MONTREAL -- Both of Montreal’s English-language universities are planning to move most of their courses online for the fall term, they say.

McGill and Concordia universities, which have more than 85,000 students enrolled between them, expect to start on schedule in September but do their teaching mostly remotely in order to allow social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We look forward to welcoming all newly admitted and returning students this fall,” said Cynthia Lee, a spokesperson for McGill.

“To allow our students to pursue their academic path no matter where they are in September, our courses will be offered primarily through remote delivery platforms.”

Keeping education “equitable” is one of the school’s goals, she wrote, on top of maintaining top-quality teaching. 

McGill has already learned quite a bit about remote education, as current students are on schedule to finish their winter semesters on time, Lee added. She called it a testament to staff and students’ “hard work, resourcefulness, and devotion.” 

Concordia said it’s still working out the details, but its leaders “anticipate that most courses will be delivered online,” said school spokesperson Vannina Maestracci. 

However, there will be a few exceptions, as the school works out the delicate balance of what absolutely needs to be done hands-on. Some portions of classwork, like certain science labs, “will probably still need to be done in person,” she said. “We are also looking at an online component for these, so that those who cannot come to campus can still participate.”

Each type of program has its own needs as the university tries to set up ways to move online, Maestracci said in an interview.

For example, "we have a lot of arts classes at Concordia," she said, many of which rely heavily on face-to-face teaching. "What if you're doing a sculpture class?"

Then there are programs like engineering, where much of the work happens in small groups in person.

"We'll have to be creative and innovative," she said.

Concordia is also placing a premium on flexibility, “examining different scenarios for the fall so that we can adapt to a series of potential future situations,” said Maestracci in her statement. 

“We want to ensure that we can provide our students with the best educational experience possible during these unpredictable times.”

The planning is a mammoth effort. At Concordia, a working group includes members from each faculty, the library, specialists in “innovation and teaching and learning” and other units.

Together, they’re putting together a series of recommendations they will release as soon as possible, Maestracci said.