Tag Archives: lockdown

Short, sharp, break

Big Ben
Image by Andreas H. from Pixabay

So no new measures being imposed today. Rumour has it though that the government will introduce a short sharp lockdown after Christmas to try and reduce the rate of increase in covid infections, and as a result lessen the impact on the NHS. 

I have read that one part of this is about Higher Education moving to remote (online) teaching, so that students stay at “home” rather than returning to campus. 

Due to the length of the rumoured lockdown, probably means that this will have less of an impact on the student experience than a longer lockdown we have experienced.

Will we see more effective delivery during this time? Let’s hope so, though there is even less of an impact than if there wasn’t. 

I have written a series of guides, I know guidance not help, that may be useful to those planning for this circuit breaker lockdown.

Omicron is here!

laptop user wearing a mask
Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

Things move quickly when it comes to Covid variants and infection rates. Yesterday saw the highest recorded infection rate for Covid so far. With rates doubling every two days, in theory the entire population of the UK will be infected by early 2022 due to the exponential growth of the infection rate.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I published a blog post, Omicron on our doorstep, time to prepare for another lockdown, that said:

What we do know about the Omicron variant is that it is highly transmissible and with some of the population deciding to refuse to wear masks, I think it will only be a matter of time before we see rising infection rates and the possibility of another lockdown.

We now have new restrictions in place, with advice being to work from home and we have to wear masks on transport and in retail outlets.

Despite the government insistence that there won’t be a lockdown, universities do have a responsibility to their students for their health and welfare.

It was only at the beginning of November that I wrote about the possibilities of in-person teaching now that 90% of university students had had at least one Covid jab. Of course this means that many students are not double vaccinated and very few will have or be able to have the booster. We do know from the evidence that the medical impact of Covid on young people is not as severe as it is on the older generation, however not all students are in that young age group and the staff they interact with are usually older as well.

We may not go into another lockdown situation, but are universities prepared to pivot again to online delivery and teaching?

I do wonder if any university designed their courses to be responsive (or as I called them back in the day hybrid).

With a responsive course, some sessions are physical face to face sessions. There are live online sessions and there are asynchronous online sessions. In addition there could be asynchronous offline sessions as well. You may not want to be online all the time!

Some sessions could be easily switched from one format to another. So if there is a change in lockdown restrictions (tightening or easing) then sessions can move to or from online or a physical location.

These responsive courses will allow universities to easily clarify with students about their experience and how they potentially could change as restrictions are either lifted or enforced. It helps staff plan their teaching and assessments to take into account the environment and changes to the situation.

Of course this is all challenging and makes many assumptions about staff digital skills and fluency, as well as their pedagogical capabilities. 

Designing an in-person programme of study is challenging enough, but if you have been doing for some time (as in years) you have some idea of what works and what doesn’t work. Despite the emergency response to the first lockdowns, it was evident from the discussion I had with academics that most found it very challenging to designing an online programme of study, it didn’t help of course that we were in the middle of a global pandemic. We know that the student experience for many students was poor, despite the fact that academic staff were working hard and were exhausted. Some of this was down to merely translating or digitalisation of existing in-person programmes to an online format, which we know can work, but in most cases loses the nuances of what made that in-person experience so effective and doesn’t take advantage fo the affordance of what digital and online can bring to the student experience.

What can be done is to prepare staff in the possible move to online, with support, guidance and importantly clarity about where to get help if and when studying moves online.

Support can take many forms, from the technical where something isn’t working. The application, how do I do this, using this tool? Also pedagogically, I want to do this, how do I do this online? Guidance is only part of the solution, access to help when required is also essential.

Finally now would be a good time to a manage student expectations and also what the university will expect from them.

Hopefully this surge in cases is controlled by changes in behaviour and mask wearing, and that the medical impact of Omicron is minimised through vaccination, boosters and the fact that it may not be as nasty as other variants. However not to prepare, just in case, would be foolish.

