UK universities favour blended learning approach for 2020-21

THE snapshot survey finds most institutions will deliver mix of face-to-face and online courses, with social distancing measures in the early planning stages

May 26, 2020
University of Manchester
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UK universities are planning to deliver blended teaching models from the autumn in a bid to maintain the “full student experience” as much as possible and prevent students from deferring a year.

A Times Higher Education snapshot survey found that most responding institutions were hoping to offer a mix of face-to-face and online teaching and were planning to implement social distancing measures across campus and in student accommodation.

The universities of Manchester, Bolton and Edinburgh and Nottingham Trent University have already announced that they intend to deliver a hybrid approach from September, while the University of Cambridge has said all lectures will be online-only for the next academic year, but it may “host smaller teaching groups in person”.

The University of Warwick, the University of Oxford, Anglia Ruskin University and Queen’s University Belfast also confirmed to THE that they were planning to deliver both face-to-face and online teaching. Cardiff University, the University of Exeter and Edinburgh Napier University said they had not finalised their teaching plans, but they were likely to include a combination of on-campus and virtual provision.

Meanwhile, the University of Worcester announced that it was aiming to deliver the majority of its teaching on campus "as long as this can be done in a Covid-19 secure way".

The majority of surveyed institutions were in the early stages of considering what social distancing measures might be introduced to allow students to return to campus. This week, the University of Bolton said it was installing “airport-style walk-through temperature scanners” at every building entrance and making the wearing of face masks compulsory “for the foreseeable future”.

THE understands that an agreed set of principles for universities to follow for the next academic year may be published shortly. The University and College Union has raised concerns about the lack of “consistency” among the announcements and what it deems financially driven decision-making by universities.

Sir Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter, said the institution was looking at “a series of potential start dates”, with domestic undergraduates returning to campus in September but international and postgraduate students possibly starting later, perhaps in January. The university is also considering staggered starts for different cohorts or different degree programmes.

He added that Exeter was likely to deliver lectures online but teach lab-based classes, seminars and tutorials face-to-face. Social distancing measures being considered include introducing one-way systems in campus buildings and residences, limiting the number of people allowed in teaching spaces and libraries at one time and closing communal facilities in accommodation.

Students on practical courses might be required to do lab-based work on different days of the week or different weeks of the year to observe social distancing requirements, with some students possibly having to work in labs in the evenings, Sir Steve added.

“If we went fully online, more people would defer. That’s certainly true. But what’s motivating what we’re doing is the thought that what students want to do when they come to university is have the overall experience,” he said.

April McMahon, vice-president for teaching, learning and students at the University of Manchester, said one of the reasons her institution announced early that lectures would be delivered online was to “free up our whole estate”.

“In those bigger spaces, you couldn’t do a socially distanced lecture…but you could do a decent-sized workshop group [in that lecture space] and still socially distance it,” she said.

One idea being considered for lab-based courses at Manchester is whether students could alternate between in-person and remote practical classes, while students might be placed in accommodation with other people on the same course “so that even if they have to self-isolate for a little while at least they can crack on and do their small-group teaching together”, she added.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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Print headline: UK universities plan a blended learning approach   for the coming year

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Reader's comments (2)

Some universities have made announcements but most haven't. This is wholly unsatisfactory and means thousand of pounds are being spent on deposits and summer rent when students may not even be in their university town for the first term or even the whole year. What did all the other universities say? Did they even reply to your requests for a comment?
This is officially the university of pornhub. We come to apply that we will be opening soon. And face to face learning and practical sessions will occur as usual but however, most these sessions will conduct social distancing.

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