Tag Archives: university of exeter

..and then the proverbial hit the fan!

girl with mask
Photo by Thomas de LUZE on Unsplash

I did think last week that this was just the beginning, when I posted my blog post about the uncertainty that the higher education sector was facing, when I noted a few stories about social distancing and isolation that was being reported in the press. I didn’t think that the story would blow up so soon!

Last week we saw stories emanating from Scotland that students were having positive tests for Covid-19 and hundreds of students were being asked to self-isolate for fourteen days. The impact of coronavirus restrictions on the student experience were starting to surface, from the students breaching social distancing at an open air cinema at Exeter to Abertay in Dundee in Scotland where hundreds of students are being told to isolate.

After Dundee came Glasgow with a major Covid outbreak at Glasgow University seeing 600 students self-isolate. This was then reported in more depth and more widely – ‘We came all this way to start a new life’: the misery of Glasgow’s lockdown freshers.

University of Glasgow
Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash

I did think that with Scottish universities starting term earlier than their English counterparts that we would start to see similar stories in England within the next two weeks.

I think we will start to see a rise in incidents in England, as Scottish universities start earlier so English universities are a few weeks behind.

Well it happened in the next two days, as well as more stories coming out of Scotland, we started to see similar stories in England, with hundreds of Manchester students locked down after 127 Covid cases and students ‘scared and confused’ as halls lock down.

Up to 1,700 students at Manchester Metropolitan University and hundreds at other institutions, including in Edinburgh and Glasgow, are self-isolating following Covid-19 outbreaks.

It’s being reported by the BBC that forty universities are reporting coronavirus cases.

About 40 universities around the UK have now reported coronavirus cases and thousands of students are self-isolating as the new term begins.

  • The University of Aberystwyth is the latest to suspend face-to-face teaching to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
  • At the University of Essex a cluster of cases has been linked to sports teams.
  • Queen’s University Belfast – some students have been told to self-isolate after a “small number” tested positive.
  • The University of Exeter, which has also reported a “small” number of cases.

In Wales, with much of the population in lockdown, students in many of the Welsh universities were also forced to isolate and stay in their halls. This was proving to be traumatic for many first year students, who are mainly young and for most is their first time away from the family home.

Universities are facing various welfare challenges as you might imagine, but also the challenge that as well as physical face to face delivery, those sessions now also need to be delivered online. This is a different challenge than March where all students were off campus now there is need to deliver multiple versions of the same session. In addition the rise in covid-19 infections is impacting on staff, who may now want to shield, creating additional challenges for delivery across campus and online.

Wonkhe goes into more detail about what is happening at universities right now, and why?

What is going on? If you’ve not been following what has been going over the summer, or you are bewildered as to why we are in this situation, David Kernohan takes you through the basics.

lecture theatre
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

The Guardian was reporting on the pressures being put onto staff: UK universities ‘bullying’ junior staff into face-to-face teaching.

As universities struggle to contain student parties, and with coronavirus outbreaks already confirmed at several campuses, many academics are afraid of face-to-face teaching. But some say managers are bullying them to return and, fearing redundancy, they feel unable to refuse.

It doesn’t help that the press coverage is rather negative and biased against the sector. The universities were told by government that they should reopen their campuses. The Government were clear about what they expect from the sector:

We will introduce new restrictions in England, but not a return to the lockdown in March; we’ll ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open.

This was reinforced by the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden who defended students’ university return.

The culture secretary has defended students going back to university in England after a union labelled the situation “shambolic”. Oliver Dowden told the Andrew Marr Show it was important students did not “give up a year of their life” by not going.

Though many (if not all) universities have planned for this, it’s still a difficult situation.

However despite the challenges, it hasn’t stopped stories like this appearing: Police break up parties at Edinburgh student halls. Which places the blame on the students.

This morning we saw pieces on Radio 4’s Today programme and on the television on BBC Breakfast about the crisis, didn’t help that there were a fair few inaccuracies in the reporting.

