So we know many universities are planning for blended and hybrid programmes with some aspects of courses delivered physically, but socially distanced. Some parts will be delivered online through tools such as Zoom, Teams and the LMS. Some will be asynchronous, but some won’t.
My question is this, where (physically) are those universities expecting their students to access those online aspects of their programmes, especially those which are synchronous? They will need a device and an internet connection, but they will also need a physical space to participate as well.
Yes they could go back to halls, or to the room in their shared house, their bubble space.
However imagine a commuter student who has arrived on campus for a physical face to face seminar and then needs to attend an online session. Where are they expected to do that? If they are to be on campus, where would they go? Would they know where they could go? Are they expected to go “home”?
Likewise a student attends a physical face to face session in a social distanced seminar room, they then next need to attend a synchronous online lecture (via Zoom) before attending another physical face to face tutorial.
In these scenarios that student will need a social distanced physical space to access the online session. They will need a device suitable for the tool (or even tools) being used as well as a decent connection.
Now turn that around and look at what staff will be doing, they could be delivering a physical face to face seminar and then need to go to a device to deliver that live online lecture. Does their office computer have a webcam and do they have a decent microphone? Do they share an office? What do they do if they are in open plan offices with half the desks taped off for social distancing? You may want to deliver your online session from home, but if you need to be on campus for the physical sessions then you may not have a choice.
We guess that campuses won’t be as “busy” as they were before lockdown, so some of the challenges will be mitigated, but then we have to reflect that many of the students who would have been “locked away” in lecture theatres will now potentially wandering around campus or trying to find a space to study, so I am not that confident that campuses will be less busy than they were before.
I remember going to one university last year during term time, and it didn’t appear to be that busy and then the scheduled lessons and lectures finished, the doors opened and the corridors were awash with people.
This in itself, even in less crowded campus brings its own challenges when it comes to end time of timetabled physical face to face sessions. How do you avoid those crowds and congestion on the hour or half hour? Will you need to plan in different end times, more time in between sessions. This may also be needed if one way systems are put into place to ensure social distancing.
These are only some of the issues that universities are facing when it comes to planning and designing their timetables and schedules for the new academic year. This is in addition to ensuring spaces are meeting the (changing) social distancing regulations as well.
The social distancing rules may be relaxed, which may make things easier, but what happens if things are tightened up? If anything that’s make it even more challenging.