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Strengthening supports for the winter term

Posted by Frank Harvey, Provost and Vice-President Academic (Acting) on December 18, 2020 in News


To:                          Dalhousie students

From:                    Frank Harvey, Provost and Vice-President Academic (Acting)

Date:                     Friday, December 18, 2020

Re:                         Strengthening supports for the winter term

As the fall term ends and the December break approaches, it’s clear how challenging the past few months have been for everyone in our community—particularly you, our students, as you have adapted to the online learning environment, and our instructors and support staff as they have strived to deliver a safe and successful academic experience. While the arrival of the first COVID-19 vaccine bodes well for a return to some new normal later in 2021, for the time being we will continue to work within the confines of the current environment as we prepare for the upcoming winter term.

We have implemented several new measures to improve your experience this winter, based on feedback from the spring/summer and fall terms. We’ve also received questions about the start date of the winter term that we wanted to answer before the break.

Explanation for our winter term approach

We know that other universities have decided late in the semester to delay the start of the winter term. To do so, many have had to eliminate the February study break and modify or condense their final exam schedules.

These options were carefully considered by Dalhousie earlier in September, with input from across our Dal community. It was agreed that maintaining the February break was a priority, because it takes place at a point in the semester when students will need the time to breathe, regroup, complete assignments and prepare for the end of term and final exams. We also agreed that it was important to retain the current exam schedule and dates, rather than collapse the exam schedule to compensate for a late start to the winter term, to avoid the inevitable assignment and exam conflicts resulting from a shorter exam period.

Making this decision early in the fall also allowed many other aspects of our planning to proceed, including planning face-to-face delivery of courses for accredited programs for 2,000 students, experiential learning classes for another 500 students, reopening of residences (including quarantine schedules for those students needing to self-isolate in January), and the return of international students in early January carefully scheduled for mandatory quarantine in Halifax hotels—all planned and organized by our amazing Students Affairs team. The logistics and related resources invested in this planning would be seriously disrupted if Dalhousie were to revisit this decision late in the semester.

The approach we’ve taken to supporting students, faculty and course instructors, and staff considers the unique circumstances here in Atlantic Canada (with self-isolation requirements that don’t exist in other parts of the country) and prioritizes student wellness and success. Some examples of new measures to improve your experience this winter are:

  • We are actively encouraging all instructors who are able to do so to ease slowly into course material this winter. Examples may include using the first week of class in a very limited way, such as simply opening Brightspace sites and posting the syllabus but not necessarily diving into course content, delivering lectures or posting assignments.
  • We are accommodating self-isolation needs for in-person instruction. Instructors with in-person course elements are expected to either deliver the first two weeks of material online or in mixed mode, or implement other accommodations, to ensure students required to self-isolate due to travel can do so. Students with specific concerns are asked to reach out to discuss accommodations with their instructors.
  • In response to student and faculty feedback, we are increasing support to instructors with additional staffing, template tools and resources in online teaching and course development.
  • We have implemented a PASS/ILL grading option that allows you to voluntarily have your grades converted from a standard letter grade to a grade of either PASS or ILL, with a majority of Faculties offering this option to students. This will apply in both the fall and winter terms. For more information, including Frequently Asked Questions, visit the Academic Support site.
  • Dal After Dark has increased its offerings with weekly virtual programming throughout the winter term that will appeal to your unique interests and allow you to connect with one another. You can visit their Facebook page for updated event information.
  • An additional $50,000 has been allocated to student employment. You can view part-time job opportunities at mycareer.dal.ca.
  • Dalhousie Student Health & Wellness has added a counselling group for the winter term that focuses on anxiety. For more information about group counselling sessions, visit the Student Health & Wellness site.
  • Student Health & Wellness has also planned a variety of new sessions of The Inquiring Mind Post-Secondary program, designed to increase mental health literacy, to enhance resilience and coping skills, and to decrease stigma of mental health issues. To stay up to date on sessions during the winter term, visit The Inquiring Mind webpage.
  • The International Centre has recruited a new Mandarin-speaking International Student Advisor to support the growing number of students coming from China.
  • We have implemented a student-focused plan to support our international students’ arrival in Nova Scotia including increased financial bursaries and financial aid.

We know this term has been more challenging and stressful than usual, and I applaud the work that you have done amidst extraordinary circumstances. I encourage you all to take advantage of the resources and supports available to you, to work with your instructors as you ease into the winter term, and to continue to look after one another.

We wish you all a very happy and relaxing holiday, and look forward to sharing a brighter 2021 with you and the entire Dalhousie community.


Frank Harvey
Provost and Vice-President Academic (Acting)