[03 May 2020] Update on remote/online teaching and learning delivery

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Dr ‘Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela, DVC: Academic & Student Affairs
Dr ‘Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela, DVC: Academic & Student Affairs

Dear staff and students,

We would like to thank all of you for your patience whilst we worked tirelessly to explore various forms of remote/online teaching and learning to ensure that the academic project continues during this period of the Covid-19 pandemic. We thank all staff who have been at the forefront of planning for remote/online teaching and learning. We also thank all essential services staff who have been at work for the past six weeks. We are pleased to share the progress we have made to date.

Data bundles
Students on MTN and Vodacom have started receiving data bundle allocations. Cell-C will commence with the distribution of data bundles early next week. These agreements provide for 10 GB of anytime data and 20 GB of night owl data per student per month, and will be refreshed at the start of the month. The University is engaging with Telkom, and the main challenge is that the mobile network operator does not have coverage in all areas, particularly the rural areas. Feedback is expected from Telkom in the next few days. Failing which, other options will be explored in order to create access for students on Telkom.

The data bundles provided by the University are explicitly for our students to make productive progress on their studies, and they may not be used for any other purpose.

Laptops
The University expects to receive the first batch of laptops in the week of 04 May 2020 and distribution will commence soon after. Faculties and departments are finalising lists of students who have indicated that they need laptops. To date, 1800 students have indicated a need for devices. Laptops will be allocated to students on a needs basis. There are terms and conditions attached to the distribution of the laptops and one of these is that students will be expected to enter into a payment agreement with the University before taking ownership of the laptops. The terms and conditions of this agreement will be communicated with each student who indicated a need for a laptop. Due to the limited number of laptops available, those who already have access to devices are requested to indicate to that effect so that the students with a greater need can be given first preference.

Students who have not completed the survey to indicate the support they require for remote and flexible learning are requested to contact their respective faculties or departments urgently. Students are urged not to change their place of residence during Level 4 of the nationwide lockdown as the print material or laptop will be delivered to the address indicated in the survey.

Learning materials
Students with challenges such as access to electricity and/or network will be provided with printed learning materials. Students are once again encouraged to ensure that their contact and physical addresses are up to date. The distribution of these learning materials will commence next week.

International Students
A process in underway to determine the different needs of all international students. The University is aware that the Rhodes University Learning Management System, RUconnected, ROSS, and library resources are accessible to students who are outside South Africa. All international students who are able to access courses on RUconnected are advised to make use of this opportunity to learn online, while the University continues to explore feasible strategies to support them. One that has been explored, without success to date, has been to negotiate affordable mobile data bundle provision with the mobile network operators that have operations in other parts of the continent. So far, these engagements have not been successful but they are ongoing. The University assures all international students that various options are being explored to ensure that they are not left behind in terms of remote/online teaching and learning.

Return to campus
South Africa is now at Level 4 of the nationwide lockdown. No students are allowed to return to the University. Rhodes University is applying Level 4 regulations and protocols to prepare for the gradual return of staff to campus. The Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, has stressed that students may not return to campuses during Level 4 of the lockdown. He has indicated that the only exception will be the controlled return of final year Clinical Training (Medical) students under strict conditions.

Ground work is underway to prepare for the gradual return of essential services staff and those that need to access campus to support the remote/online teaching and learning programme. This preparatory work includes the delivery of protective clothing for staff, the training of Central Cleaning Services staff on sanitising and deep-cleaning areas on campus and screening of staff who come onto campus.

It is envisaged that some areas of campus will be ready by the 7th of May and the process to be completed by 11 May when all areas will be ready for the gradual return of essential staff.

Staff that need to be on campus according to their operational needs must obtain a permit, which can be arranged by their line manager through the Director of Human Resources.

In line with this, Human Resources has developed a Protocol and all staff are advised to familiarise themselves with it.
Staff are encouraged to continue working from home.

Commencement of remote teaching and learning
Remote teaching and learning will commence on Monday, 04 May. This follows a two-week long online orientation programme which was accessed by more than 6000 students. Students who have not participated in the orientation programme are encouraged to do so, so that they may be able to keep up with online learning when it commences. The site will remain active for the entire duration of remote/online teaching and learning.

In his address earlier this week, Dr Nzimande indicated that universities that were not as yet ready or able to start with remote and flexible learning must have plans in place so that they can start to offer such learning by the beginning of June 2020 until a full return to contact teaching and learning is feasible. This means that all glitches and problems associated with remote learning have to be ironed out to ensure the successful completion of the 2020 academic year. The University is working hard to ensure that no student is left behind.

Faculties and departments are ready to provide the necessary support and students are encouraged to take advantage of these services so as to not be left behind in their studies.

Rhodes University academic regulations
Some rules and regulations under which the University would normally operate have been relaxed for the 2020 academic year to ease student transition into a different form of teaching and learning.

These rules include the placing of a moratorium on academic probation orders for the 2020 academic year. No student will be prejudiced for not meeting the terms of their academic probation in 2020. A moratorium has also been placed on the withdrawal of DP certificates for courses for the 2020 academic year. No student will have her/his DP withdrawn for any course in 2020. A moratorium on academic exclusions will also apply. No student will be academically excluded in 2020. In addition, students registered for courses on Extended DP who were supposed to write examinations in June will write these at the end of the academic year (and will be advised when this will be).

The University urges all students to be resilient, and to take advantage of the opportunity to learn albeit in this unfamiliar way. As indicated in our earlier communiques, support by your course coordinator, tutor and counselling will be available throughout the duration of remote/online teaching and learning. You are encouraged to make use of this support.

Contact list
Data bundles: 046 603 8111 / 8276, Registrar@ru.ac.za

Laptops: 046 603 8743 / 8152 /8153 / 8178, StudentFees@ru.ac.za

Learning Materials: dean.science@ru.ac.za, dean.pharmacy@ru.ac.za, dean.commerce@ru.ac.za or 046 603 7500, dean.law@ru.ac.za, dean.humanities@ru.ac.zadean.education@ru.ac.za or 046 603 8315.

Tutoring Students should contact their Tutors and course coordinators 

International Students 046 603 8217 / 8656, InternationalOffice@ru.ac.za

IT support: 046 603 8288, Support@ru.ac.za

Library Services
Science & Pharmacy: 046 603 8689

Commerce & Law: 046 603 8062

Humanities & Education: 046 603 7341

Circulation, Loans, Renewals: 046 603 7341

Other Issues: 046 603 8069, Library@ru.ac.za

Other

RUconnected Staff: edtech@ru.ac.za

Students: https://web.facebook.com/RUconnectedSupport-104936124531848/

Counselling Services: 046 603 7070, counsellingcentre@ru.ac.za

 

Conclusion 

The scale of the COVID-19 outbreak is unprecedented in the lives of everyone. Its magnitude has come as a shock to all of us and it is therefore imperative that as a collective – the University, staff and students, we take this as a learning curve. Our resilience as a University has never been tested as much as during this current crisis and we can only survive if we work closely together to find workable solutions.


Please stay safe and help us curb the spread of COVID-19 in our country.

Dr ‘Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela
DVC: Academic & Student Affairs

Source:  DVC: Academic & Student Affairs

Please help us to raise funds so that we can give all our students a chance to access online teaching and learning. Covid-19 has disrupted our students' education.  Don't let the digital divide put their future at risk. Visit www.ru.ac.za/rucoronavirusgateway to donate