This plan emanates from intense engagement with, amongst others, the ViceChancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellors, the Registrar and Faculty Deans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also shared with the Student Representative Council.
The decision taken by the institution to transition to remote/online teaching and learning during this unusual time of the COVID-19 pandemic and national disaster, and to opt for alternative teaching and learning approaches has not been taken callously, but to ensure the continuity of the academic project and that the lives of our students are not put on hold. Equally important is the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff in the context of the potential risks of contracting the novel coronavirus. Physical distancing is an important preventative measure to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The reality is that during this period the University has been, and will continue being unable to teach the normal way, which is face-to-face, and it does not seem like the end of the pandemic is imminent in the near future. It could take months before we are able to resume with face-to-face teaching. The University is cognisant of all the challenges, anxiety and uneasiness of students and staff to enter this uncharted territory, and we would like to reassure everyone that we are with you. We have made a pledge to foreground all our efforts for continuity of the academic project/teaching and learning on the principles of social justice, equity, participation and access with success for all. It is not in the University’s interest that any student should be left behind, and we recognise that various modalities of remote learning would have to be put in place to reach all our students (including availing flash sticks and posting of hard copies of material). We are aware of the digital divide caused by deep socio-economic problems and poverty in our country, however, our strategy will ensure that every student is able to learn remotely, online or using printed learning material and alternative communication with their lecturers. We have put measures in place to identify students who will need support. To the extent possible, we will provide some form of support to all our students.
We cannot underestimate the challenge of switching from contact/face-to-face to online or other alternative formats of course delivery within a short space of time. We have been heartened by the willingness of many among us to step up to the challenge which has been thrust on us by circumstances beyond our control. We are deeply grateful to the Deans and all academic and support staff who have worked round the clock to facilitate the transition to online or other alternative formats of course delivery. We are also
inspired by many of our students who have expressed keenness and commitment to play their part to make this transition a positive and rewarding experience. Anxiety and apprehension for the unknown is natural and understandable. We should, however, do all we can to make the best out of the challenges we face and collectively assume an approach and mindset oriented towards finding solutions.
While there are epidemiological projections regarding the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa, no one knows for certain nor can anyone predict how, and for how long, this pandemic will play itself out in this country. Therefore, all the plans and strategies that we are putting in place to advance the University’s academic endeavour are subject to the trajectory and impact of the pandemic on our society. Accordingly, we will constantly monitor developments around it and take all such decisions as may be necessary to safeguard safety, health and wellbeing of our students, staff and community.
Remote/Online Teaching and Learning is the mechanism the University will use for the time being to be able to complete the 2020 academic year. The University is conscious of the fact that Remote/Online Teaching and Learning is new to many and will take such cognisance as course requirements are crafted and expectations set.
2.1 The approach to Teaching and learning
The approach to Remote/Online Teaching and Learning acknowledges the diverse student body. Some students have access to technology (laptops/desktops, printers), connectivity to the Internet that enables material to be viewed and downloaded and sufficient resources to purchase “data” from a service provider. Some students have less technology, connectivity and “data”, and some have little technology, connectivity and “data”, if anything at all.
The approach facilitates multiple options for accessing learning materials to facilitate teaching and learning: • Learning materials, for example, documents (notes, case studies, and assignments), PowerPoint slides possibly augmented with audio explanations, videos can be accessed via the institution’s Learning Management System, RUconnected. • Learning materials, for example, documents (notes, case studies, and assignments), PowerPoint slides can be printed, packaged and couriered/posted to students who cannot access RUconnected. Telephone engagement between the students and the course coordinators will be used to support learning. • Learning materials, for example, documents (notes, case studies, and assignments), PowerPoint slides can be put on flash sticks and couriered/posted to students. Telephone engagement between the students and the course coordinators will be used to support learning.
Material will be available in batches so that students can access RUconnected or receive material packs periodically.
Teaching and learning will proceed asynchronously, unless the size of the class, capability of the student cohort, or demands of the course afford otherwise. Course coordinators will adhere to the time allocated to them in line with the official lecture timetable to avoid overwhelming the students.
A cornerstone of a Rhodes University educational experience is the tutorial system and other forms of small group engagements. They provide an opportunity for students to interact with senior students and lecturers in smaller groups. Tutorials will continue to be a cornerstone of the different courses and tutors will continue to provide leadership, guidance and support during and after the nationwide lockdown.
