Over the last few weeks, I have been experiencing a growing sense of deja vu as we have been discussing planning for educational delivery in September 2021. It hardly goes without saying how hard this is! On one hand there is the optimism that everything will be back to “normal” which so many of us want to believe and then on the other hand the experiences of the last year or so have taught us that just when it seems things are going back to “normal”…. they are not. The wisest move seems to be plan for some kind of socially distanced teaching in September with online elements whether particularly given that many students are coming from overseas and may be restricted in travel. Such planning also enables us to build on what we have been doing this year and to respond to the needs of our students wanting more face to face, small group teaching on-campus.
Therefore, we’re considering a delivery model that focuses on small group, face-to-face teaching on-campus where possible, with large group teaching delivered online and supported by guided materials. Whilst pragmatic, this model actually enables us to use technology effectively for some of the larger classes which lend themselves to webinar-style delivery and encourages independent learning through access to guided materials and online content. Most importantly, it provides opportunities for our students to partake in small group activities on campus where they can engage with staff and start to gain so much of the richer learning experience that they were expecting. Even the best online learning cannot substitute for an on-campus experience if that is what you were expecting and wanted when you signed up for your degree course.
Our model, whilst not particularly unique and in many ways responsive, has enabled us to start to articulate more clearly and across the university a clear rationale for the delivery of our programmes. We have also made significant decisions this week around examinations and online assessment. None of this is without challenges though. We urgently need to agree the details of this model, the parameters for timetabling and module delivery, we need to look at the numbers of modules we are running, do we have enough on-campus rooms for this model?, what support will our staff and students need?, what about international students? – do we offer fully online courses or enable hybrid teaching? We have had considerable interest in offering more hybrid forms of delivery but this has resource issues both in terms of equipment and staffing.
A lot is still up in the air for September at a time when everyone is tired and wanting change. Engaging everyone in this plan is a challenge when there is the possibility that perhaps, we just might be “back to normal”. However, even if we are, this model actually may be one that we would want to consider adopting anyway given its focus on quality, small group interaction. Perhaps this, in itself, should motivate us to deliver this to our students, regardless of what September looks like.