Hybrid learning, no exams in the RDS, late September start, Saturday classes, specified student groups to share classes with, and not a lot of mixing; here’s what Autumn 2020 will look like in University College Dublin (UCD). 

In an email circulated to UCD staff, President Andrew Deeks shared a document outlining what the Autumn Trimester will probably look like. The ‘Draft Planning Framework for Teaching, Learning and Assessment during Autumn Trimester 2020’ was agreed by the University Management Team on Wednesday and was developed by a working group chaired by Professor Marie Clarke, Dean of Undergraduate Studies. The working group’s report was circulated to the university Teaching and Learning Committee, Associate Deans Forum among other “stakeholders” to get their perspectives, all of which “informed the development of this framework”.

The report states that Ireland’s national response to COVID-19 continues to pose “significant challenges” in maintaining face-to-face interactions within the university, and the university will seek to ensure students can access campus “to the greatest extent possible.” The report also states that “Trimester 1 will begin with significant restrictions in place,” in line with the national guidelines. 

 

When does college start?

Following a recommendation from the University Management Team (UMT), Academic Council Executive Committee (ACEC) has approved a two-week delay for the start of next year. Classes for the majority of students will begin on Monday 21st September. If there are delays in Leaving Certificate results or CAO offers, “new undergraduate students will start as soon as possible thereafter.”

 

“Hybrid” Learning

According to the report, UCD “must have the capacity to contact trace,” should cases of COVID-19 present in the community. In line with this policy, “physical mixing between students from different cohorts will be minimised.” 

UCD will adopt a “hybrid” approach to learning between on-campus and online delivery of courses. In order to reduce contact between students, the number of modules being offered in Autumn will be reduced. To further prevent mixing, groups of students may be placed into “pods” within their programmes “where students share significant portions of the [same] timetable.”

Core modules will have some elements delivered on-campus, but this is not guaranteed for other module types. Elective-only modules “will be delivered at distance wherever possible.” 

Continuous assessment or other open book exams “will be used to the greatest extent possible.” “At distance alternatives” will be offered “to support students who are not available to attend campus,” particularly for international students. Although this doesn’t mean students won’t be encouraged to show up, as “the expectation is that students will attend campus if it is possible for them to do so.”

New students will be put first under the university’s response to the pandemic: “Priority will be given to scheduling on-campus activities for students attending UCD for the first time.”

If placements or trips are affected by the health restrictions, “these elements will be delivered at a later date or students will be provided with alternatives so that these by graduation, students will have received the required components for international recognition and/or professional accreditation.”

 

What will teaching look like?

According to the report, “no campus activities requiring more than 50 people to be simultaneously present in the same room will be undertaken until public health guidelines allow.” For modules with larger than 50 students, a “flipped classroom” approach may be adopted, where lectures are replaced by online learning materials and small group face-to-face learning is “enhanced”.  

Lectures will be either streamed live on Brightspace or pre-recorded by lecturers in order to “achieve high quality audio and video.”

Students may also be split within the same module between physical and virtual learning. The university is considering “presenting lectures live with a subset of students in a lecture theatre, simultaneously streaming the lecture live and recording to be available in Brightspace.”

Although group sizes will be limited, tutorials and seminars are set to take place on-campus. Due to a limit in numbers per tutorial, an increase in tutorial hours may be on the cards for postgraduate students. 

Laboratories will use physical distancing and students must wear PPE equipment “where necessary.” The document outlines that “preparatory activities and post-experimental activities may be adapted to online delivery, ensuring those elements that require physical attendance to complete are prioritised. Some laboratory classes may need to be replaced with virtual laboratories.”

 

Saturday Classes

According to the document, “the current timetable will be used as a starting point,” but there may some notable changes in extending the period of learning each week. Timetables may be revised to schedule hours outside of 9am-6pm, indicating that students may be required to attend college early in the morning or late at night. The week may also be extended to include teaching on Saturdays, “where that suits different student cohorts.” Some programmes already have hours scheduled on a Saturday, although the document indicates a consideration for regular Saturday classes. 

 

Assessment

Exams in Autumn will happen at a distance and not in the RDS exam centre. There will be up to eight days of formal assessment at the end of the Trimester. Because of the reduced exam period, UCD will “further reduce the number of modules requiring scheduling of assessments in this period.”

 

Campus Life

A review is ongoing to determine the “impact of various social distancing requirements on room capacity”, although the document indicates there is a “sharp and highly significant impact on student capacity and number of appropriately sized rooms under any physical distancing restrictions”. Social distancing measures will “significantly impact” on the number and type of campus activities next year. A number of measures will be implemented to ensure “maximum capacity” on campus under the national health guidelines. Some of these measures include floor markings in corridors, illustrative social distance markers around floors and desks, one-way systems coming in and out of buildings and cleaning & hygiene regimes. 

 

If you have something to say about these proposed measures, and how they will affect you next year, get in touch at [email protected] and tell us your story. 

 

Conor Capplis – Editor