We have started our second week of remote teaching. There are several aspects of this “new normal” that many of us would prefer not to have to deal with, such as the blurred lines between work and family, and the seemingly endless working hours. But other aspects of what we are doing have been very positive, such as a fuller use of Vula, a greater focus on the design of our courses, and the impressive engagement of our students. There will be a time to reflect on this and more.
Right now it is simply extraordinary how each one of you, despite the challenges you are facing or misgivings you may have about UCT’s decision to teach online, are doing everything necessary to teach remotely. I want to acknowledge your work and the fact that all of this is taking place under complex personal circumstances.
In terms of our students, we keep monitoring their participation on Vula to identify those who might need extra help. It is becoming clearer that we can use data analytics in a sophisticated way to provide support to our students individually. Students who are not engaging with their work need to be contacted to identify the obstacles in their way and hopefully remove as many of those obstacles as possible. This requires dedicated capacity. We are working to ensure that faculties have that capacity.
The main concern of the past week has been the slow delivery of laptops to identified students, the distribution of which is currently scheduled for completion by Friday, 8 May. The UCT executive met with the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) to discuss the anxieties that this delay has been causing for students who are expected to submit work for their courses or write tests. I do appreciate that some of our students are stressed and anxious in this new way of learning and can sometimes misunderstand faculty communications, and we have received a number of email queries as a result.
While the large majority of you are truly accommodating when it comes to dealing with students, there have been some problems. I would like to appeal to all of us, as people, to be compassionate in our approach to students. This needs to be reflected both in what we do and in our communication. Please, be flexible in managing deadlines for those students who will only be joining your courses from Monday, 11 May. I understand that this flexibility may come at a cost of additional work for academic staff. The coronavirus situation has aggravated social inequality to a point where flexibility has become a necessary part of good teaching. The delay is not their fault.
In terms of the work ahead, we are hoping to start with the delivery of distance learning materials by Monday, 11 May. We have assembled a working group and we are using the COVID-19 UCT emergency fund to support this project. All faculties are monitoring their students and making contact with those who, for whatever reason, cannot cope with online learning. These students will be receiving their study materials.
As Term 2 progresses, faculties are starting to discuss assessment in the context of remote teaching. The Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT) is working with faculty-based teaching and learning teams to support decisions about modalities of assessment.
Term 2 has been developed in the context of the pandemic, and the term “emergency remote teaching” has become a really apt description of what we are doing. We have learnt a lot through this process, and you have been fantastic in trying out new things. Term 3 should ideally build on what we have learnt. For those of you who would like to slowly start thinking of the work ahead, you can get help from CILT to review your current courses to help improve you and your students’ experience in Term 3.
Thank you, once again, for all that you are doing to save the academic year and to ensure that your students can learn remotely. I will be in touch with updates in a few weeks. In the meantime, take care of yourselves.
Associate Professor Lis Lange
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching & Learning
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In an email to the UCT community, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said:
“COVID-19, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, is a rapidly changing epidemic. [...] Information [...] will be updated as and when new information becomes available.”
We are continuing to monitor the situation and we will be updating the UCT community regularly – as and when there are further updates. If you are concerned or need more information, students can contact the Student Wellness Service on 021 650 5620 or 021 650 1271 (after hours), while staff can contact 021 650 5685.