Archive for September 26, 2020

Third Level at Level Three and Back to Square One

Posted in Covid-19, Education, Maynooth with tags , on September 26, 2020 by telescoper

I spent a big chunk of yesterday assigning students to groups and organization rotations to allow them to attend lectures on campus at Maynooth University in a manner consistent with public health guidelines relating to Covid-19. Then, late yesterday afternoon, the Irish Government announced that all third-level institutions should move practically all* their teaching online. In effect, all higher education institutions have been raised to Level Three on the Government’s scale of restrictions.

This announcement came as a shock, not least because of the timing. Announcing drastic changes on the Friday before the Monday teaching is due to start has bounced a huge number of lecturers (including myself) into having to work all weekend to revise our plans and to contact students to tell them in time that they shouldn’t come onto campus on Monday morning. As far as I am aware there was no discussion of this move with the University sector. It’s yet another example of those in authority taking for granted the willingness of academic staff to work at weekends.

Maynooth University had anticipated some of the changes by reducing the maximum class size to 30 but the Government announcement is much more stringent than these. It seems to have been motivated by developments in universities elsewhere at which high levels of infection have arisen. The extent to which these are due to transmission in lecture halls and laboratories as opposed to student residences is unclear to me though. Many of our students are already on campus. I’m not sure that having them here but cooped up in halls will achieve very much.

Institutions like Maynooth University have spent all summer putting in stringent measures to comply with public health guidance to allow in-person teaching for the new semester. Now it is clear that was all a complete waste of time and resources. Moreover, the decision to keep students off campus is tantamount to an admission that the measures previously suggested by the HSE were inadequate.

I know colleagues at other institutions that made the decision some months ago to go online this Semester are saying “I told you so”. They’re justified in feeling a bit smug. All our attempts to bring students onto campus have achieved is to distract us from putting more time and resources into preparations for online teaching. We tried because we think the on-campus teaching is valuable to the student experience. I think it was worth a shot, but it has come to naught. We’re now back where we were in March. It’s very frustrating, to put it mildly, to have spent so long on a fool’s errand.

Anyway, all our lectures will be online from next week for the foreseeable future. The official Government line is “for two weeks”, but that’s what we were told on March 12th. I think it’s much more likely that we’re online for the entire academic year.

I’m not going to mention the considerable number of other things that went wrong last week, but I trudged home last night overwhelmed with fatigue. And term hasn’t started yet. I’m too old for all this.

* There is a possible exemption for laboratories and other practical sessions, as well as small-group tutorials. Students in experimental subjects will therefore get some tuition on campus. As for tutorials, though, I can’t really see students travelling for a tutorial when they have no lectures to attend on campus, so we’ll probably move them online too.