Material for tutorials will be made available on RUconnected or couriered/posted to students. Tutors will communicate with their tutor groups and provide support and feedback on any submissions. Students will be informed of specific details of individual tutorials in particular departments as the course progresses.
4. Laboratory-based Practicals/Work Integrated Learning (WIL)/Clinical Training/Creative Practice
Work Integrated Learning, Clinical training and Laboratory-based practicals in courses such as Chemistry, Microbiology, Computer Science and most Pharmacy courses will be difficult to undertake remotely/online. Options that are being explored include simulations, online demonstrations, paper-based equivalences, with block practical periods, WIL placement and field work on resumption of the face-to-face programme. Similar options, where necessary, will be explored for Fine Art Practice, Instrumental Music Studies, Drama and Journalism. Students will be informed at a later date which option will apply for a particular course.
Assessment is a key component of any teaching and learning process and is undertaken in two ways:
• Formative assessment - assessment for progress and understanding is undertaken in many ways, for example, by assignments, essays and laboratory practicals that could count towards a student’s class mark.
• Summative assessment - assessment for progression to the next level/course, for example, from Sociology 1 to Sociology 2 is undertaken by way of class mark and written examination.
During Remote/Online Teaching and Learning, assessment will be undertaken as follows:
• Any assessment for progress and understanding submitted on or after 18 March 2020 will continue as usual and be awarded marks in the usual manner, but will not count towards a class mark or final mark. The mark will be used by lecturers and students to gauge students’ progress and understanding in the particular course.
• From a date as yet to be determined, but not until adequate time has elapsed for students to become accustomed to, and comfortable with, Remote/Online Teaching and Learning, all assessment for progress and understanding will be awarded marks in the usual manner, and will count towards a class mark or final mark. Students will be informed when such assessment for progress and understanding will begin to count towards a class mark or final mark.
• Assessment for progression to the next level/course will be undertaken in one of two ways: a) marks already awarded for coursework completed prior to the national lockdown plus those awarded for assessment for progress and understanding thereafter will be used as the final mark for the course, or b) marks already awarded for coursework completed prior to the national lockdown plus those awarded for assessment for progress and understanding, as well as marks earned for a formal written examination written on resumption of face-to-face teaching and learning will be used as a final mark for the course.
• Students will be informed at a later date which option will apply for a particular course. It is likely that special arrangements will need to be made for professional courses, for example, in Law, Accounting, Psychology and Pharmacy.
6. Rules and Regulations
Students operate in an environment governed by a number of rules and regulations.
6.1 Students on Academic Probation
A moratorium has been placed on academic probation orders for the 2020 academic year. No student will be prejudiced for not meeting the terms of her/his academic probation in 2020.
6.2 Duly Performed (DP) Certificates
A moratorium has 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.
6.3 Academic Exclusion
A moratorium has been placed on academic exclusions for the 2020 academic year. No student will be academically excluded in 2020.
6.4 Students Registered for Courses on Extended DP
Students registered for courses on Extended DP who were supposed to write examinations in June will write these examinations at the end of the year.
7. Assisting students who do not have access to online
The University is fully aware that not all students have access to a laptop/desktop and connectivity to the Internet. The University is exploring a range of options to ensure that no student is left behind.
Measures that are being explored include providing students with a laptop on loan and based on financial need, packaging all learning materials and physically via hardcopy or on flash sticks and sending it to students via courier services or postal services, and negotiating with service providers for zero-rated data access with/without any capping to University resources, for example, RUconnected, ROSS, Webmail and Library resources that reside on the university campus. As and when the measures are confirmed, students will be informed.
The University is also exploring academic support programmes that may be mounted during lockdown and on resumption of face-to-face teaching and learning. Among other things, the following will apply:
Academic Departments will put in place a facility for students to contact lecturers with course-related queries. These could be addressed by tutors where appropriate, while difficult questions will be forwarded to the lecturer to deal with. CHERTL has designed an online tutoring resource for tutors. All tutors should be encouraged to access that site. CHERTL will work closely with academic departments. Students, staff and tutors are encouraged to engage with the RUconnected orientation course on guidance for online learning. This programme can be accessed at: https://ruconnected.ru.ac.za/course/view.php?id=7736
As the Vice-Chancellor’s communication of 17 April indicates, the period 20-30 April will be for:
• Running an Orientation Programme to Online Teaching and Learning for students.
