Dean Suzanne Kresta discussed the fall 2020 semester with students on May 25, 2020.

Overview: May Student Town Hall

Undergraduate students were invited to a virtual town hall to learn more about online classes in the fall.

By College of Engineering Communications

Online course delivery this fall

Why is it important to continue with your degree this fall?

Dean Kresta started the chat by stressing how important it is for post-secondary students to continue working toward their degrees, in order to avoid a years-long gap in the development of the workforce.

For further context, there was a five-year gap in graduates from our college due to the First World War, followed by the Spanish flu. Shortly after this, our civil engineering fourth-year class was recruited by Dean C.J. Mackenzie to design and build the Broadway Bridge. During the Second World War, engineering students were told not to enlist because the solution to the problem – winning the war – was seen to depend heavily on technology and innovation.

The same principle applies now. We need you – and your increasing skills – to keep our province and our country whole and thriving.

The College of Engineering is committed to ensuring that students can continue their education; we will be delivering a full complement of programming in the best way we can, given current constraints. The resilience you are gaining now by coping well with this adversity will serve you well in life – and we are surprised every day by the positive and creative solutions being proposed by our faculty members.

We are here to support you and we want to hear from you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

What does the announcement of online delivery of classes this fall mean for USask Engineering students? 

Engineering has decided all undergraduate course offerings will be delivered online.

In making this decision, the college looked at the safety principles it would need to consider in creating a robust solution, while continuing to provide predictability and stability for students. Given that a second wave of COVID-19 is consistently predicted across all models for this fall, the most robust solution for course delivery is 100 percent remote delivery.

You will not be required to come to campus at any point during the fall term.

Over the next two months we’ll be further developing our teaching plans for labs and lectures; working with academics and looking at the syllabi so you will know you’re getting an experience that is a legitimate, fully-engaged course. We will be keeping a close eye on how the courses develop and want to keep hearing from all of you as the term progresses.

Will we be back on campus when winter term starts in January?

This will depend on how well COVID-19 is contained and we cannot predict that; however, engineering deans across Canada are looking for ways to ensure that key experiential learning in the winter term can be implemented face-to-face rather than remotely.

Dean Kresta is encouraging students to have a plan to relocate to Saskatoon for January 2021 course delivery. At a minimum, the college would like to reactivate in-person labs and access to specialized facilities for the winter term.

Why are universities worried about having students on campus?

The university is designed for intimate physical mixing of students, faculty, staff, and ideas. When students attend a class and sit in an enclosed space for an extended period of time, we also maximize the potential of transmission. When students mix closely in the hallways before they go to their next class, in libraries and at extracurricular events, all members of our community become super-spreaders.

This constant mixing of people as they share ideas and build friendships – all the great things about being on campus – maximizes the possibility for spread of the virus. Add to that the fact that people will travel home every six weeks or so – taking the virus back to their hometowns – and we have a significant responsibility to reduce this risk by working remotely wherever possible.

Academics also travel extensively to interact with industry and to share their ideas at conferences, increasing the risk of bringing the virus back to campus. For this reason, we expect that all international and domestic travel for USask academics will be cancelled for the rest of 2020.

Editor's Note: To learn more about how COVID-19 is spread among people in enclosed environments, Dean Kresta recommends this article by Erin Bromage, who holds a PhD in microbiology and immunology and teaches and researches infectious diseases.

Course delivery, scheduling and final exams

Will courses be conducted like "traditional" online courses or will the courses have scheduled lecture times (more like traditional lectures but just electronically)?

Students will see a variety of solutions from a variety of professors. Dean Kresta will be encouraging professors to use their class time for interactive student engagement – discussions, tutorials, office hours, or work with TAs – so that the lecture can be recorded and listened to on your own time.

A number of students who will be learning remotely will be doing so from other time zones, so having sensitivity to the constraints people are working with is important. We want to give you the very best experience we can.

We will be sending out a survey within the next couple of weeks to find out what will work best for you. Student feedback will be very helpful.

Will professors have access to the university class rooms to record/stream their lectures?

Yes, they will. There will be a variety of delivery plans, and a variety of methods of delivery, depending on the academic and the course.

Will a prerecorded or live lecture be a part of every class? Professors just posting course notes is not enough.

We will work with academics to ensure we do better than just posting notes. We are not operating in crisis mode for the fall – but we also have to deliver a full term of material.

If I decide to take a reduced course load because classes are only being offered online, would I be able to take the classes I missed in the spring/summer term next year?

At this time, we anticipate we would offer a very targeted selection of courses if we provide additional courses in the spring/summer. We definitely won’t replicate fall term courses in the winter so you can "catch up." 

