It has been more than a month since I last put text to blog, and though I’m sure this isn’t a complete surprise given what the world and its people, and universities specifically, are up against just now, it might still be worth an aside of apology and explanation. In terms of my working life, this is roughly how the whole Covid-19 thing has worked out so far:
- In March 2020, in the middle of teaching, we very suddenly switched to online delivery, and I’ve since been back onto campus only once, for a half-hour-limited visit to my office to pick up teaching materials.
- Throughout the crisis, the various organs of the UK government which rule higher education have been rattling sabres about how it is up to universities to ensure that the education we deliver online is of an equal standard to what we’d deliver face-to-face, and threatening us with permitting students to reclaim their fees if we don’t.
- Because of the situation, meanwhile, many students didn’t complete work on time, got extensions or had to resit, so that teaching and marking activity ran desultorily on long into the summer.
- As that summer dragged on, my colleagues and I have also been planning for the twin possibilities that, this year, we would either be teaching entirely online or that we would be doing everything we could face-to-face. The government, however, required us also to plan back-up online provision for students who might be ill, self-isolating and so on, again under threat of reclaimed student fees or fines if such provision were not available. That all meant planning about twice as much teaching overall as usual, as well as training to use our suddenly-developing suite of online teaching tools, and so the bits of the summer that weren’t already swept up by the long tail of last year’s teaching disappeared under getting ready for this year’s.
- As the new semester approached, a few weeks before we were due to start, the UK government again raised the possibility of fines or fees refunds if universities didn’t offer as much of a normal teaching experience as was possible.
- As a result of this, along with some other factors I haven’t mentioned, three weeks before teaching started, my colleagues and I had to replan for doing everything but our first-year undergraduate teaching face-to-face (albeit without access to offices…).
- Almost immediately after that, the government made a complete mess of awarding grades for the final school exams for the year, which had not been held, and eventually required universities to honour offers to students who had missed them because of grade adjustments, as well as those who had actually been given their target grades. This left most of the universities in the country suddenly struggling to plan for teaching an intake about ten per cent larger than they’d expected, if possible face-to-face, for which many of them didn’t in fact have enough places, staff or facilities, especially because of having to use their physical space in a socially-distanced manner.
- Then students arrived on campus and predictably enough, almost every university town in the country developed into a Covid-19 hotspot within days.
- On the Friday afternoon before teaching started, therefore, my department was allowed to abandon our new plans for face-to-face teaching and to switch back to delivering all teaching online, starting straight after the weekend…
So that has all taken up more time than was expecting, forcing the other necessary activities of life into what gaps remain, and for the last few weeks there just hasn’t been the time on Sundays in which I would usually blog. I’m having a very kind pandemic compared to some, I know, safe and well in my house (in a town that actually doesn’t have many cases, albeit in a wider area that does) and still being paid in full, but believe me, I have been earning that wage, and the effective cost has been partly passed on to you, my gracious audience. Sorry about that. Let’s see what we can do about it as this weird year lurches on forwards…
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