Universities Preparing for the New Academic Year

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Universities have been spending the Summer getting ready for the new academic year and preparing to overcome all the challenges the current situation has put before them. Below we take a look at some of the ways Universities have been preparing for the new academic year.

 

Delivering Programmes 

The main focus for third-level institutions has been to ensure a means of adapting to a different environment in the face of COVID-19 and still being able to deliver the highest-quality learning opportunities for its students.

Most universities are planning a system of delivering programmes through a blended or hybrid approach, which entails remote learning as well as having students on campus for some aspects of their learning. A focus has been on how to get a successful blend of  online teaching (lectures, etc.) and on-campus activities’ (tutorials, practical workshops, etc.).

Certain faculties and programmes within institutions will be entirely off campus – with courses being delivered fully remote. Others will have varying levels of physical presence on campus. Each institution will have this information regarding programme delivery available on their websites. In some cases this will include such information as how many days a week you can actually be on campus.

 

Champion Digital Learning

Moving resources online to facilitate learners and introducing blended and e-learning tools is a particular challenge for every third-level institution. A major part of this is that colleges successfully champion digital learning and ensure that their online programmes are delivered in a manner that is as effective, indeed if not more effective, than traditional lecture-based learning. It is essential that the delivery of learning is in no way compromised by the transition to online.

Health & Safety

Third-level institutions are trying their best to facilitate small groups on campus  and will follow the government’s safety guidelines. Health and Safety, as always, is key. Social distancing must be adhered to. Many colleges will have marked out dedicated entrances and exits and one-way signed walking routes, plus other safety measures where possible such as hand-sanitising stations.

Staff and learners will be using PPE where appropriate and colleges will need to put in place a strict and precisely focused timetabling schedule which will allow staff and students to occupy spaces for essential on-campus learning in a safe environment.

Devices

The financial reality of going to college has probably never been felt as much as it will this year. To offset this, many institutions are seeking to provide support where they can. Recently the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, announced up to 17,000 laptops are to be distributed to third level students to assist with online learning. This has been welcomed by third-level institutions and will be of particular benefit to disadvantaged learners.

 

Mental Health

Harris has also announced a comprehensive financial package of €5 million to support students’ wellbeing and mental health, which has also been welcomed. There have been increasing mental health challenges in higher education and this financial package can help to provide the proper counselling facilities and preventative maintenance the industry requires. Plus discussions have taken place around support for a new national framework for prevention of suicide and a national framework around consent.

 

Deliver & Receive Remote Education

Many colleges have rolled out training for their academic staff in order to fully prepare them to deliver in an online environment, introducing them to effective online learning designs and teaching approaches.

Most institutions should have an induction strategy in place to prepare learners for what is planned for the upcoming year and the tools that will be required to facilitate their learning objectives. It is essential that every student is fully equipped to succeed in the digital/online teaching and learning environment and on the platforms the colleges plan to use.

Support from IT is essential throughout the year and in some cases colleges have promised a mentoring system will be put in place to provide the necessary help for those dealing with this new method of education.

 

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