Online learning will go on

Tertiary education will largely remain distance-based learning even if the country enters Covid-19 Alert Level 3 soon.

But on-campus research, lab work, and some practical hands-on learning could return as the country’s lockdown loosens, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday.

Both the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic were investigating a return to campus for a limited amount of students and staff yesterday, but more work was required to understand what Level 3 restrictions would allow — and whether the institutions could meet those requirements.

Neither institution could say when students would be asked to return to school.

Before yesterday’s briefing by the Prime Minister, vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne said the university was working on various scenarios for a return to on-campus activity.

A university spokeswoman yesterday afternoon said the university was working through the implications of the broad-brush information provided "and will provide clarity on these impacts to all staff and students as soon as it can".

"Reassuringly, however, online learning for our students is going well overall, and this bodes well for any Level 3 change. Effects on research, and other types of learning, for example laboratory work, are still being worked through."

Otago Polytechnic deputy chief executive: people and performance, Dr Megan Gibbons said the polytech was specifically looking at its lower-level 60-credit programmes that needed access to workshops during a possible move to Alert Level 3.

"We are doing that work," she said. "We haven’t yet decided whether we will have anyone on site or not; we’re working through what that might look like."

All of its programmes were being delivered through an online learner management system. Lecturers were available as normal and could be contacted through all of the various platforms in use.

Deferrals were part of its scenario planning, but, at this stage, learning interruption had been minimised with the mid-semester break taking up a chunk of the lockdown time.

Prof Hayne said most students were adapting to the new temporary environment and academic staff, tutors and demonstrators were working long hours to support students and to answer their questions about course-related material.

Many supervisors of postgraduate students were holding “virtual” lab meetings to discuss research or to comment on students’ written material for their theses.

Asked why some students were being given last year’s lectures to watch, she said all teaching material was current.

"It will not matter if some lectures are podcasts from last year as is the case in a small number of instances where there has been no curriculum change this year. It is also worth noting that the technical quality of these podcasts from last year is in some cases superior to what staff may be able to deliver from home."

Where appropriate, assessment deadlines either had, or would, be revised.

The university was actively working with its professional partners to find ways students in programmes in which placements were integral could complete their courses, she said.


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