Plan B for Teaching

Yesterday’s Covid-19 figures for Ireland were a bit of a shocker, with 396 new cases (241 of them in Dublin). The latest 7-day average is 283.1 new cases per day. We haven’t seen figures like this since April. Here’s the latest log-linear graph:

Just a reminder: I keep a complete record of the daily figures here.

The surge in cases in Dublin is the the reason for the imposition of additional restrictions. Although we’re not in Dublin, many of our students travel to campus from the areas of West Dublin where the rate of infection is high (such as Tallaght) so Maynooth University has decided to ‘escalate protective measures‘. This means, among other things, that the maximum class size for in-person lectures on campus is 30.

So this morning I’ve been grappling with the implications of this for our teaching plans in the Department of Theoretical Physics. Student registrations are coming in now and though they are not complete we have a much better idea of how many students we will have in each class. The limit of 30 really just makes a difference to second year Mathematical Physics modules where the class size is around 40. We had intended to teach these all together but now they will need to be split into two groups to be taught separately. It will also impact our teaching for Engineering and Product Design, both of which have more than 30 students in class.

The remaining issue is the first year Mechanics & Special Relativity module MP110 which is a much larger class that I’d already decided to split into three groups. The problem would arise if the size of these groups exceeded the capacity constraints. First-year registration has not yet finished but it looks at the moment that we’ll be OK with Plan A. Possibly.

One of the difficulties will be communicating the arrangements to new students in time for the start of lectures on Monday 28th September, a week today. It is important that we don’t have students turning up for sessions to which they have not been assigned. There will be a lot of messages flying around about this for the rest of this week and over the weekend. Even even set up a departmental Twitter feed which you can follow here:

If the situation in Dublin (and nationally) continues to deteriorate we may well be back in the situation in which we found ourselves in March, with everything going online but that isn’t where we are at the moment. The limit of 30 on class sizes is a challenge, but it is our intention that lectures in Theoretical Physics will go ahead on campus starting next Monday.
How long it will take to move to Plan C is anyone’s guess.

One Response to “Plan B for Teaching”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    In the UK, Mark Woolhouse is a professor of infectious disease epidemiology and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours, which advises the government. Three weeks ago he gave a newspaper interview in which he said:

    “Lockdown was a panic measure and I believe history will say trying to control Covid-19 through lockdown was a monumental mistake on a global scale, the cure was worse than the disease. I never want to see national lockdown again. It was always a temporary measure that simply delayed the stage of the epidemic we see now. It was never going to change anything fundamentally, however low we drove down the number of cases, and now we know more about the virus and how to track it we should not be in this position again. We absolutely should never return to a position where children cannot play or go to school. I believe the harm lockdown is doing to our education, health care access, and broader aspects of our economy and society will turn out to be at least as great as the harm done by Covid-19… I agreed with lockdown as a short term emergency response because we couldn’t think of anything better to do, but it was always clear that the moment we started to relax enough measures we were likely to see infection rates rise again either nationally or locally. My hope was that we would have learnt how to handle the virus better so lockdown would no longer be necessary. But we haven’t made much progress in finding a viable alternative to lockdown… I would not dignify waiting for a vaccine with the term ‘strategy’. That’s a hope not a strategy.

    In the short term he wants a smarter strategy based on recognition of the vulnerable sectors of the population more intelligently; he says that schools should not close, for instance. His longterm solution is more testing: “Testing of teachers in schools and universities would have to be done on the scale of the Premier League – they made it work and used testing to get their core activity up and running. People say cost is an issue with widespread testing but the cost of not doing it is absolutely enormous because without it we cannot unlock society. The Premier League carried out 40,000 tests to run its final series of matches – and it was successful. This should be a benchmark. If you can run football safely you can run businesses and schools safely with the same strict testing regime. Schools and businesses need to think like the Premier League.”

    This seems to me to be an intelligent way to spend money, rather than see comparable or larger losses go up the chimney in the form of economic losses due to indefinite less smart and more blanket-type lockdowns. In any case the purpose of lockdown was not to stamp covid19 out but to ensure that the number of cases never exceeded the capacity of the Health Service, and when people see their routine freedoms taken away indefinitely they will become disillusioned and undisciplined. That concern applies more widely than the UK, and Woolhouse’s way might restore confidence.

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