• Further uploading of Teaching and Learning materials on RUconnected;
• Academic staff will interact with their students with a view to confirming who among them are able to access learning materials. This will provide us additional information over and above what we have been able to gather through the student survey;
• Locating those students who cannot access learning materials online and sending them printed notes and/or USB flash drives by courier services;
• Sourcing and distributing a limited stock of laptops, where possible, to those students who need to be loaned;
• Continue and finalise engagements with the Mobile Network Operators to get affordable arrangements for non-static teaching and learning modalities.
• Carrying out all such preparatory arrangements as may be necessary for a successful transition to remote/online teaching and learning mode. Delivery of teaching and learning materials and devices, where applicable, can only be done within the boundaries of the Republic of South Africa.
8. International Students
The Department of Home Affairs has issued a statement to indicate flexibility around study and work visas where the nationwide lockdown has affected the renewal or delay in visa applications. Students whose study visas have expired will not be adversely affected by the Department shutting its operations for the nationwide lockdown, or foreign consulates closing in compliance with the COVID-19 restrictions of other countries. The International Office will help locate all international students and provide support and assistance to ensure that they also engage in remote and online learning where possible.
9. Honours, Post-Graduate Diploma, Masters and Doctoral Students
Postgraduate course work will make use of the same sorts of short-term measures as those envisaged for undergraduate courses. Because postgraduate classes tend to be smaller, and the students involved often have more access to devices and networks, lecturers will be able to make arrangements for their classes to move ahead using whatever mechanisms are most appropriate for that class, provided that all members of the class are able to access those mechanisms and no-one is left behind. The DVC: Research and Innovation will engage further with supervisors about appropriate arrangements for research projects.
10. Post-lockdown/COVID-19 pandemic
Students will not return to campus immediately following the easing or lifting of the nationwide lockdown regulations. The return to campus will follow a phased approach to ensure that the requirements of physical distancing and good hygiene are strictly observed. The University will develop strict criteria of who can return to campus, and when. This will facilitate structured and controlled re-opening of campus facilities. Reopening of campus will also entail the need for screening/testing of staff and students. Appropriate isolation/quarantine facilities will have to be available for those who might need them. All decisions relating to the return to campus will be informed by public health considerations.
Students are advised not to make travel arrangements to return to the campus for resumption of academic activities at this stage. They will be given adequate warning to make travel arrangements once criteria for phased return has been finalised.
Post-lockdown/Covid-19 pandemic when face-to-face university activities resume, all students who had connectivity problems or who may have lagged behind will be required to work through the online material and will receive extensive tutorial support.
As we enter this uncharted territory, the Deans and Heads of Department will continue to monitor teaching and learning very closely and implementation plans will be improved. All course coordinators will receive continuous support from CHERTL and I&TS during remote teaching and learning to resolve any technical issues. Counselling services will be available daily to provide tele-counselling for students who may need assistance with psychological issues, while we recommend that students should also use the services provided by ER24.
11. Academic Calendar
The Academic Calendar for 2020 has been adjusted to take cognisance of COVID-19.
In short, the 2020 academic year comprises two periods:
• Semester One
10 Feb-13 Mar: Completed face-to-face programme
20 Apr-30 Apr: Orientation Programme and adjustment to Remote/Online Teaching and Learning
4 May-30 Jun: Remote/Online Teaching and Learning Programme
1 Jul: Possible start of the phased students’ return to campus
6-31 Jul: Programme of Review of work covered during Remote/Online Teaching and Learning; Block laboratory-based practicals, etc.
3-5 Aug: Short student recess while marks are finalised
• Semester Two (This assumes that the face-to-face programme is resumed.)
06 Aug-14 Oct: Term 3
15-16 Oct: Graduation and short recess
19 Oct–05 Nov: Term 4
06 Nov: Final submissions for continuous assessment subjects Recess for students not writing exams
06-08 Nov: Swot period for exams for exit subjects as identified
09-20 Nov: Exams for exit subjects as identified
23 Nov-18 Dec Final collation of exam marks and reports (submission of marks deadline details will be circulated to
Please note that the above calendar will be adjusted depending on the situation in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic and should not be viewed as static. The University continues to monitor the situation and further adjustments to the timelines will be made and communicated as the situation necessitates.
Please stay safe and help curb the spread of COVID-19 in our country.
Dr ‘Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela DVC: Academic and Student Affairs