So the higher education sector is facing real challenges as covid-19 infections result in self-isolation, local lockdowns and the resulting impact on learning and teaching, what they need now is support and help in working through this.

Creeping back up… – Weeknote #82 – 25th September 2020

After a lovely weekend (well Sunday) in Lynmouth it was back to work on Monday. Well back to the desk in my house. The office, not so much.

The coronavirus figures have started to creep back up, so we’ve been put into a new lockdown of sorts. Schools are remaining open, but people are been asked to work from home.

Met with my sector strategy colleagues on Tuesday and gave us a chance to catch up and chat about what we’ve been up to and what’s coming up.

Spent time working on a structure for the Data Matters 2021 conference. This conference is usually a physical face to face event, however, as might be expected with coronavirus, this time we will be running it as an online conference. This now only throws up some challenges, but also provides a range of opportunities. In addition to the structure I have been working on the types of sessions that could be run. As well as traditional sessions such as online presentations, I have been thinking about different kinds of synchronous and asynchronous sessions. I’ve also been wondering about pre and post conference sessions as well.

TV
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Continue reading Creeping back up… – Weeknote #82 – 25th September 2020

More uncertainty

laptop user wearing a mask
Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

This week we saw new Covid measures put into place across the UK to try and reverse the increase in coronavirus infections over the last few weeks. The impact of these coronavirus restrictions on the student experience is starting to surface, from the students breaching social distancing at an open air cinema at Exeter to Abertay in Dundee in Scotland where hundreds of students are being told to isolate.  Public health officials at NHS Lothian were investigating a coronavirus cluster at Edinburgh Napier University’s Bainfield student accommodation. A number of people tested positive and  contacts were being traced and told to isolate for two weeks. But the university remained open though, with students and staff who haven’t been asked to self-isolate have been told to attend as normal.

This must be causing challenges for universities as they respond to new restrictions and need to adapt their curriculum delivery models as a result, as well as ensuring the wellbeing of those students affected.

The Government are clear about what they expect from the sector:

We will introduce new restrictions in England, but not a return to the lockdown in March; we’ll ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open.

It was back in June I wrote a blog post asking if we needed to worry so much about the immediate future. Then, things were starting to look a little more positive. 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. However 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.

Then in August I discussed the uncertainty that the higher education sector were facing was causing real challenges for planning and preparation.

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.

At the time of writing that post, universities were concerned about falling student numbers, expecting many students to defer for a year. Then we had the exams algorithm fiasco, so suddenly universities which were worrying about not enough students, faced having more students than they planned for, with more students then places achieving the required grades. This has caused additional planning headaches for many universities, combined with putting in safeguards for social distancing.

2m
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

So now we’re in a new, but just as, uncertain place where we have new restrictions, local lockdowns and the threat of a second wave which could result in a second national lockdown.

This uncertainty means that universities will still need to be responsive in how they deal with the various restrictions that are in place, but also responding to pockets of infection and isolation of parts of their student population.

I have written about implementing a hybrid curriculum that could help universities deal with these new levels of 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), students self-isolating 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 and universities have recognised this and undertake huge amounts of effort and work to ensure that courses are better orgaised and planned. Their 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. Term has started, so time is limited. 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? There are subject and cohort differences. A model that fits one university, may for various reasons not fit another.

Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay
Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay

Another big issues for universities will be dealing with the non-academic side of student life, for those who are self-isolating. Back in March students were told to go home, now they are being told so self-isolate in their accommodation. There are questions there about how they will get food and will they cook, can they still use shared kitchens? It’s one thing to be in the family home, another to be stuck in a single room in halls. How are you going to support student wellbeing in such an environment. Then there is the issue of non-compliance, how will universities deal with that? Will they want to?

As I said back in August, what we do know is that the future is uncertain and that we probably will still need to wash our hands just as often.