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.
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.
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 have been listening, writing and talking about how universities are planning for September. There is so much uncertainly about what the landscape will be like then, so working out what and how to design an effective student experience is challenging.
Courses will not be the same as they were and won’t be the same as they are now.
Universities are reflecting on their plans in light of the current lockdown, the easing of the lockdown, social distancing as well as guidance from the regulator.
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.
This has implications for future planning and announcements of what universities will be doing in the Autumn. They will probably need to start publishing in June their plans. Some have done this already.
In what I suspected was to be the start of a trend, the University of Manchester decided to keep lectures online for the autumn.
The University of Manchester has confirmed it will keep all of its lectures online for at least one semester when the next academic year starts. In an email to students Professor McMahon, vice-president for teaching, learning and students, confirmed the university’s undergraduate teaching year would begin in late September “with little change to our start dates”, but it would “provide our lectures and some other aspects of learning online”.
The whole student experience is not going online though as the article continues.
However, students would be asked to return physically to campus in the autumn as Manchester was “keen to continue with other face-to-face activities, such as small group teaching and tutorials, as safely and as early as we can”, added Professor McMahon.
“Given that it is likely that social distancing will continue to be required, the university has decided there will be no face-to-face lectures during the next academic year. Lectures will continue to be made available online and it may be possible to host smaller teaching groups in person, as long as this conforms to social distancing requirements.
There was a similar announcement from the University of Bolton.
The University will teach our excellent Undergraduate and Postgraduate programmes on campus from the start of the new academic year in September 2020 and also support your learning using a range of dynamic virtual learning tools.
Though very similar pronouncements, reading this Twitter thread:
The Cambridge story is everywhere this morning – but I feel that the University of Bolton announcement will end up being the important one. https://t.co/qaNIjH32yx
It's been assumed that a September start isn't possible – Bolton has made it possible with technical measures.
Most are thinking that Bolton and Cambridge are doing the same thing, but just spun it differently.
So how can universities plan their courses and curriculum in an uncertain future?
We see and hear plans for online courses, non-online courses, blended courses and other types of courses.
A phrase I had been using in my conversations and discussions is hybrid courses. This is less hybrid as in combining online and physical courses into a single course, that’s more a blended approach. My view was that hybrid was much more about analogous to how hybrid vehicles function.
There is a petrol engine in the hybrid car, but the car can run on electric power when needed. On longer journeys the petrol engine takes over, but on shorter (slower) trips the car uses electric power. Which power is used is dependent on the environment and situation the car is in.
With a hybrid 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 hybrid responsive courses will allow universities to easily clarify with prospective 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.
There are hybrid variations across cars, some can be topped up by plugging in, whilst others just rely on charging form the petrol engine.
There could be a similar story with variations on hybrid courses. Some could have more online elements, whilst others reflecting the nature of that subject could have more physical face to face aspects.
There are of course still petrol cars and fully electric cars, but there is a whole spectrum of hybrid vehicles and it’s the same with hybrid courses.
You could translate your courses into online versions. You could transform them into courses which take advantage of the affordances of online. However the delivery of teaching is just one aspect of the overall student experience and thinking about that and reflecting on how your course and learning design will take into account the realities of an uncertain future, means you need to build that into the design of modules and courses. A hybrid model that is responsive and can adapt is one way which this could be done.
So it was interesting to see another person, Simon Thomson from University of Liverpool Centre for Innovation in Education (CIE) has been using it as well.
We’re using term hybrid. In the same that hybrid car has a mechanical engine and electric motor & you use each depending on journey you are taking you’ll potentially have an on campus or online experience which will reflect your learning journey (but maximise benefits of both)
“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”. Via WonkHE
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.
Having moved down into assessment over the last few weeks, I am now looking at teaching online and student wellbeing (and engagement).
We know that the move to teaching online was very much done quickly and rapidly, with little time for planning. Platforms needed to be scaled up to widespread use and most academics moved to translate their existing practice into remote delivery. This wasn’t online teaching, this was teaching delivered remotely during a time of crisis.
The Easter break gave a bit of breathing room, but even then there wasn’t much time for planning and preparation, so even now much of the teaching will be a response to the lockdown rather than a well thought out planned online course.
Thinking further ahead though, with the potential restrictions continuing, institutions will need to plan a responsive curriculum model that takes into account possible lockdown, restrictions, as well as some kind of normality.
I was involved in a meeting discussing the content needs of Further Education, though my role is Higher Education, I am working on some responses to Covid-19 and content for teachers is one of those areas. What content do teachers need? Do they in fact need good online content? Who will provide that content? How will do the quality assurance? Do we even need quality assurance? And where does this content live? Continue reading Things are going to be different – Weeknote #60 – 24th April 2020→
I was working from home for a lot of the week. I had originally planned to attend Wonkfest, but some administrative technicalities meant I didn’t manage to book a place at the event and I had to glance in remotely.
Following my meeting last week in London at the Office for Students I was interested to see the following press release from them on mental health issues in higher education.
Today the Office for Students has published an Insight brief, Mental health: are all students being properly supported? Our Insight briefs give an overview of current issues and developments in higher education, drawing on the data, knowledge and understanding available to us as the regulator for universities and colleges in England. Mental health is consistently among the top concerns raised by students and the OfS has an important role in identifying systemic gaps in student support or advice. Alongside the Insight brief, we have published an analysis of access and participation data for students with declared mental health conditions.
With the rise in students reporting mental health problems, there is a real challenge in supporting these students. We know that many support service staff are seeing many more mental health emergencies compared to a few years ago. More funding for support services is of course one solution, but there is also the need to consider the well being of students overall and ensuring that those students who are at risk, are supported much earlier. Does the current structure of higher education courses contribute to well being or negatively impact on it?
You can tell winter is coming, but I did enjoy having an extra hour on Sunday. I watched this video on Sunday morning about how university students in Europe and the US are paying Kenyans to do their academic work for them.
The global market for academic writing is estimated to be worth $1bn (£770m) annually.
Findings from the largest dataset gathered to date on contract cheating indicate that there are three influencing factors: speaking a language other than English (LOTE) at home, the perception that there are ‘lots of opportunities to cheat’, and dissatisfaction with the teaching and learning environment (Bretag & Harper et al., 2018).
These influencing factors could be mitigated, could we assess in the learner’s native language? Culd we improve satisfaction with the overall teaching and learning environment? Often easier said than done.
This contract cheating or collusion is a major headache for universities in the UK, but I wonder if the answer isn’t about creating systems or processes that can identify when cheating or collusion is taking place, but ensuring that assessment is designed in a way that means there is no incentive to chat, collude or pay someone else to undertake the assessment.
A surge in anxiety and stress is sweeping UK campuses. What is troubling students, and is it the universities’ job to fix it?
We know that there is a student mental health crisis and the reasons for this aren’t necessarily clear. We know there has been increase in the demand for mental health services at universities. The article notes that there has been research into the causes of this, but lays the blame for the crisis on the way in which universities are managed and run, leading to students not being in control of what they do and saddled with debt.