In the second of our now regular weekly bulletins, we are focusing this week on information for all of our continuing students about what you can expect your learning and teaching to look like in September. As the situation in the UK continues to change we will be providing regular updates on aspects of the student experience to keep you informed. This is a longer read than some of our recent bulletins but we wanted to provide you with both the context and some of the detail of our ongoing planning and preparations.
In addition to the information set out below you can expect to receive further details, as they become available, from your Schools and subject teams about what this means for you on your course.
On 19 June the UK Government downgraded the national Coronavirus alert level from 4 to 3 which permits a review of restrictions and social distancing measures. On 24 June the UK Government confirmed (for England) further changes to the social distancing policy. The University is already considering the implications of these changes alongside other measures designed to gradually re-open the campus environment safely and securely.
You will undoubtedly have questions and concerns about the next academic year. Although we are unable to predict the progress of the pandemic, we are continually adapting to the most up-to-date government guidelines to ensure our campus will be as Covid-safe as possible.
Our overriding aim is to ensure that you can continue to progress with your education during this uncertain period, so we are preparing for all eventualities. This includes, for example, making sure we are able to offer as much activity as possible on campus as long as we can make it safe under the guidelines in place at the time, ensuring we are resilient in the case of future spikes in infection, recognising that some students (and staff) may need to isolate for 14 days under track and trace procedures, and providing for students who will be unable to attend campus in person because their health status puts them at high risk.
None of this is easy, but we have adapted our education provision to be resilient under all these circumstances and more. It has certainly been a challenge, but we feel we now have an offer that will meet your needs and that will ensure you are supported. What follows are some key headlines about our academic provision and next week and every week we will be providing more details about how we will be operating in September and throughout, at least, the first semester.
You will be taught by the same excellent Professors, Lecturers and Researchers that make a University of Birmingham experience.
All of the core curriculum will be covered during your course such that you can meet your programme learning outcomes, although we will deliver it in different ways.
All of your lectures will be delivered online to ensure that you can access these whatever the circumstances in which you find yourself. By doing this we can also create extra space on campus for the hands-on experience in laboratories and workshops. Seminars and tutorials in small groups will be delivered in person and on campus where possible, and online where required. We anticipate that this system will be in place for much of Semester One, but we will keep it under constant review as the year progresses and more information about the progress of the pandemic becomes available.
In all cases, we have preserved core module material and relevant assessments to ensure you can still meet your programme learning outcomes. In some cases we have suspended or combined some optional modules to ensure there are sufficient staff available to teach you no matter what happens with the pandemic. You will still be able to follow your interests, but we may ask some of you to choose optional modules again. Your School is working hard on making sure your education is resilient next year and they are consulting with your student reps to ensure all decisions taken are in the best interests of students.
We understand that for some students it may not be possible to be present on campus at different times due to, for example, travel restrictions, shielding measures or temporary self-isolation. In making all the core module content available online, we are doing everything we can to ensure all students can continue to progress. We are also considering a number of ways in which we can make skills, labs, workshops and performance activities accessible if it is not possible to be on campus at any time.
We are providing additional academic and personal support.
We are ensuring that ALL students will now have an online weekly small group tutorial to support your engagement and academic progress. Your weekly tutorial will be an opportunity to develop a small learning community within your subject area and with your personal academic tutor or tutor from your School. It’s a great way to learn from each other and – importantly – it ensures that you have a weekly touch point with an academic tutor and a small group of peers so that questions can be addressed quickly. (Note: in those programmes where weekly subject-based tutor group meetings are already the norm, these will continue as usual and will be held on campus where possible.)
Your academic staff are developing high quality online learning materials to support your studies.
- We will be using a range of platforms, accessible through Canvas, to support your learning, including Zoom and Microsoft Teams, with which many of us are now more than familiar.
- We are committed to opening study spaces on campus, including the Main Library, with access to PC clusters and loanable laptops for use within the Library environment.
- We have enhanced our extensive online collection of resources, books and journals that you can access through the Library and anywhere in the world.
- We have increased the range of software that is available online for students to use anywhere, including free access to Office365, which includes all of the standard Office products plus OneDrive and Teams
- The Academic Skills Centre have developed a range of new resources to help you improve your digital skills so that you can make the most of learning online and benefit from of all of our online resources.
Our bimodal approach - on-campus and online – has been designed to provide you with the certainty that you need. Moreover, our flexible approach and detailed planning ensures that we can switch between on campus and online learning as we receive new information on the progress of the pandemic. Our aim is to transition to more campus-based activity as soon as possible and when UK Government guidelines allow.
We are all missing our beautiful campus and we look forward to welcoming you all back in September.
Student Communications team