Maybe today is the day you start wearing your mask again – Weeknote #144 – 3rd December 2021

This was a full week back at work and I was in London for most of the week. Over the summer I had enjoyed working in the London office, a change of pace, location and routine compared to the forced working from home we had endured during the pandemic. Having had a fair amount of time off work, sick with covid, it was nice to be back in the office, talking and chatting to colleagues and similarly to the summer having the change of place and routine. The office was much busier than it had been in the summer. It felt quite normal in some respects, a little quieter than it was pre-pandemic.

However it was only a couple of weeks ago that I wrote about the possibilities of in-person teaching now that 90% of university students had had at least one Covid jab. Last week though we saw a new variant of concern of the coronavirus was identified by South African scientists and labelled by the WHO as Omicron.

On Monday I wrote about the impact Omicron could potentially have on the HE sector though my main messages was that universities should prepare for a possible lockdown.

Hopefully the vaccination rollout and mask wearing will reduce the chance of lockdown, but I would still be preparing for the possibilities of another lockdown regardless.

As we reach the end of the week, there have been some stories on the spread of Omicron, across the world, spreading to Europe, as might be expected with global travel and concerns this variant would have on infection rates (being more transmissible) and the subsequent impact on health resources. There were also some positive stories about the potential of vaccination to reduce the impact of Omicron.

Having said all that I would still be preparing for the possibilities of another lockdown regardless.

As you might expect, I ensured I was wearing my mask on public transport and when entering shops, eating places and as I walked around the office.

We had an HE leadership meeting on Monday and the majority of the meeting was discussing key challenges with our new CEO.

One of the things I reflected on was the success of Learning and Teaching Reimagined (LTR) and what we should do next. In order to build on and support the sector to deliver on the recommendation and work towards the challenges, Jisc working with members produced Higher education strategy 2021-2024: powering UK higher education which outlined how Jisc would support the sector going forward.

However LTR with its focus on teaching and learning leaves the door open to other ideas. There are a range of subjects that Jisc could focus on and undertake a similar range of activities and events as we did with LTR. This, like LTR, could be a sector-wide initiative focused on providing university leaders with inspiration on what the future might hold for higher education and guidance on how to respond and thrive in those environments. We could look at the student experience, leadership, the campus… there are a range of areas in which we could focus on in.

laptop and headphones
Image by Regina Störk from Pixabay

I published a blog post about the pandemic response and what we saw though described as online learning, wasn’t online learning.

One of things I have noticed is how often much of what was done during the numerous lockdowns was described as online learning. Let’s be clear you can describe what was happening as an emergency response to a crisis, even simplistically a pivot, but what was happening across schools, colleges and universities could in no way be described as online learning.

Some of my meetings were cancelled this week, which though freeing up time, can be frustrating.

This week was the Ascilite Conference. I really enjoyed attending and keynoting the conference back in 2009. Back then the UK was in the midst of an outbreak of swine flu. I didn’t go this year, but I may think about attending next year (pandemic permitting). This year it took place online and in-person at University of New England, Armidale NSW in Australia.

Martin Bean was part of a panel session and one comment (well tweet) I saw about the session mentioned the importance of authentic assessment, which made me think.

I think there is a blog post in this.

Was reminded this week that I am rubbish at Twitter.

While eating dinner on Wednesday evening, I participated in the #LTHEChat Twitterchat, Decolonising Learning Technology  led by Professor John Traxler.

I participated and did note that so much educational technology is designed for specific sector and its cultural norms, and then adjusted for other sectors and then other cultures. It was a really interesting debate and I enjoyed the discussion.

As it was December, I started tweeting out my advent calendar posts from a few years back. I really ought to spend some time doing new ones.

At the end of the week we had a HE Team meeting.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Omicron on our doorstep, time to prepare for another lockdown

discarded mask
Image by Roksana Helscher from Pixabay

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I wrote about the possibilities of in-person teaching now that 90% of university students had had at least one Covid jab.

One thing we do need to recognise though, is that the pandemic is far from over. We may not go into another lockdown situation, but are universities prepared to pivot again to online delivery and teaching? Hopefully we will start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we do need to be prepared, as that light may be further away than we think it is.

