CALGARY -- On any given day this year there are about 2,000 students at the main campus of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, substantially fewer than there were in years prior to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some classes at the Calgary post-secondary facility are being offered strictly on an online basis but for those subjects that require hands-on learning, students are on campus in the lab with an instructor.

David Zajdlik, SAIT's director of safety and community services, says his focus is on keeping students and faculty safe in the learning environment and it took some time to hash out new protocols.

"We started trials last summer as the requirements from governments for post secondaries were  published," said Zajdlik. "We did a couple trial labs and then we brought on our full complement of in-person learning in September of last year."

In the last five months, the school has fine tuned a system that everyone is buying into.

Now doors are locked at buildings on campus and there is typically only one way to get in. Upon arrival, visitors have to scan a QR code and fill out a COVID-19 health and safety form before entering. Then a student safety ambassador opens the door, checks credentials and either allows or denies access.

No outbreaks

Since reopening for classes, there have been 60 COVID-19 cased identified on campus but there have been no in-school transmissions and no outbreaks.

Zajdlik says in most cases, lab classes are smaller and everyone wears a mask and sanitizes work spaces regularly.

"If students use or share tools and equipment for example those need to be cleaned and disinfected," said Zajdlik. "But we try to avoid something like that by having students have their own gear and set up so that it's just theirs."

Ryan Mann, a SAIT carpentry instructor, likes how his days are now organized with both in-person lab work and virtual classes.

"Teaching them theory, math and blueprints, some drafting, it's been really cool dealing with all the new technology we get to play with now," said Mann.

Mann says he's able to connect with students outside the lab for one-on-one chats.

"Just because you have a class from one to three o'clock doesn't mean you're interaction stops with them there," said Mann. "They're going off and working and we're able to engage with them in an online call or something like that more easily than we were before."

Liam Butterfield is a second year carpentry student and likes being at home for virtual classroom lectures and then the lab later in the day.

"Yah, I actually like it better to be honest with you," said Butterfield. "I feel like I'm more efficient with my time, not as much time wasted I'd say."

"We've got on our website information for students and people, things they need to know to come to campus and be safe," said Zajdlik.