Completing 2020 academic year: Students


The plan for completing semester 1


What informs our approach?

Our approach has been and continues to be informed by:

  1. The fact that we were planning and continue to plan in a vacuum, as there are many unknowns. This has necessitated the generation of different scenarios with a view to remaining agile and being prepared to go back to the drawing board to revise our plans in this unprecedented, uncertain, fluid time.
  2. Our unwavering commitment to provide all our students with learning and teaching opportunities and support to complete the 2020 academic year despite the trying times that the country faces – #NoStudentLeftBehind.
  3. The differing contexts, circumstances and needs of our students, and especially the challenges students might experience to learn remotely.
  4. The core values of our university. In particular, as we traverse these uncharted waters, we committed to excellence, social justice and equality, and integrity, as the core values that underpinned our planning process.

What is our approach?

Our approach is to allow all students to achieve their learning outcomes through multiple, blended pathways. There will be variations of two pathways for students to acquire the necessary learning and teaching to complete their Semester 1 modules. In the process, students and staff need to walk side by side along the learning and teaching pathways towards a shared destiny of our students completing the 2020 academic year (#AY 2020).

These pathways range from largely digital to largely face-to-face and combinations of these two extremes. The pathway approach allows for switching from a largely digital pathway to a more face-to-face one and it is likely that the pathways will converge to an extent when students return to campus. The pathways will be phased-in. Some pathways may start at different dates and may take longer to complete but they will nonetheless allow students to complete their modules – which is our main aim.

It is in the best interests of all our students to have two learning and teaching pathways towards a shared destiny of our students completing #AY2020. But, this is not going to be easy for any of us. So, to achieve this we need a collective commitment to supporting, reflecting and learning as one community in our resolve to endure and overcome obstacles on our path to academic excellence.


 

Why is it necessary to have two pathways? Can’t we just wait and resume classes as normal when students can get back to campus?

Uppermost in the minds of staff and students is the fact that many of our students do not have access to devices or connectivity where they live. This means that they cannot follow Pathway 1. As a result, they might ask if we are giving effect to our value of social justice and equality by having a largely Digi LT pathway which not all students can participate in? Should we not wait until all students can learn at the same time in the same way?

To answer these questions, we need to first challenge our defaults.

#Default 1 is that all students start and end their modules at the same time. This is simply not true for a growing number of students. Many students start their academic year in February and end it in November/December. However, some of those with re-exams only complete their academic year in January of the following year. Others complete their academic year in March/April of the following year once they complete their “last outstanding module” exams. To argue that all students must start and finish the remainder of Semester 1 at the same time is to argue for something that would not have happened had we not experienced the COVID-19 pandemic.

#Default 2 is that when lockdown ends and students can return to campus that everything will be as it was when term 1 ended on 13 March 2020. If you listen to our President and his ministers, they are preparing us for life after lockdown where we will all have to wear masks in public, practise social and physical distancing and pay attention to our personal hygiene and health – for a long time to come. Life after lockdown is not going to be the same as life before lockdown. Period. We are to reconfigure spaces and timetables to enable smaller classes to observe the physical distancing regulations. For example, a 100-seater lecture venue might only be able to take 40-50 students at a time.

Having challenged two of our inherent defaults, let us get back to answering the question of why we have two pathways. There is immense value in having two, blended pathways. We have committed ourselves, as students and staff, to walk side by side to help each other to complete Semester 1 and #AY2020 and we can only do so if we have a blend of pathways.

Here’s how pathway 1 and 2 learners can help each other out.

According to our planning, learning and teaching will be phased in when the extended recess period ends on 20 April. Pathway 1 learners will start with Digi LT while Pathway 2 learners might or might not be able to do some learning at home. But Pathway 2 learners will receive intensive face-to-face teaching when students return to campus, augmented by digital learning, and are likely to do their end-of-module assessments later than Pathway 1 learners. What this means is that those students that follow Pathway 1 make it possible for Pathway 2 learners to get greater access to intensive face-to-face (F2F) LT when students return to campus and we need to reduce numbers in our venues for social and physical distancing purposes. However, Pathway 1 learners will also get access during this time to flipped class sessions and augmenting tutorials to help them to prepare for final module assessments and exams, if needed. Pathway 1 learners will also have to come to campus for lab work, studio sessions, and experiential learning activities.

Pathway 2 learners also need to help Pathway 1 learners out. Really? Yes. It is not going to be easy to learn online as students are used to being taught F2F in class and then working on supplementary materials and revision online after class. Now, the online LT activities are the only LT activities. It will require a change of mind-set and learning new skills to adapt to learning online. This will make Pathway 1 learners anxious, stressed and feeling overwhelmed until they adapt. They will have to remind themselves constantly that by persevering with this new way of learning, they are making more intensive F2F LT possible for Pathway 2 learners when we are back on campus. Pathway 2 learners will also be anxious and stressed as they worry about when they will be able to start participating fully in learning again. One way to deal with anxiety and stress is to help someone else in need. By contacting, supporting and encouraging your peers that are tackling the daunting Pathway 1, you help them to cope and, in turn, they make it more possible for you to get intensive LT when we are back on campus. Pathway 1 learners will be encouraged to return the favour by volunteering to support Pathway 2 learners when everyone is back on campus.