I also wrote

Also new variants can reduce the efficacy of the vaccines, as well as the fact that the efficacy of the vaccine declines over time.

On Saturday morning I was reading the news about the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

I posted this tweet.

By the afternoon the government announced that mask wearing in shops and on public transport would become mandatory again on Tuesday the 30th November.

The government also announced that face masks would be compulsory in educational institutions.

The measure, which applies from Monday, covers all education establishments including universities, as well as childcare settings such as early years care.

That light at the end of the tunnel now seems a litter further away than it did back at the beginning of November.

Zoom
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

I also wrote in that earlier blog post:

We may not go into another lockdown situation, but are universities prepared to pivot again to online delivery and teaching?

What we do know about the Omicron variant is that it is highly transmissible and with some of the population deciding to refuse to wear masks, I think it will only be a matter of time before we see rising infection rates and the possibility of another lockdown.

So I ask again are universities prepared to pivot again to online delivery and teaching?

Are we in a better position than we were before?

Well much of those early teething issues will have been resolved, and people will have a better idea of what to do. However I still think we will see just more translation, or lift and shift of existing in-person practice to remote delivery. What we won’t see is the transformation to what is possible, taking full advantage of the affordances of online and digital delivery. With a lift and shift approach it shouldn’t be a surprise that we will see complaints from students, zoom fatigue and so on…

Hopefully the vaccination rollout and mask wearing will reduce the chance of lockdown, but I would still be preparing for the possibilities of another lockdown regardless.

Where’s my cake? – Weeknote #111 – 16th April 2021

I took a couple of days leave this week, I had my birthday and it was still the Easter break in North Somerset, though others were going back to school and university.  Going back meant turning the computer back on for those in higher education!

The 12th April saw the easing of lockdown restrictions and the news and social media was full of people taking full advantage of the easing. Even with infection rates down, vaccinations, there is still a risk of covid. It would appear that the easing of restrictions will result in an increase in infections, but the government still see this as manageable and will not put increased pressure on the NHS. My personal view is to remain cautious and not go crazy…

Of course higher education was not initially in the reopening plans, so for most students that means more Zoom classes and little or no live in-person interactions. This, as reported in The Observer is having an impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

The government is putting the mental health and wellbeing of young people at risk by refusing to set a date when students can return to university campuses, university vice-chancellors and students have warned. Universities still haven’t been told when the government will allow them to resume face-to-face teaching for about 1 million students who have been forced to learn remotely during lockdown.

On Tuesday the UK government announced that English universities will resume (physical) in-person teaching no earlier than 17 May. Of course by then most teaching will be virtually finished for most students anyhow. So they can return, but return for what?

My top tweet this week was this one.

Locked Down – Weeknote #97 – 8th January 2021

mask
Image by pisauikan from Pixabay

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.

discarded mask
Image by Roksana Helscher from Pixabay

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)
  • Socialwork
  • 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.

video chat
Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash

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.

microphone
Image by goranmx from Pixabay

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.

clouds
Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

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.

Locked down again

discarded mask
Image by Roksana Helscher from Pixabay

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, in November universities were able to continue to deliver in-person teaching for specific groups.

This time however, though some students are able to return for in-person face to face teaching, 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)
        • Socialwork
        • 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.

This third national lockdown isn’t entirely unexpected with the increase in case numbers and hospital admissions, however it does mean that universities will need to move to a remote teaching model as they did back in March.

girl with mask
Photo by Thomas de LUZE on Unsplash

Will it be easier this time around?

As there was a phased return of students to campus, I suspect a lot of universities will have had their plans in place already. A few extra weeks will need to be added, but there is time (and hopefully the experience) to quickly switch from in-person to online. Staff will have the necessary technical skills now, gained through hard experience the first time Some staff will need to be on campus for in-person teaching and that creates new challenges as well.

