne COVID-19 and can also be applied to future viral outbreaks. 

“The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has been detected in stool of some infected individuals, including asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic,” says Stephen Brown, professor in the Department of Chemistry and an affiliate of BWRC. “Feces of COVID-19 infected patients may serve as a mechanism for community surveillance with the possibility of earlier detection of outbreaks.” 

The focus of the initial study will be to work with samples from potential hotspots as a way to monitor campus health. The team will also be receiving samples from the Peel region, which has continuously been a hotspot in Ontario for COVID-19 cases. 

This pilot study will use the results as a sentinel for community COVID-19 infection levels and for surveillance for early emergence or reemergence (future waves, seasonal reoccurrence), thereby informing public health mitigation. 

The team will then start with sampling wastewater from Kingston and surrounding areas by working with local utilities and, down the line, the researchers would also like to expand to testing sewage from rural communities who rely on their own private drinking wells and septic systems. 

“Although SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to be effectively removed through a variety of standard water treatment processes, in the absence of a treatment system, households that rely on private supplies may be vulnerable to fecal-oral transmission through the drinking of well water contaminated by a nearby septic tank,” says Dr. Brown. “Another natural extension is to sample recreational waters. For example, the possibility of storm water overflows releasing untreated or partially treated sewage into a receiving recreational water body.” 

For more information please contact the BWRC at BWRC.info@queensu.ca. 

What’s new in securing Queen’s digital environment

With the advent of remote work due to COVID-19, and the increased use of and reliance on information technologies, the University has placed a heightened importance on mitigating cyber threats. Significant investments have been made to ensure there is a secure foundation for Queen’s digital environment  and numerous actions are being taken to protect you and Queen’s data.

Several high priority cybersecurity capabilities are being implemented over the coming months. A comprehensive communications and change management program is also being undertaken to  promote wide adoption and to support you in the steps you will to take to do your part in securing our online environment. Closer to the launch of each, you will receive details from IT Services about the specific actions required. These projects include:

  • The Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) initiative, launched this summer. This initiative helps validate the online identities of users accessing Queen’s resources. MFA was rolled out to staff and student-staff over the summer; faculty and students will be notified to enrol throughout the remainder of the year.
  • In October, a new solution will be introduced to ensure the health of user devices (laptops, desktops, smartphones and tablets) accessing Queen’s resources. The Endpoint Protection project will provide instruction on how to enroll our devices in Microsoft Intune.
  • Also in October, IT Services is launching a new platform for cybersecurity Education and Awareness that focuses on leading practices to identify cybersecurity risks and what we should be doing to respond to them.

For more information about each project, as well as information about other planned initiatives, please visit the Cybersecurity Action Plan 2019-20 page on the IT Services website.

Researchers should note the following newly-released cybersecurity guidance and resources (September 2020). The initiatives in Cybersecurity Action Plan 2019-21 are directly aligned with the recommendations in these publications. Don’t hesitate to contact IT Services if you would like support to secure your environment.

Teaching and learning online

Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) John Pierce on Queen’s efforts to create a successful remote educational environment.

Photograph of John Pierce, Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning)
Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) John Pierce says that the university undertook its largest single-time investment in teaching technology to prepare for remote instruction this fall.

As Queen’s announced that most classes in the fall semester would be delivered remotely to protect community health and safety during COVID-19, faculty, staff, and administration across the university set out to develop strategies for making the term as successful as possible.

Now that the semester is underway, the Queen’s Gazette connected with Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) John Pierce to find out how Queen’s prepared for the challenges of moving to a new learning environment. Touching on topics such as technology, assessment, and accommodations, Pierce explains some of the resources that are in place and some things that students and instructors can expect throughout the fall.

The large-scale move to remote teaching and learning is likely the most comprehensive and sudden shift in course delivery in Queen’s history. Has the university made any specific investments in tools or programs to help facilitate this move to online instruction?

Since March, Queen’s has undertaken its largest single-time investment in teaching technology in the last decade. The investments have been made on two fronts. The first is to supply instructors with the technology required to transfer their teaching materials into an online form and make up for the inability to use physical classrooms. This includes video production software, captioning software, assessment software, and software that enables peer group work in an online environment.

