As part of learning and teaching reimagined (LTR) we got together a group of HE senior leaders and colleagues with specific responsibility for managing their institution’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to discuss how to plan for a safe return to campus.
As well as using these conversations to inform subsequent LTR activity, we’ve also captured some of the discussion, themes and sentiment here as they may provide new perspectives and considerations or be useful in reinforcing your own on-going discussions.
Thanks to everyone who took part, in particular Ashleigh Hargraves, business process management specialist at Coventry University, who opened the session by sharing her experience of first preparing their campus for closure and the work she and her team have done since to prepare for re-opening.
What are your institution’s intentions for the next academic year?
With social distancing still in place for the foreseeable future this is very much a question about what can be achieved while keeping everyone ‘a metre-plus’ apart. So most participants said they’d be adopting hybrid learning approaches with perhaps a few hours of face to face teaching each week but most lectures online.
Inevitably, that isn’t going to please all staff and students and people in our webinar shared their thoughts, including:
“We need to protect the wellbeing of staff and students and make sure they can return safely”
“There’s a tension between campus access and safety. It’ll be about behaviour modification, for example, wearing masks and only being on campus when you have classes”
“Some people are very concerned that we should be able to provide a campus experience. My students and colleagues are very bimodal – for some it’s safety first and for others it’s the campus experience”
“Our shared spaces started to empty from mid-February because of concerns over safety”
- Ensuring continuity of learning during enforced absence, Jisc guide, March 2020
- COVID-19 organisational response review checklist Jisc, June 2020
What steps can we take to help people learn and work and protect people’s physical and mental wellbeing while on campus?
“Survey students; ask them whether they want a campus or an online experience”
“Many international institutions are mandating daily self-declaration that people have no COVID symptoms before they travel to campus”
“Events that help people stay connected will be important, especially for students arriving for the first time”
“Institutional counselling services must run. NHS mental health services and The Samaritans are already under tremendous pressure”
- Harvard Library’s re-start plan is useful: Smart restart for research (17 June 2020)
- Advance HE’s report on creating socially distanced campuses and education offers a range of perspectives
- Our intelligent campus guide explores using to data to make smarter decisions about how to use space
- Planning induction for autumn 2020, Jisc guide, 17 July 2020
- Students’ experience of learning during COVID-19 and their expectations for next year, WONKHE blog post, July 2020
What established values and assumptions will have to change to achieve a safe return to campus?
“We can’t assume that all students in a cohort can attend and study in the same way”
“It’s not necessary to be present in person to establish constructive relationships and build community”
“We have to give consideration to what we might not know about a person; for example, they may be shielding”
“We’d need low density spaces for teaching and socialising and a protocol to deal with ‘space now full’ situations but no-one wants to be the bogeyman responsible for who can and who can’t come”
What changes to digital infrastructure, policy and processes do we need to make to enable staff and students to return?
With a greater emphasis on online learning, how can institutions balance the different needs for physical space of different programmes of study and how can they ensure that learners have an equitable learning experience? How should they support learners who don’t have suitable learning spaces at home, or can only access materials on their phones?
“If we want to preserve priority space for labs, clinics and practical subjects we have to embed blended learning, and start as we mean to go on now”
“We have convinced students and tutors over the last four months to use the library online and with extra coaching it’s worked”
“Take a hard look at digital reading lists as we can’t assume that usual reading is available online instantly, affordably or at all”
“Policies must be updated with regard to recording live content and data protection”
- Developing organisational approaches to digital capability Jisc guide, May 2017
- Getting started with accessibility and inclusion Jisc guide, February 2018
- Developing blended learning approaches Jisc guide, July 2020
- Looking after your own, and others’, digital wellbeing blog, January 2020
- Advance HE Connect is an online community platform for people in HE to connect and collaborate on a variety of issues, including COVID-19 planning
Some more thoughts to consider
“We need to think hard about what is realistically possible on campus with 2m social distancing”
“Effective communication about the return to campus will be vital”
“Relying on bubbles isn’t easy; there are lots of failure points and people may feel too confident”
“Online inductions for students with SEN need careful thought, with things like virtual tours for parents first, and then for the students when we know more about their needs and how to meet them”
“Design for mobile learning. If students haven’t got quiet spaces to learn at home they’ll leave the house to work on their phones”
“Some learning shouldn’t be digital for wellbeing reasons. We need to think about designing some activities that aren’t online”
HE members are adopting hybrid learning approaches and, for most students and staff the return to campus will be limited to just a few hours each week, if any.
As people continue to learn and work remotely their institutions must take steps to support their physical and mental wellbeing, both on- and off-campus. That means managing physical and online spaces effectively, communicating well, and running events and activities that get people connected and help them build communities. It also means providing solid support structures and making sure everyone knows how to get help when they need it.
In the complicated and fluid situation that will exist this coming year, especially in the autumn 2020 term, one size learning won’t fit all. Some students and staff will be shielding, others will be anxious. Everyone will need low density spaces to work and socialise in when they come to campus. There will be pinch points around space occupancy and transport but a renewed focus on digital learning will provide solutions although you should be aware that this might necessitate new policies, new ways of doing things and extra training.
Digital approaches offer flexibility that will help to ensure continuity of learning and teaching and put institutions in a good place to pivot back to fully online learning should they need to close campus again.
Thanks again to everyone who took part.