Preparing for online teaching and learning

26 March 2020 | DVC A/PROF LIS LANGE

Dear colleagues

The declaration of a national lockdown has once again required changes to our planning for teaching and learning at the University of Cape Town (UCT) during the coronavirus pandemic.

Following sector consultations, universities have agreed that there will be a sector-wide date for the reopening of academic activities on 20 April. Taking this into account, the schedule for Term 2 (weeks 6 to 12 of the first semester) will now be as follows:

20–24 April: Learning Online Orientation for students

27 April: first week of teaching starts

UCT will be distributing laptops to those undergraduate students on financial aid who fell outside the net of support of the university’s laptop programme. We have identified a company that will be able to deliver these laptops to students after 17 April.

We will be running a survey of technological and environmental readiness among our students to ascertain their various needs. This will help course convenors get a better sense of what the challenges for online learning might be. The survey will be conducted via SMS to ensure maximum coverage.

The Learning Online Orientation week will be devoted to ensuring that as many students as possible are present and ready to start learning and to iron out any problems in terms of student support, Vula use, etc.

We are doing everything in our power to counter the difficulties that some students might experience with remote learning. We know that despite these efforts there will be some students who will need the opportunity of attending these courses face-to-face. We are making alternative plans for this to take place once students are back on campus. We acknowledge the burden that repeating courses face-to-face will place on staff, and we appreciate the willingness that many of you have shown in this regard out of concern for our most vulnerable students.

UCT will make available extra resources to be able to cope with the extra demand, like funding to appoint more tutors and teaching assistants. We are also working on developing a new academic calendar that takes into account the needs of our academic programmes, such as time for practicals and fieldwork, once we have resumed face-to-face teaching.

Thanks to your response to our survey of needs and readiness, our colleagues in the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED) have been able to start supporting staff and scheduling their work to help academics refashion their courses to a different mode of teaching.

Work continues apace to develop appropriate guidelines and support systems for all students. We are also working with faculties and the Office of the Registrar to develop an appropriate framework for assessment and quality assurance over this period. These will be submitted to the Senate Executive Committee and Senate for approval.

We are aware of the anxiety that many academics are experiencing at the prospect of teaching remotely, as well as the uncertainty about how effective tutorial support will be under the current circumstances. We will not know the answer to some of these questions until we start working online. We are already working with faculties that, due to the organisation of their undergraduate teaching, find remote teaching especially challenging. We will provide alternatives that do not jeopardise the quality of teaching that students  receive or the quality assurance of our courses.

As indicated in my previous communication, we will keep you updated as we finalise further documents to guide us in this task. We are in permanent contact with the faculties through the Teaching Online Task Team (TOTT) and through the many academics that are working directly with the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT). It is imperative for the success of our work that we all move forward with a common approach, even as we allow for necessary differences between faculties.

On behalf of the UCT executive, I would like to thank each member of staff in the faculties and support services who are working against the clock to be able to launch our remote teaching programme next month.

I am keeping all of you in my thoughts.

Yours sincerely,

Associate Professor Lis Lange

Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning

Updates will be posted on UCT’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 feature page on the UCT News website.

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