There was also investment in support teams to help instructors figure out how to use this new technology. Queen’s IT Services reinforced its support teams and added longer hours into their support systems. The faculties and schools also did more to build up support for instructors. And the offices of the principal and the provost invested money in the Centre for Teaching and Learning to create teams of students who could help instructors with the technological aspects of their courses. And this support can range from instruction on how to upload videos for courses to more complicated uses of peer-related software tools.

While the university has invested in these new tools to address COVID-19, they will also be useful in the future when we return to on-campus instruction. So we believe this is a significant long-term investment in teaching and learning.

Beyond technology, what other preparations have been made for remote teaching and learning in the fall?

As in-person classes were cancelled in March, meetings began to discuss what a remote teaching and learning environment would look like for a full semester. Throughout the summer, we established a full new set of guidelines to help instructors and students move to remote instruction. In the new guidelines, we’ve tried to reconsider a number of aspects of instruction, from how to present material, how to engage with students, and even how to assess and examine students. The guidelines represent a kind of re-envisioning of what the teaching and learning environment at Queen’s is like.

At Queen’s, there is usually a decentralized approach to teaching and learning, where the faculties and schools develop their programs on their own. But we came to an understanding across the university that we need to coordinate more because we all shared the challenges of the pandemic. The Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) website underwent a significant overhaul to centralize a number of guidelines and resources.

There were also a number of training modules and sessions set up both by the faculties themselves and centrally by the Centre for Teaching and Learning. And these were primarily for instructors to adapt to a new environment. Those sessions went on all through the summer and were well attended by both experienced instructors and new instructors.

We also had to think about accommodations. Because we realized that this new environment would present special challenges to students. Both for those who need formal accommodations but even students who do not normally need accommodations are under new stresses, such as creating their own workspaces and supplying their own Internet connection.

With students taking classes from across Canada and around the world this semester, finding a balance between synchronous and asynchronous teaching seems very important. Can you say more about how Queen’s is approaching this issue?

We have a new challenge in the timing of synchronous activities during remote instruction. Since we have students from all over the world and from different time zones, new challenges arise with synchronous instructional activities. Students in different time zones might have to get up in the middle of the night to take part in a synchronous event, and those late night periods are not conducive to the best learning experience. Many instructors are moving largely or exclusively to remote instruction to avoid this problem; some are holding several of the same synchronous activities to ensure that no student has to engage with the course at unreasonable hours. Finally, we are advising all instructors to ensure that whatever material is presented synchronously is recorded or conveyed to all students in an alternative form so no student is disadvantaged. Our guidelines to synchronous vs. asynchronous teaching are available on the Teaching and Learning website.

With all these changes, what do you think students can expect from their remote classes in general?

Students will see a variety of approaches to remote teaching and learning. There will be a variety of uses of technology and a variety of types of pedagogy. This is a fact of moving rapidly to a largely new model of course delivery. Some instructors will use technology in intensive ways. And for others it will be less intensive. While there are many different methods used in in-class instruction, the varieties of approaches used in remote instruction may be even more wide ranging.

There’s no getting around the fact that this new environment is challenging for instructors and students alike. But there is a high level of commitment on all sides to make this work.

With the change in learning environment there will probably also be changes in how students are evaluated as well. How will test and exam proctoring – and assessment more generally – work for the fall semester?

Extensive thinking has gone into how we assess students in this new learning environment. A lot of instructors have looked into alternative forms of assessment to the standard exam. However, for many instructors and disciplines, exams are still the best way to assess student learning. So there are courses where remote proctoring will be used for the fall semester, both for term tests and finals.

Queen’s has carefully examined two tools, Examity and Proctor Track, and approved their use after determining that they meet the privacy and security requirements of the university. Both of these tools have been used in the past, and they will be used going forward. These tools ensure the integrity of exams.

Queen’s has also put together a guideline on academic considerations technical failures or in-the-moment interruptions that might occur while a student is taking a test or exam. It says that if a student has a technical failure or interruption in their workspace that was unpredictable or random, there should be consideration and allowance to accept that as a bona fide problem. And the instructor should work with the student to address that.

This does not apply to chronic failures. For instance, if a student has a persistently unstable Internet connection and makes no attempt to address the issue, this situation does not warrant an academic consideration. The same goes for workspaces. Students are responsible for finding a workspace that generally enables them to complete their work. But it’s understood that there may be momentary noises or interruptions that prevent students from completing their work.

To help ensure that their remote test or exam goes smoothly, all students should take a practice test on the exam platform to identify any technical challenges that might arise.

