Academic Activity Update – 25 March 2020

25/03/2020

The impact of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues its ripple effect across the world, and continues to affect South Africa’s higher education sector deeply.

On Monday, 23 March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a national lockdown, effective from 27 March 2020 to 16 April 2020, in response to the rapid increase of COVID-19 infections, which presently stand at 709.

There remains a great deal of uncertainty nationally and globally, meaning that plans made during this time are fluid and will be altered in accordance with any related developments seeking to combat this pandemic.

Our resolute focus, as a country and as the higher education sector, is on containing the spread of the Coronavirus as quickly as possible, which is largely why staff at Nelson Mandela University have been working remotely, even prior to the national lockdown. We are extremely concerned about the well-being of staff and students in these unusual, anxiety-provoking times. Please take care and seek the support of others (even if it is digitally). We are posting links to wellness resources that you can draw on.

Through Universities South Africa (USAf), Nelson Mandela University is collaborating with all the universities in South Africa to respond in a coordinated way to the challenges that we face to complete the 2020 academic year.

As communicated last week, there are no new academic activities taking place in the current extended Recess period.

Learning and Teaching:

As far as learning and teaching is concerned, the focus at present is on planning in preparation for the resumption of academic activities and to ensure that any work lost is caught up. This has included, to date, planning around various scenarios with a view to providing learning, teaching and research activities along multiple, staggered pathways. Academic staff are also hard at work reviewing their modules and preparing them for digital and alternative platforms.  Assessment modes and activities are also being reconsidered as we strive to enable all students to meet their learning outcomes using different pathways and approaches.

To achieve this differentiated approach requires a commitment to pedagogical flexibility. To this end, academic staff are upskilling their digital, pedagogical and assessment competencies through various virtual and online training activities. In an effort to support staff working remotely, the Mandela Uni LT Collab team has created a Moodle course, TEACHONLINE-101, to which staff are pre-enrolled. The LT Collab and ICT Services teams are also available online to support and assist staff.

We continue to assess the extent to which students can access academic resources online and through other means, as well as mechanisms to enhance connectivity for staff and students. Plans to improve challenges with data are being worked out. Examples of these include zero-rating L&T URLs and reverse billing.  Details of data arrangements will be communicated once finalised.  In addition, efforts are being directed to preparing students to successfully learn on digital and alternative platforms and to ensure that a range of academic support will be available to students so that no student is left behind.

Postgraduate Research Supervision and Research:

The university seeks to support staff and students to cope with the national lockdown and to move towards the continuation of postgraduate research supervision and research work that may be possible in these circumstances through digital platforms.  However, research activities that require campus access cannot continue during the lockdown period. This includes research in laboratories and environmental fieldwork.

There is a range of support mechanisms in place for postgraduate and research students, including iterative guidelines on matters such as postgraduate funding, deadlines for Masters and Doctoral work, statistical support services and access to library services, available on the university website. 

Conclusion:

We are navigating unprecedented times and we call on all of you to continue doing your part in ensuring the continuation of the academic project even in this uncertain time. We rely on your commitment to your work and studies and trust that we can tap into the same resilience displayed in 2016, when we faced a similar, seemingly impossible situation.

As the decision-making remains fluid, regular communication will continue as updates become available.

Prof Cheryl Foxcroft
DVC: Learning & Teaching                           

and

Prof Avinash Govindjee
Acting DVC: Research, Internationalisation & Innovation