I do think,  will they have adjusted their models of delivery to avoid just translating their curriculum, and will ensure that the curriculum takes advantage of the affordances of online delivery. Hopefully discussions would have taken place about what worked well last time and what needed to be improved. Students may also be in a better place, less of a shock this time. There are still issues with digital poverty, do all the students have the right devices and connectivity to learn online>

As with the first lockdown, this isn’t about switching some of the course online, as everything has to be delivered online, no blended learning here for most students. No doing what works well online and doing other parts of the course in-person. In addition we have the stress and pressures of a lockdown as well with social distancing, self-isolation, increased risk of infection from the variant virus, as well as home schooling and a stay at home policy.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

In the first lockdown one of the things I noticed as the education sector moved rapidly to remote delivery was the different models that people used. However what we did see was many people were translating their usual practice to an online version. As part of my work in looking at the challenges in delivering teaching remotely during this crisis period I had been reflecting on how teaching staff can translate their existing practice into new models of delivery that could result in better learning, but also have less of detrimental impact on staff an students. So I decided to write a series of blog posts about translating existing teaching practices into online models of delivery, which proved useful and popular with people.

See the list of blog posts on transforming and translation.

Going home for Christmas – Weeknote #91 – 27th November 2020

A lot of news over the weekend on grade inflation. I was at an event last November where this was discussed and there was some despair about the issue, on one hand everyone is expecting the quality of teaching to be better, but at the same time they don’t want students to get better grades.

I spent a fair amount of time writing some proposals this week.

We’ve also been working on where Jisc goes next with Learning and teaching reimagined following the publication of the most recent report.

This report is the result of a five-month higher education initiative to understand the response to COVID-19 and explore the future of digital learning and teaching.

As the directorate I am now in is responsible for moving things forward, the key issue is how we move from a series of challenges and recommendations to a plan for change and transformation. We have a vision, we know where we are, it’s less about where we want to be, much more about how do we get there, what do we need to do to make it happen.

walking home
Image by 춘성 강 from Pixabay

So what’s going to be happening at Christmas as students flock home for Christmas? Continue reading Going home for Christmas – Weeknote #91 – 27th November 2020

I WON THE ELECTION – Weeknote #90 – 20th November 2020

Official sources called this election differently

The US election continues to dominate Twitter though seeing less of it on the mainstream news. Saw a number of people on Twitter claiming to have won the election!

Five years ago this week myself and Lawrie were delivering the second residential of the pilot for the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme at the Holland House Hotel in the heart of Bristol. We had spent four days delivering that week. We also had some great cakes and pastries.

Even the coffee was nice. We learnt a lot from the process and spent the next few months iterating the programme, dropping and adding stuff based on the feedback we had from the pilot delegates.

Less than a year later we delivered the programme to paying delegates in Loughborough, again we reviewed what we did and adapted the programme again, before delivering to groups in Manchester, Belfast and Leicester.

Continue reading I WON THE ELECTION – Weeknote #90 – 20th November 2020

Physical in-person face to face including aspects of digital and online as well as asynchronous – Weeknote #89 – 13th November 2020

The week started with a run through of an online event I was participating later in the week. I published a blog post called The second wave arrived in which I look at the impact of the second national (English) lockdown on the university sector. On Wonkhe, David Kernohan asked Is it really fair to blame universities for the second wave?

High case numbers in the early autumn have led some to conflate the second wave with students and universities. For David Kernohan, the data doesn’t show that.

This was an interesting article that looked at the data behind the second wave and how some people have been conflating the wave with university attendance and blaming students.

I spent a good part of Monday working on some internal documents for various projects, as well as some presentations for future events.

Tuesday I was on a panel session for the QAA looking at academic integrity. I don’t mind online events, but it can be really hard to read the audience compared to being on a panel at a live in-person face to face event.

On that note there was a discussion on Twitter about the term we use for that compared to online sessions.

I responded about how Jisc used the term in-person in their recent LTR report.

Personally looking back over my recent blog posts I have been using the (slightly clunky) term physical face to face For some it is a real issue and in some cases how it is interpreted by employers and the press. I personally think we might be spending a little too much time over thinking this.

Continue reading Physical in-person face to face including aspects of digital and online as well as asynchronous – Weeknote #89 – 13th November 2020