[17 April] Vice-Chancellor's letter to Rhodes University Staff and Students 17 April 2020

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Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela
Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela

Dear Rhodes University Staff and Students

On 13 April I wrote a letter to you indicating, among other things, that, in line with other universities, we would migrate to alternative forms of teaching and learning in order to ensure successful completion of the 2020 Academic Year. I also indicated that, underpinning our approach to remote/online teaching and learning will be principles of social justice and of ensuring that no student will be left behind on account of lack of an appropriate device or access to connectivity.

Migration to online delivery of teaching and learning is to ensure that our students are able to continue with their studies without exposing them and our staff to the risks of contracting the virus.

The University has conducted a survey to establish the extent to which our students are able to actively and meaningfully participate in online course delivery. The Orientation Programme starting 20 April, will afford a further opportunity to identify students who need support.

Engagements with Mobile Network Operators have also been held. And these are ongoing.

A VC Circular of 15 April 2020 titled “Zero-rated data access to educational resources” provided a detailed account on what had been achieved to date.

After discussions with the Deans, we have agreed that the period between 20 April and 30 April should be used for the following purposes:
1. Running an Orientation Programme to Online Teaching and Learning for students.
Here is the link: https://ruconnected.ru.ac.za/course/view.php?id=7736
2. Further uploading of Teaching and Learning materials on RUConnected;
3. 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;
4. Locating those students who cannot access learning materials online and sending them printed
notes and/or USB flash drives by courier services;
5. Sourcing and distributing a limited stock of laptops, where possible, to those students who need
to be loaned;
6. Continue and finalise engagements with the Mobile Network Operators to get affordable
arrangements for non-static teaching and learning modalities.

Barring any unforeseen challenges, on 4 May 2020, after the nationwide lockdown has been eased, we should be in a better position to engage in various modalities of teaching and learning.

We indicated in the letter of 13 April that we would formulate various scenarios regarding the re-organisation/restructuring of our academic calendar. A more detailed communique in this regard will be issued shortly. This communique will also cover a variety of other issues such as assessments, progression rules, etc.

We are deeply indebted to our DVC: Academic & Student Affairs, our Faculty Deans, Heads of Department, CHERTL staff and all academic and support staff who have worked tirelessly over the past few weeks to ensure that the transition to remote/online delivery of our courses is successful. All have gone above and beyond their call of duty to ensure that our students’ educational experience is not compromised by the global health crisis.

We are also grateful to our determined and courageous students who, while apprehensive and anxious, look forward with anticipation to this new approach and modality which will ensure that they are able to continue with their studies.

These are uncertain and trying times. No one suggested that a migration to remote/online delivery format will be without challenges.

We have to address these. I appeal to all staff and students to cooperate and to be calm, patient and understanding as we address these challenges.

Yours sincerely,

Sizwe Mabizela,
Vice-Chancellor & Principal.

Source:  VC's Office