Message to staff and postgraduate researchers, issued 4 November
With the first half-session and teaching well underway, we can now update you on plans for the delivery of teaching and timetabling at our Aberdeen campuses for the rest of the academic year following discussions with our Campus Planning Group, Senate and other forums.
We are encouraged by our experiences of our first few weeks of teaching on campus. This includes low case numbers within our community, reflecting our cautious, sensible approach based on national guidelines, not to mention the efforts of staff and students in keeping our community safe.
As you are aware students were encouraged to come to campus for the new academic year unless circumstances, such as travel restrictions, prevented them from doing so. Online delivery was therefore put in place for the first half-session for all teaching. While student numbers formally applying to study online have been small, there have been some students who have not told us of their wish to study online but are doing so even though they may be in Aberdeen, or who don’t have a class clash. We recognise that this has been challenging for staff to manage and as detailed below we are adjusting the approach for the second half-session.
We have developed a process by which students can formally request that they study online for exceptional reasons, such as inability to travel or health reasons. Schools will be informed of any students who are given exceptional permission to study online as soon as this information is available. While we will encourage students to utilise the process early, students may well go through the process close to the start of term.
Our agreed approach for second half session is this:
Large group teaching sessions – e.g. lectures – remain online together with any other online activities already planned by Schools as part of any course delivery
Unlike the first half-session, online synchronous sessions, as an alternative to campus sessions, will not automatically be included for each course unless a School requests this.
The removal of the automatic inclusion of an online alternative to on campus sessions will remove the opportunity for students to opt for an online session out of preference in MyTimetable.
Where students are exceptionally permitted to study online, Schools will be informed and will need to provide online teaching for those students.
While on campus delivery will be maximised, campus capacity will mean that some online delivery will need to be retained to ensure sufficient contact time.
All courses should provide students with an on campus experience. In extenuating circumstances where this is not possible, e.g. for specific staff health-related reasons, and the Head of School has agreed, students should have adequate on campus time as part of their overall programme.
Work is currently taking place to assess the opportunity to relax the capacity of some large teaching spaces in a limited number of venues beyond the current 50 capacity cap whilst ensuring adherence to ventilation and other requirements. e.g. science labs, the Arts Lecture theatre.
Heads of School will ensure that associated workload implications for individual members of staff are considered and addressed.
The approach aims to support staff workload by reducing the number of times that most teaching is undertaken whilst ensuring that all students continue to have access to their teaching and learning.
Making these changes will reduce the ease with which teaching can be switched online should there be any changes to Covid restrictions. Schools must therefore have a contingency plan in place in case there is a need to revert so that student learning can continue in those circumstances. It is likely, for example, that in some cases there will be appropriate materials and plans for delivery that were used during academic year 2020/21.
We see the second half-session as the next stepping stone in our continuing transition back towards more normality. Students who are able to come to Aberdeen will benefit from the on campus learning and wider experience as they are able to develop relationships with their peers, engage in activities beyond the curriculum, and access learning in environments that support different kinds of interactions and activities.
Work is now underway on preparing the timetable for the rest of the year in advance of MyTimetable opening to students from early January 2022. We hope this helps with your planning for the remainder of the academic year. You can read our message to students, which also signposts students to our second half-session teaching page.
Once again, we would like to thank staff for their considerable efforts in their preparations for the return of our students this academic year, which has enabled us to successfully deliver these opening weeks of teaching. We recognise that challenges remain, and that many of you will still be adjusting to the return to on campus teaching and working. A reminder that support is always available through our Employee Wellbeing pages, and any staff experiencing difficulties should not hesitate to discuss these issues with their line manager.
Karl & Ruth