Wot no lectures? – Weeknote #64 – 22nd May 2020

I have decided to take next week as leave, not that we’re going anywhere, but apart from the odd long weekend (bank holidays) I’ve not had any time off working since the lockdown started, actually I don’t think I’ve had leave since Christmas! I had planned to take some time off at Easter and go to London for a few days, as we had tickets for the Only Fools and Horses musical at the Royal Haymarket. I had bought tickets for my wife as a Christmas present and it was something we were all looking forward to. Then all this lockdown happened and the theatre cancelled all the performances as required by the Government.

I did consider keeping my leave, but with leading a taskforce, it was apparent that I might not have the time to take some (and where would I go).

So this week I was winding down slightly as I wanted to ensure I had done everything that people needed before I was off.

Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay

I published a blog post over the weekend about making the transition to online and to not make the assumption that though there are similarities in delivering learning in classrooms and online, they are not the same.

Making that move from the radio…

Making that move from the radio…

If we are to make the move a combination of online, hybrid and blended than we need to ensure that the staff involved in the delivery of learning have the right capabilities and skills to deliver effectively online.

I had an article published on the Media FHE Blog.

How to make online learning a dynamic experience rather than like a ‘Netflix binge’

Yes a bit of a dramatic headline, but that’s the challenge sometimes of writing content for others, they can edit and choose how to present your writing. I like the fact though they kept my final line.

The fact that academics are, despite all the pressures, delivering remotely to students across the UK (and internationally) is an amazing achievement.

Image by Edgar Winkler from Pixabay

On Monday I published a blog post on how the concept of the Intelligent Campus could help universities in their planning. I was reflecting how if the concept of the intelligent campus was further advanced than it is, how potentially more helpful it could be to support universities planning for a socially distanced campus.

Intelligent Campus and coronavirus planning

Students applying for university places in England must be told with “absolute clarity” how courses will be taught – before they make choices for the autumn, says Nicola Dandridge of the Office for Students, as reported in this BBC News article.

This has implications for future planning and announcements of what universities will be doing in the Autumn, and they will need to really have done this by June. What will the student experience be like for students? What aspects of their course will be online, what parts will be delivered physically face to face and which will be done remotely (and possibly differently)? Could we see lectures not just replaced by Zoom presentations, but changed to recordings? Could we see more learning experiences run as asynchronous activities on learning platforms or enterprise solutions like Teams?

Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash

There was a useful Wonkhe post on the committee meeting as well.

Outcomes based regulation doesn’t work in a pandemic. Or a select committee.

“None of us know what’s going to be happening in the Autumn”, said OfS CEO Nicola Dandridge to the Commons Education Committee, who nevertheless added – in the same breath – that “we are requiring that universities are as clear as they can be to students so that students when they accept an offer from a university know in broad terms what they’ll be getting”.

She continued:

“The important thing here is absolute clarity to students so they know what they’re getting in advance of accepting offers.”

I think the real challenge that universities face is that there is an uncertain future and planning degree programmes for that future is challenging, when you need to adapt, translate and transform existing programme, in addition to the reduction in student numbers and income that is to be expected because of the impact of coronavirus. Some disciplines lend themselves to be  translated and transformed, others because of their practical aspects are more difficult. Throw in the requirements of external professional bodies and it makes for a bit of a planning nightmare!

Read this post from the Times Higher – Mergers and ‘FE future’ predicted for some English universities – English universities at risk of financial collapse will receive significant government assistance only if they agree to merge or to accept a “further education future”, vice-chancellors have predicted. In another article on the Times Higher it described the challenges of what could happen if a university was forced to close due to financial pressures. A university closure would provoke a ‘run on the university’, which will be much more expensive than the bailout the sector is currently seeking, says Adrian Bell. The requested bailout would have stabilised the sector, allowing plans and resources to be focused on new and returning students this autumn. Instead, we will now see cost-cutting, redundancies, pay cuts, debt management, and emergency loans as universities struggle to survive.

