Date: Friday, 3 April 2020
COVID-19: UJ TEACHING AND LEARNING ONLINE
As you are no doubt keenly aware, we find ourselves in unchartered waters in this lockdown period in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We trust that you and your loved ones are safe and that all the necessary precautions are in place. As a University, we need to continue to discharge our responsibilities to one another, and especially to our students. In order to do this, we will need to transition to online teaching and learning, a move which will require a shift in our pedagogy. As communicated, the UJ academic term will resume on 20 April 2020, although based on all indications from government and given the nature of the pandemic, we have taken the decision that all teaching and learning will be online until the end of Semester 1. Further details on the academic calendar will be provided once finalised.
Extensive consultations on managing the impact and processes associated with the move to an online environment are being held almost daily. On 1 April, the Management Executive Committee Academic (MECA) met to discuss the impact of the current situation on teaching, learning, research and other operational areas. In turn, the Executive Deans have provided feedback on their planning for the shift to online for the semester and have highlighted progress made in this regard, as well as identified the challenges that may be encountered. The responses we have received from the academics have been extraordinary and demonstrating firm commitment towards completing the academic year. There are numerous instances of innovation, effort and care evident in the steps and measures being effected to deliver education to our students. Thank you for your commitment which enables us to continue to strive for excellence in teaching and learning.
The transition will, however, be easier for some than others, and certain disciplines may face more challenges than others. Executive Deans and HoDs will remain in touch with you to deliver upon these innovative opportunities and also discuss challenges that you may face. It is vital that we continue to converse with colleagues and our students in this time. It is in this context that we offer a few pointers to assist in the planning of the teaching and learning engagements online:
1. Our students have been notified of the shift to online teaching. Please do consider the unique circumstances of the students and who’s access to the internet is dependent on data affordability, bandwidth, network and smart device/computer availability. Communication to students from you is going to be vital especially in these difficult times.
2. Senior tutors, tutors and assistant lecturers should be included in the teaching and learning processes. In many situations, this group may have innovative enablers for the required paradigm shift. Please contact the Centre for Academic Staff Development for any additional training requirements.
3. All academic staff have access to the Blackboard module ‘The UJ Online Teaching Toolkit’ which you can find in Organisations below Courses. This guide is designed to assist you to navigate the Blackboard environment. For questions about Blackboard or help with online teaching, email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the Centre for Academic Technologies (CAT) ID linked to your Faculty/College (which you will find in the module).
4. One of the particular challenges of the online environment is assessment. It may not be feasible to replicate the standard final assessment (examination) in an online environment, as online proctoring comes with its own set of challenges, not least of which are technological. It is strongly recommended therefore that larger assessments be broken into smaller, continuous assessments as the best option. For exit level modules, assessments should have appropriate external moderation. Consideration
should also be given to whether first and second semester modules can be combined and managed as a year module for 2020. These discussions should be held within your faculty/college. A Task Team has been established to explore solutions and best practices for assessments and examinations which will be shared with you shortly.
- Short videos in which you address your students, their concerns, and the course materials may play a vital role in decreasing their sense of isolation especially for those who are accustomed to seeing their classmates, lecturers and tutors. Bear in mind that longer videos require considerably more data so it may be more effective to limit the length of videos to between 3 and 6 minutes (using 10 MB or less data), and only make use of them as absolutely necessary. More details on the use of videos can be accessed on the ‘UJ Online Teaching Toolkit’ available on Blackboard. There is an attachment in this email: Twenty Things to Keep in Mind when Going Online. In the course of the week we will send you a UJ Toolkit for Off-Campus Teaching and Learning. These two documents will also be available through the Blackboard module ‘The UJ Online Teaching Toolkit.’
- The Executive Deans and relevant HoDs are exploring how we will effect the completion of practicals, lab work, clinical placements, work integrated learning (WIL) and all other forms of direct contact sessions which are required for specific modules and will communicate about these arrangements soon. For example, we may consider project-based learning (PBL) as an alternative to WIL.
- Academics who are supervising students and/or mentoring postdoctoral research fellows (PDRFs) should continue to do so using the various available platforms. For postgraduate students and PDRFs, supervision will continue online with communication and feedback through phone, email, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate. As you are already aware, research funding and the Research Office remain fully operational. Online training will be made available to provide postgraduate students with assistance in applying for NRF bursaries. Research consultations are also available. For all information, visit https://www.uj.ac.za/study-at-uj/postgraduate/
- During this time of online learning the Library is hosting a variety of training sessions everyday. Please refer your students to these. These trainings include how to reference properly in Harvard and APA styles, how to avoid plagiarism, how to paraphrase and make summaries for assignments. Some advanced training is also suitable for emerging academics who may be pursuing a postgraduate qualification. There are also a number of very short videos on the use of Library resources such as how to download old exam papers, find an article online and download an eBook. All of these can be found on the Library website and on the Library App. All other functions of the Library are accessible online.
- All support mechanisms for academic processes remain available. The Division of Academic Planning,Quality Promotion and Academic Staff Development is available to assist with amendments to existing programmes and any concerns you may have effecting these online, with new programme development, planning and implementing programme reviews, nGAP and AAMP processes. Staff development workshops and other engagements are currently being moved online and will also be accessible to staff seeking assistance. Support for teaching portfolios and other aspects related to promotion are available as well. Likewise support from the Division for Academic Development Support is available.
- Teaching evaluations are online and arrangements are being made to revise the questions and the timing of the evaluations. These will be communicated to you in due course.
- All committees, university processes and closing dates for the various meetings remain in place and will take place through Blackboard Collaborate (as it may be zero-rated), Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Large committees, such as Boards of Faculty, may opt for reduced representation if required. Platforms, like Blackboard Collaborate and Microsoft Teams, can accommodate large groups (up to 250 persons).
- Appointments and promotions continue.
UJ is working closely with telecommunication providers to zero rate (no data charges) UJ websites to
assist staff and students during this period. CAT and ICS are working closely with telecommunications providers and other Universities to ensure that Blackboard is also zero-rated. Furthermore, ICS is working closely with Vodacom to facilitate the zero rating. MTN, Cell C and Telkom SA have zero rated UJ’s websites as per the list below:
All updates regarding zero-rating is provided here: https://tinyurl.com/UJ-zero-rated-data
- Separate from websites that are zero-rated, we recognise that for your preparatory and research work, you may need support for data costs. Where possible, we would propose that you utilise your research cost- centres and/or as guided by your faculty/college.
- Our online applications have commenced on 1 April 2020, with a record number of applications (4 000) received on the first day. We will continue our 2021 student recruitment process using digital marketing.
- We fully recognise that online work can lead to online fatigue and mental stress and thus we encourage you to find some time for breaks.
In closing, we thank you for all the time and effort you are currently investing in your students and for continuing to create a teaching and learning environment in which students will feel as supported as possible. Though in tough circumstances, the University’s positioning for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is helpful. Together, we trust that we will be able in the online environment to provide the best teaching and learning experience, given the current constraints under which we are all working. We will continue to provide you with updates on developments.
Please do make use of all the support services available to you, as you keep yourself and your loved ones safe. We wish you the best in health.
Professor Angina Parekh
Professor Saurabh Sinha
DVC: Research and Internationalisation