It’s interesting to see how things keep changing adding much more to an uncertain future.
Back at the end of June as we started to emerge from the coronavirus lockdown I wrote a blog post wondering if we needed to worry so much about planning for online delivery for September.
Over the last couple of months in lockdown I have written various blog posts about the challenges that universities and colleges have faced with their emergency response to dealing with the coronavirus lockdown and planning for a new academic year amidst, translation and transformation, hybrid curriculum, social distanced campuses and a huge helping of uncertainty.
That uncertainty is certainly a big challenge and in the last few days we have seen the government make big changes to the lockdown restrictions in place, and have planned further easing of lockdown.
In that blog post I was certainly overtly cautious about might happen.
Much has changed this week, and this means universities and colleges need to be more flexible and responsive as restrictions flex and change. We might see (hopefully) further easing of restrictions, but if the infection rate rises, then we might see a potential second wave and more restrictions imposed.
As the weeks went by and we saw restaurants and barbers reopen, I did think that by September that universities would be a good position to have relatively open campuses, face to face teaching with some elements of their programmes online. So overall creating a positive student experience.
Maybe, just maybe, universities wouldn’t need to worry as much as thought they might in designing and delivering courses online in the next academic year.
Chatting with a few people, it was apparent that across many universities where was still concerns about social distancing and reducing the risk of infection, so plans were still being made to deliver blended or hybrid programmes, at least until January.
The recent local lockdowns now happening regionally, has demonstrated once more the need for effective flexible, responsive curriculum planning.
Though we may see a national lockdown if there is a critical second wave, the current thinking from government appears to be to control local spikes with local lockdowns.
This has implications for universities which may find themselves going in and out of lockdown. This is doubling challenging for those universities that historically have a large number of commuter students. Their campus may be in locally lockdown or some of their students could be in a local lockdown. They will need to think carefully about how the curriculum will need to change if face to face teaching is no longer possible or viable. This isn’t just about the students, the teaching staff (who may be more at risk of serious complications with covid-19) may also not want to be on campus during these spikes.
As I have written before about implementing a hybrid curriculum could help universities deal with this uncertainty.
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.
This needs to be more than the emergency response we saw in March and April, students will be expecting more than simple translation of physical face to face sessions to remote online formats. The online sessions need to be reflect the fact they are online and not in a physical space.
Alas designing flexible, responsive, hybrid curriculum does take not just time, but also expertise. I don’t think you can easily assume staff have the relevant digital skills, capabilities and experience to design, develop and build such curriculum models. There is a lot more to this then merely providing the guidance, training and support. Where do you start for example? What works and what doesn’t?
As I said back in June, what we do know is that the future is uncertain and that we probably will still need to wash our hands just as often.