For some students, a reduced course load will be a good decision, but please talk to an advisor in the Engineering Student Centre before you decide which class to drop. This choice depends heavily on your program and your personal situation.

If two classes are scheduled for the same time period, but one or both are delivered with pre-recorded lectures, can I take both classes?

Though the lectures are prerecorded, if the student interaction portions of the classes are scheduled for the same time, this would create a time conflict. The college will be more flexible in granting time conflict overrides in cases where at least one of the classes will not have any mandatory components provided during the scheduled time. Again, please consult with an advisor to ensure you have all the information you need before making these decisions.

I'm in my fifth year and will only have one lab and capstone in my second semester. Is it possible to take the lab in the first semester since everything is now online?

That will not be possible. We will not be offering out-of-sequence courses in the fall term.

With the fall semester online, will students still be required to purchase textbooks? Will online versions be available?

Your instructor will identify textbooks. Online versions are available through the library and elsewhere, but the choice of textbook and how much it is used is up to individual instructors.

Will final exams be the same as last semester?

Several students attempted to use online platforms to get help with their exams last semester. Those incidents were discovered and investigated thoroughly, leading to consequences that were very serious for those students. We’ll discuss this situation more in the future. It was disappointing for everyone.

Because many faculty had not done an open book exam before, it was hard for some to gauge exactly how to structure their exams. They put effort into creating exams that were fair and would ensure academic integrity. We did get feedback from students that some of the exams were very long and not all of the professors were able to calibrate an online exam so that it took the appropriate amount of time. We will work on correcting the exam lengths.

We may change to a six-hour time limit, so students will not see long, onerous exams. (We can only make this undertaking for Engineering exams though we do talk to the College of Arts and Science regularly about its plans for the upcoming semester.)

Further to this, we’ll continue looking at other means of assessment that will not be so dependent on invigilation. This gives us an opportunity to learn things that will better serve us when our operations are back to normal, and there is substantial data to suggest that multiple short, low-stakes exams give more reliable data and better support student learning.

We’d appreciate hearing any further comments you have about final exams. Please email Dean Kresta or Bruce Sparling, Associate Dean Academic with your thoughts and suggestions.

Labs, building access, Survey Camp and capstone projects

I heard rumours there might be in-person labs in the fall. Will they happen?

Labs will be 100 percent online in the fall.

We had looked at the possibility of having two-week “lab intensives.” However, the logistics of planning this with the likelihood of a second wave of infection causing a campus shutdown in fall would make for a very unpredicatable learning environment, with intermittent travel and residence in Saskatoon. This idea was abandoned. All of the major engineering schools in Canada are going to 100 percent remote delivery this fall.

How will the labs be taught?

Delivering labs online will not mean watching a video of what would have happened in the lab if you had been there. The college is looking at a number of different models. Some may be interactive, such as a virtual lab where you talk with the technician who uses the settings that you pick and you then get your data virtually. Some will be running simulations from your own environment, so that you can see what the lab would produce. Some will combine the video demonstration with other materials.

Will students have access to Electrical Engineering labs in our building?

Most labs require students to work with specific equipment, instruments and hardware that are set up almost exclusively in the Engineering Building.

The college is testing a work-around solution which will allow students to log-in for remote access. While these labs are normally full student access, 24/7, physical access will not be possible this fall.

What about the Electrical Engineering labs at the Synchrotron?

We are planning to move the Synchrotron labs online as well.

Can you still offer the courses that are solely based in a lab?

For courses that are only labs, we are working through plans to deliver this instruction online.

How much access will students have to the Engineering Building this fall?

This fall, we anticipate that we are going to have staged access to the building, depending on where the province is standing with restrictions and reopening. College and university leadership will further consider the question of building access, particularly to computer labs, and provide updates.

How can I access library materials while the Engineering Building is closed?

While all locations are currently closed, the library is operating online. Find out which USask library services are available.

How will fourth-year capstone projects be handled?

We are using a plan basis for return to campus in January; at a minimum for key experiential learning components. This opens up needed flexibility for completing capstone projects. College leadership will be continuing this aspect of crisis and recovery planning through the fall term. Dean Kresta encourages students to plan for a January return to Saskatoon.

Is there an update about CE 271 Survey Camp?

The college is developing an online course for late August. The people who were supposed to take the course this past spring will be able to take it then, or delay it until next year. If you need Survey Camp to complete your degree, you may take the August course and graduate in November.

If Survey Camp is a prerequisite for any of your upcoming courses, we will be granting prerequisite overrides. If you have any problem registering the ESC can help you clear that up.