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

I added another blog post to my lost in translation series, this time looking at transforming debates.

Lost in translation: the debate

So how do you, and how could you translate a one hour debate into an effective learning experience that happens online. The key aspect is to identify the learning outcomes of that debate and ensure that they are achievable in the translated session.

I was interviewed by a journalist on Tuesday afternoon after my thoughts about the shifts in teaching and learning caused by the coronavirus and the potential impact this will have in September.

There are quite a few articles and posts appearing on the subject, like this one from the Guardian.

Universities beware: shifting classes online so quickly is a double-edged sword

“…we may have to get away from the concept of contact hours…”

Something I mentioned in my weeknote last week.

King's College Chapel, Cambridge
King’s College Chapel, Cambridge by James Clay

The big story of the week was the leak (initially) that the University of Cambridge was to switch all their lectures for the whole of next year to be online only.

Cambridge University: All lectures to be online-only until summer of 2021

There will be no face-to-face lectures at the University of Cambridge over the course of the next academic year due to coronavirus, it has been announced.

This was widely reported in the media, though as many pundits and actual lecturers from Cambridge pointed out, lectures are not widely used at Cambridge, compared to other universities. The role of tutorials and seminars seeing to be more important and these will continue physically face to face.

In other news (ie not Cambridge) the University of Bolton says they will be opening in September.

Reading this Twitter thread

Most are thinking that Bolton and Cambridge are doing the same thing, but just spun it differently.

Later in the week, the BBC published this article, Coronavirus: Cambridge University students on no face-to-face lectures. In this article students spoke about what the changes would mean for them.

As I mentioned above uncertainly was the focus of this Wonkhe article reflecting on the news from Bolton and Cambridge.

The only certainty about September is uncertainty for students

What’s remarkably similar about the Cambridge, Bolton and even Manchester announcements so far is the extent to which they focus on what these higher education “providers” “deliver” in terms of teaching. That matters – but as every university marketing department will tell you, students also want to know what life will be like at a given university. “What will be missing” is a much harder question to answer.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Wednesday morning I dropped into Jisc’s Learning Analytics Research Group meeting to hear some of the work on curriculum analytics.

I participated in the online assessment Twitter chat on #LTHEChat I contributed a variety tweets based on the research and conversations I have had over the past few weeks on online assessment.

I had a meeting with the QAA about an event in June where I will be presenting about the quality issues that can arise from delivering remotely or online.

Image by Dean Moriarty from Pixabay

I wrote up my thoughts on hybrid courses.

It’s an uncertain future and one that means courses will need to reflect that uncertainty. Designing hybrid courses which reflect the possibilities of that future, but are responsive enough to respond to changes are probably one way of ensuring that the student experience is meeting the demands of students in a challenging landscape.

Gringotts Bank in ruins
Gringotts Bank in ruins from the Harry Potter Studio Tour by James Clay

The first time I went to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour was in 2015, just after they had added the Hogwarts Express and Kings Cross set to the tour. At the end of November 2019 we made a return visit, mainly to see how different it was dressed for Christmas and with snow. I took a fair few photographs and have posted them to my other blog.

Some of my photographs I thought might make excellent Teams and Zoom backgrounds so I published a blog post with fifteen backgrounds.

Harry Potter Teams and Zoom Backgrounds

London Economics published a paper for the UCU on deferment for the next academic year.

Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on university deferral rates and student switching

Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on university deferral rates and student switching – May 2020

“the likelihood of deferral amongst UK-domiciled students was approximately 17% higher as a result of the pandemic”

The Office for Students published a briefing note on supporting international students during pandemic.

The notes do not represent regulatory advice or guidance – their focus is on sharing ideas and responses, and signposting to further information. They reflect current information as at date of publication in a rapidly evolving situation.

Finally it was agreed that I would lead on the Data Matters conference for 2021.

My top tweet this week was this one.


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