Dear undergraduate students
I hope you and your families are well. I imagine that you are getting anxious about resuming the academic year, so I am writing to you to set your minds at rest.
We have rearranged the academic calendar to enable all of you to learn and complete the semester and the academic year. We are aware that some of you might not be able to learn remotely for various reasons, and we have made provision for this.
Here are the things that you need to know.
Provision of laptops
As indicated in a previous communication from the three deputy vice-chancellors, the University of Cape Town (UCT) has bought laptops which have been allocated to students based on financial need. These computers are ready to be delivered to those students who indicated in PeopleSoft that they wish to receive a loan laptop. We are awaiting clearance from government for the courier service. The Department of Higher Education promised that we will have news about this by Monday, 20 April, at the latest. As soon as this is approved, we will communicate with you.
Access to data
So far, UCT has established agreements with Cell C and Telkom to zero-rate data for South African sites. This means you have free access to certain UCT sites necessary for your academic work: Vula, video lectures, the UCT Libraries website, Open UCT and UCT’s main website. You won’t have to pay data costs when you access these sites. Once the negotiation with MTN and Vodacom is finished, we will let you know.
Ensuring good communication
We are setting up a Call Centre and Referral System (CARES) to handle your queries about connectivity as well as health and psychosocial issues. For the past two weeks we have been contacting those students who did not respond to our survey, which will allow us to better understand your needs. From next week we will start monitoring your participation in remote learning through Vula, and we will alert your faculty when it seems you are not able to connect. We are establishing a team of people who will be taking care of your questions. In a few more days we will have this information ready for circulation.
Access to learning materials
We are trying to set up the distribution of printed learning materials and USB drives for students who cannot access the internet in any way. This is proceeding slower than we would like due to the extension of the lockdown, and we will keep you informed about our progress. We hope that with these study materials, lectures that you can listen to on USB drives, and the possibility of telephonic communication you will be able to follow your courses and keep up.
Introducing a different learning environment
The purpose of the orientation week that starts on Monday, 20 April, is to help you adapt to the new learning environment. We have developed a guide to remote learning that you will use during the orientation week. This will remind you how to use Vula effectively, how to organise your time and how to keep on top of your work. If you cannot start on 20 April, do not panic. There will still be time to catch up.
What you can expect in the new learning environment
We expect you to engage with learning for approximately 30 hours per week. This may be considerably less than what you would have done on campus, but it takes account of the unusual circumstances. The learning materials, lectures, readings, etc will be uploaded to the course sites on Vula. You can engage with these materials in your own time, but lecturers will provide a structure and suggested pace for your studies. There is no lecture timetable to guide you – you will have to take responsibility for developing the necessary discipline to learn.
Thinking about your academic load
You might decide after a while that you will work better if you have a lighter load. We have moved the deadline for dropping courses to 8 May. A special version of the “change of curriculum” form will be available late next week with instructions on how to upload it. We have also agreed that there will be no academic exclusions during 2020. We recognise the anxiety caused by the impact that the academic year timeline adjustments will have on National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding, and we are engaging with NSFAS about this.
How assessment will work
In the majority of your courses there will be continual assessment through regular quizzes, tests and assignments. Your first semester courses will not be examined through invigilated examinations (there are a few exceptions to this in the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment). Annual courses (W and H courses) will have invigilated examinations at the end of the year.
All first semester courses, except exit level (final year) courses and courses in the Faculty of Law, will have PASS/FAIL as the final mark. This will not be counted as part of your grade point average (GPA).
What about lab work, field work, studio sessions, etc?
In planning, we have taken into account that things like laboratory work, field work, studio sessions and some specific courses cannot be taught remotely. For example, the Faculty of Health Sciences will use the online option while it is working on the necessary adjustments to clinical training. This will be communicated directly to students. All faculties will communicate directly with students in relation to practical work.
New dates for the rest of the academic year
The second term starts on Monday, 20 April, with an orientation week; you will receive information from your faculty about this. Formal teaching starts on Tuesday, 28 April. We have planned to teach remotely for the second and third terms. The academic year will extend well into December and will continue for some students during January and February 2021.
I would like to reassure you that the whole university is invested in getting you through this difficult period, both academically and emotionally. The systems we have put in place are not perfect, but we will correct and improve as we identify problems.
All these changes are not easy either for you or for your lecturers. However, I have seen sufficient talent, resilience, resourcefulness and strength at UCT to be certain that together we will manage.
Trust yourself, trust us. We are with you and we will be communicating often.
Take care of yourselves.
Associate Professor Lis Lange
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching & Learning
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