Will there be additional spaces available in the Rhetorical Communication courses in the Graham School of Professional Development?

The college did add extra sessions of RCM 300 this intersession because there was additional demand for it. We are increasing the section size slightly this fall to ensure students can access those courses. The upper limit is based on the grading requirements for professors, so we can’t add an unlimited number of spots. However, we recognize this will be an in-demand course this fall.

Tuition and fees

Will tuition be reduced because classes are being offered online?

There are two elements to consider in answering this question: What does it cost the university to offer online classes? What are we able to deliver to students? Our costs will not go down; it actually costs the university more to convert to online. A five percent tuition increase was planned for the fall, but the university has decided not to implement that because it is sensitive to the additional strain COVID-19 has put on many of its students. That said, many students will be able to save money by not having to move to Saskatoon for the fall term.

While we would all love to be in our vibrant campus community in the fall, health and safety dictates that we modify our plans, celebrate that we can keep your degree progress on track, and ultimately gain a year of wages by graduating on time.

How will school fees be affected in light of classes moving online?

Student fees are under review. UPDATE: June 8, 2020: Fall fees have been set. More information on USask student fees is avaiable here. 

Who should I contact if I am facing financial difficulties due to the pandemic? Would installment payments for tuition be considered?

If you are in financial duress, please contact the Engineering Student Centre, who will help identify the best solution for you. There are systems in place to support you. For example, the Nasser Family Emergency Fund is one resource for students in financial crisis. Contact the Student Central office to learn how to apply to the fund. International students can find additional information about financial support on this page.

What is USask planning for tuition for the 2021-22 school year?

USask is looking at the national data on that to ensure it is aligned with other schools. There will be student consultation, as regularly happens in other years. Tuition will reflect increased costs for program delivery, as it has over the past decade.

How will the university respond if fewer international students enroll? Will this have a large impact on USask finances?

We believe many international students will continue their courses online. We are monitoring the potential impact of lower tuition revenue but are not treating it as an urgent issue right now.

Registration and advising

Do we follow the same process to register for classes?

Yes, it will happen the same way it has in previous years. Registration for each year will open on specific dates, which are published in PAWS. Courses that are 100 percent remote will have that attribute tagged to them. The ones that may have an in-person requirement (in other colleges) will be noted.

Can international students take the online classes from their home countries? 

Yes, they can. Previously, international students could not register for classes if they were not in the country, but we expect this situation will resolved. Visit the USask COVID-19 updates page for international students.

Will sessional weighted averages still be calculated in the same way?

Yes. All of the usual academic requirements and processes still apply. 

Can I still book an advising appointment with the Engineering Student Centre?

Yes, advisors are still working with students online and there was no break in this support. You can book an appointment with an advisor by calling 306-966-5274 or visit the appointment booking page to reserve a time.

Co-op program

If I am doing my internship, can I take Engineering classes during my work term?

Co-op students may register in one online course per term while on work placement. Approval is required from the Engineering Student Centre prior to registering for a course; please contact to request approval.

Students on a 4-month placement are not permitted to take a course during their work placement and those on longer-term work placements are not permitted to take a course during the first 4 months of that work term.

Can students expect to obtain Co-op program jobs in summer 2021? 

We are moving forward with the new co-op program, which includes seeking internships for our students, offering the co-op preparation course and hiring a second co-op program co-ordinator. Our co-op program fared well this spring, in that it did not lose a significant number of placements. In fact, we are seeing increased job opportunities right now.

When will I find out if I was accepted into the co-op program?

Our goal is to let students know prior to registration in June whether they have been accepted into the co-op program. If you are accepted, you must complete ECIP 200.1 – Introduction to Engineering Cooperative Internship – before you begin your work placement. We will be offering two sections of this class online in the fall, one in September and one in October.

Extracurricular and events

Will the Hard Hat Ceremony be held this fall?

We had hoped to have a Hard Hat Ceremony in the fall term – perhaps in the first week of December – but that will not be possible. We will hold it as soon as it’s safe to do so; we anticipate it will occur sometime in this academic year, but cannot provide a date.

How will student groups be affected by this policy? Will students no longer be able to come to the Engineering Building to use the 3D printers and other resources?

We will work to phase this in in the fall. It will be dependent on the public health rules in place at the time. We are meeting regularly with leaders from the design groups to learn what support they need as we would all like to see a return to competitions next year. 

Did student groups lose money when grad banquets were cancelled?

The college worked with discipline groups to get deposits back for grad dinners booked for this year and we have been able to move most bookings to next year with no loss of deposits. We will also support our student groups as they look at alternate fundraising activities for next year’s activities.