No matter the form of any test or exam, Queen’s will ensure that all formal accommodation needs of a student are met. There is more information on remote proctoring on the Registrar’s website.

Are there any resources available for faculty or students who want assistance as they go through a full semester of remote courses?

The Centre for Teaching and Learning has many resources available on its website, including guidelines and training materials for remote instruction.

Queen’s IT Services provides tutorials on their website about using remote teaching and learning technologies.

Students can find resources through the Division of Student Affairs. For example, Student Academic Success Services offers academic skills resources. And Queen’s Student Accessibility Services can offer assistance with academic accommodations.

The faculties and schools also have their own resources and supports in place, and you can find more information about them on their websites.

Do you have any words of advice for students or instructors for the fall term?

This is a challenging new environment for everyone. And there are obviously stresses associated with this new learning environment. I hope that students who are feeling large amounts of stress will seek support through resources like Student Wellness Services and Empower Me, and that they keep a line of communication open with their instructors. I also hope that everyone will stay in close touch with their peers and colleagues throughout this time. Because we all have a common goal to make this semester as successful as possible, and we’ll need to support each other to do so.

Holding limited in-person classes

Extensive health and safety guidelines for classrooms are allowing students and faculty to take part in a small number of courses on campus.

Photograph of a lecture hall with markers on seats to promote physical distancing.
Yellow markers in this lecture hall in Chernoff show which seats students can sit in and keep two metres of distance from others.

When Queen’s decided to move courses online for the fall due to COVID-19, it also took up the challenge of finding ways to safely hold a few small classes in person for select programs. Now with extensive health and safety guidelines in place, the university is welcoming a small number of students and instructors back to campus.

“Promoting health and safety during the pandemic is the top priority of the university at this time, which is why the vast majority of classes in the fall will be delivered remotely. But where possible we also wanted to preserve in-person education for some courses and programs,” says John Pierce, Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning). “Our guidelines for classroom use are making it possible for students and instructors to follow public health protocols while meeting in person on campus.”

Approximately 80 small classes have been approved to meet on campus. These courses come primarily from the Faculty of Health Sciences, the School of Graduate Studies, and some professional programs.

The university has put many precautions in place to ensure that all class participants can keep two metres of physical distance. Most of these small classes are being held in large lecture halls that are operating at a significantly reduced capacity. Markers on seats show students which seats are available for use, and all available seats are at least two metres apart from each other.

Students are required to wear a mask at all times while they are inside a campus building. If students are unable to wear masks under the KFL&A Public Health pandemic order exemptions, they should advise their instructors and instructors must offer them the ability to complete the class remotely. Instructors should not send these students to Queen's Student Accessibility Services to request a formal accommodation, but should accept a student's request in good faith and respond appropriately.

Lecturing instructors do not need to wear masks, but they are able to maintain physical distance by standing behind the plexiglass shield at the front of the podium. Instructors are also asked to start and end classes at designated times, so students can maintain physical distance while entering and exiting.

All classrooms will be cleaned thoroughly once a day, and hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes will be available in all classrooms. Students and instructors should sanitize their hands and wipe down chairs and tables at the start of each class.

When students approach a classroom, they will see guidelines for using the room posted on the door. And there will also be floor decals spaced two metres apart to help them maintain physical distance if they need to wait to enter a class.

Most campus buildings will remain locked throughout the fall. Buildings that hold courses will be unlocked only for the class. The doors will unlock 30 minutes before the start of the class, and they will lock again 30 minutes after the class begins. Classrooms are to be used for approved classes only.

These classroom guidelines are a part of the university’s overall return-to-campus strategy, which seeks the safe, responsible, and gradual return to normal operations, as Public Health guidelines permit. As part of this effort, the university is continuing with remote delivery of classes this fall for most students, limiting the capacity of campus residences to under 50 per cent, making face masks mandatory, and ensuring physical distancing. As recently announced, such plans will continue into the winter term. Queen’s has begun a phased reopening of the Athletics and Recreation Centre with new health and safety protocols in place, and has added a COVID-19 assessment tool to its on-campus mobile safety app, SeQure.

Everyone is also encouraged to follow hand hygiene, mask wearing, physical distancing, and other public health guidance to limit COVID-19 spread.

For more information on the university’s COVID-19 planning and resources, visit the COVID-19 Information website.

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