[10 May] Update on online/remote teaching and learning

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Dr ‘Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Academic and Student Affairs
Dr ‘Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Academic and Student Affairs

Dear Students and staff

Update on online/remote teaching and learning

Over the course of the past two months we had to innovate the way we conduct our normal University operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We have been compelled to transition from face-to-face teaching and learning to online/remote teaching and learning, not only to save the academic year 2020, but most importantly to ensure that our students are able to continue with their education; to ensure the sustainability of the University; and make sure that students and staff are not exposed to the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

We are deeply indebted to all staff who took heed of our plea to prepare for online/remote teaching and learning. These staff worked for hours on end to get ready for online and remote teaching and learning, to prepare health and safety protocols, clean and sanitise venues amidst many challenges and stumbling blocks. It is heartwarming to learn of staff who have reached out to support and encourage their students in these trying times. It is colleagues such as these who are concerned with the welfare, wellbeing and academic progress and success of their students that make one feel proud to be part of the Rhodes University community. Thank you to you all.

We have continuously assured our students and staff that the intention of the University is to leave no student behind. To that effect, we are implementing multimodal approaches to teaching and learning, while at the same time making all attempts to connect with all the students. We will be supporting students for the entire lockdown period and upon return to face-to-face teaching and learning. Transition to remote/online teaching and learning has caused some anxiety. We however, need to make the most under these difficult circumstances.

Our journey thus far has not been without challenges, but we have made a promise to ensure continuity of the academic project by finding solutions along the way. Unfortunately, the negative statements and deliberate attempts by some groups of students and staff to stop online/remote teaching and learning this past week have somewhat delayed our processes and efforts to reach out to students who need laptops and printed learning materials. We are disappointed by this irresponsible behaviour which undermines our efforts to support our students in their education. We would like to remind all of you that we have a fiduciary duty and responsibility to discharge our roles for the good of our Institution and our students.

Remote/Online teaching and learning

Online/remote teaching and learning started on Monday 4 May 2020. As we see the end of the first week of online/remote teaching and learning, good progress has been made. Faculty Deans reported that great strides have been achieved, with significant numbers of both staff and students actively participating on RUconnected.

Although there will be students starting later than others due to various reasons, the University is committed to ensuring that all students complete the academic year. The Deans have reiterated that faculties and departments are available to provide the necessary support, and students are encouraged to take advantage of these services.

All challenges that arise as we enter the second week of our remote/online teaching and learning will be addressed. Adaptability, flexibility, agility, and a can-do attitude are what we need most in these uncertain times.

Delivery of study packs/learning materials

It is important that we have a correct physical address where a laptop or learning materials can be delivered. Study packs are expected to be ready for courier early next week. It has come to the attention of the University that some students have returned to their Grahamstown off-campus accommodation. These students are encouraged to make contact with the University to make different arrangements for the collection of their study materials or laptops.

The University is also aware that the courier services may not be able to access some areas in South Africa. Alternative arrangements are being made to accommodate students in such areas.

Laptop status

In his recent address, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, indicated that students on NFSAS will be provided with laptops. However, he did not indicate when this would be implemented. In order to make sure that students are not left behind while processes at national level are in progress, the University has taken a decision to purchase laptops which are available to students who indicated the need in the survey that was conducted.

Students who have been offered laptops by the Finance Department are requested to respond to the terms and conditions emailed to them as soon as possible, so that a laptop can be couriered to them.

At this stage, only undergraduate students on NFSAS and those in the missing middle are eligible for laptop. Postgraduate students will be considered on a case by case basis.

Data bundles

The Institution has secured contracts for data bundles of 10GB anytime and 20GB night time for three months (May/June/July) with four network providers, namely MTN, Vodacom, Telkom and Cell C. All four mobile carriers have provisioned data bundles for our students. Telkom was the last to provision, and did so on a geographic network availability basis. This left a relatively small number of students who are Telkom customers without access to a bundle. These students are requested to select an alternative carrier. Any students who have not received data bundles yet must do the following:

  • Ensure that their number that the University has on record is correct. This must be done no later than the 27 May 2020.
  • Students who are not customers of MTN, Vodacom, Cell C or Telkom must obtain a SIM card for the purposes of receiving data and update the ROSS data field in time for the next data bundle.

Many queries have been received about data bundle problems, and these are being worked through and being resolved where it is within the power of the University to resolve them. This problem will diminish as the process is refined.

The provisioning of data has included all categories of degree and diploma registered students, including international students who have supplied South African cell phone numbers. Fee paying occasional students currently within the country will be provisioned with bundles on a case by case basis.

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.

International Students

International students currently outside of the country cannot be provisioned with data from Rhodes University – several options have been looked at, and it is not possible. A process to assist them with the amount of up to R99 per month, to be credited to their student fee account, is being looked into. However, those international students who have not left the country, have been provided with data on their South African cell phone numbers.

In order to access this provision, international students who are not in the country are requested to remove their South African number from the “data” field on ROSS and replace it with their international contact number including country code.

Staff and students on campus

In line with Alert Level 4 lockdown regulations, no students are permitted to be on campus until further notice. Staff who are able to work remotely should continue to do so. However, essential staff and those who are requested to support online/remote teaching and learning, who are neither vulnerable nor carry comorbidities and are required to be on campus for a prescribed limited period of time, are expected to honour their responsibilities. In doing so, adherence to all the health and safety protocols must be observed at all times.

Staff involved in continuing research and experimentation involving animal and plants, defined research projects (including animal, insect and plant experiments that have to continue, all forms of biological laboratory stock that have to be kept alive during the lockdown period, including cell cultures and the monitoring of fridge and freezer stocks) are also allowed on campus.

Human Resources will circulate the Health and Safety Protocol for all who come onto the campus.

Please stay home and help curb the spread of the deadly COVID-19.



Dr ‘Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela

Deputy Vice Chancellor: Academic and Student Affairs