This was the first week of the third national lockdown and the week that the President of the United States attempted to subvert democracy through violence.
Well after two weeks on leave it was back to work. Due to covid restrictions and a growing number of cases I wasn’t about to head off to the office as I would have done in previous years. It was back to working from home. Two of my children were also at home, undertaking remote learning.
I didn’t anticipate too many e-mails in my inbox as virtually everyone else had been on leave for most of the two week as well, however was slightly surprised to find 95 in there.
Of course, going through them I found most of them were from mailing lists and spam, so it wasn’t long before I was down to just three.
Monday evening saw an announcement from the Prime Minister that England was going to again go into a national lockdown, there were similar announcements from the devolved administrations.
Schools and colleges were to close to all students except for children of key workers and vulnerable children.
Unlike the first lockdown where universities across the UK initially unilaterally closed their campuses and sent students home, this time, as they did in November, the Government has provided guidance to universities on what they should be doing.
Unlike in March, universities were able to continue to deliver in-person teaching for specific groups, however other students were expected to remain at home.
Those students who are undertaking training and study for the following courses should return to face to face learning as planned and be tested twice, upon arrival or self-isolate for ten days:
- Medicine & dentistry
- Subjects allied to medicine/health
- Veterinary science
- Education (initial teacher training)
- Courses which require Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body (PSRB) assessments and or mandatory activity which is scheduled for January and which cannot be rescheduled (your university will notify you if this applies to you).
Students who do not study these courses should remain where they are wherever possible, and start their term online, as facilitated by their university until at least Mid-February. This includes students on other practical courses not on the list above.
We have previously published guidance to universities and students on how students can return safely to higher education in the spring term. This guidance sets out how we will support higher education providers to enable students that need to return to do so as safely as possible following the winter break.
If you live at university, you should not move back and forward between your permanent home and student home during term time.
For those students who are eligible for face to face teaching, you can meet in groups of more than your household as part of your formal education or training, where necessary. Students should expect to follow the guidance and restrictions. You should socially distance from anyone you do not live with wherever possible.
Some universities went further, UCL told their students not to return to campus, whilst the LSE said all compulsory teaching would move online.
The news was full of stories about lack of laptops and connectivity this week, but I do think the issue is wider than that. My household has digital privilege, we have a 1Gb/s fibre connection and both my school age children have devices to access online learning.
However we did have an issue this week with a 300MB presentation uploaded to Google Classroom. We were unable to download the file (as that was restricted), we couldn’t preview the file (as it was too big) and Google Slides couldn’t open it.
We struggled, I did think that a student on a 3G connection with a bandwidth limit would also struggle with accessing the file.
Is the solution providing devices and bandwidth? Well in this case no the design here was a problem. Maybe we need to start thinking about low bandwidth and asynchronous curriculum design, which puts the learner first.
Did a lot of thinking about digital poverty this week, but I think that my colleague Lawrie sums it up best with this tweet.
Lots of stories on my local news about “digital poverty”. Let’s be clear, it’s not digital poverty, it’s poverty, and the differences between those with digital access, and those without are growing because of poverty.
— Lawrie (@Lawrie) January 7, 2021
In the same week that universities were defending the fees being charged for delivering their courses online, I had an e-mail from one university stating that they did not think they should pay for an online conference, though they would pay to attend a physical conference. There is something here about recognising the value of something despite the platform (physical or virtual) that it is being delivered on.
I had a blog post published on the Jisc website this week on data.
One thing that has become more apparent this year is the importance of data in supporting both student and staff experiences. However, sometimes making wish lists for the future is the easy part; what is often harder is figuring out that vision and the steps required to get there.
Prior to the pandemic, one of the key challenges that higher education was thinking about was the climate emergency and how they could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and move to a carbon net zero position. Despite the pandemic this is still an issue and I was involved in a meeting where we discussed some of the challenges and issues and potential solutions. What is different now is that the pandemic and the lockdown has changed the thinking of many higher education institutions about the design of their campuses and their curriculum.
The third lockdown has got many institutions thinking about their curriculum design, also what they need to do to embed practice for the future. How do we move from models of translation to ones that are transformative.
My top tweet this week was this one.
Just had my first Teams call of the year, wonder how many of those I will have over 2021?
— James Clay (@jamesclay) January 4, 2021