Message to current postgraduate taught students - 27 May 2020
Firstly, many congratulations to all of you who have completed your examinations over the last few weeks. We understand that the circumstances caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have created challenges for everyone. You have all shown great resilience and adaptability and we hope that you will take great pride in completing this important milestone in this most extraordinary academic year.
This is a long email, which we encourage you to read in full as it contains information which we hope will provide assurance for those of you continuing with us, or progressing to further study, in relation to next academic year. It is important for us to receive your feedback on our plans, and this message includes a number of ways in which all students can contribute. It also contains information about some exciting employment opportunities for graduating and current students, through which you can be directly involved in shaping education across our campuses for 2020/21.
Additional information for Students on Study and Work Abroad programmes will be sent by our Global Opportunities team on 29th May. Colleges will send further updates regarding UK work placements that are integrated within degree programmes.
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This year, Covid-19 has changed the world and changed our worlds. It has turned our lives upside down and for many it has led to great personal sorrow at the loss of loved ones. It has also seen inspiring examples of caring and courage, not least in our own College of Medicine and Health where many finalists have elected to graduate early to join the NHS front line. Across the globe there are countless examples of simple acts of kindness and compassion that are making a huge difference to individuals and communities. At the same time, many are appreciating clear skies, low pollution in urban areas, audible bird song and there is talk of a green restart. We are all asking, can we do things differently?
In education, the year has been extraordinary and UNESCO report that in mid-April 90% of all enrolled learners across the globe were impacted by Covid-19. Through rapid transitions, educators and students have been adjusting to reliance on learning and teaching online. As you know, our Leaning Community of students and staff has made the same rapid adjustment. We have been so impressed by your adaptability, patience and resilience and by the hard work and dedication of our academic and professional service staff. We know the care they have for you and your progress and we appreciate your recognition of it, not least through the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union’s Teaching Award nominations many of you have made over the last couple of weeks (if you haven’t made a nomination yet, you can do so here until 17:00 on 28th May).
While the 2019/20 Academic Year has not yet finished, we are sure that those of you who will be continuing your studies in 2020/21 are wondering just what the year will bring.
What will 2020/21 Academic Year be like?
No one can predict exactly what 2020/21 will be like but we want to tell you as much as we can about what we’re envisaging and the plans that we are making to support our Learning Community and to enable excellent learning and teaching.
We can be sure that 2020/21 won’t be like life before Covid-19. It promises to be a year characterised by the uncertainty that results from the peaks and troughs in the coronavirus pandemic, government and social responses to it, and the rate at which treatments, testing and vaccines can be developed.
Despite those uncertainties, there are two things of which you can be certain. The first is our absolute commitment to your health and safety, that of our colleagues and that of the communities within which we live. The second is our commitment to excellent teaching and learning and exciting opportunities for engagement with research for all of our students. Our vision and our plans for next academic year are founded on these certainties.
We are also clear that we will need to do things differently. It is our goal to do this well. A crucial aspect of any university community is a desire to learn and to push beyond the sometimes comfortable area of what we know. As researchers we are always learning. You can see this in the work across the university, and around the world, to learn about Covid-19 and how we can respond. And as educators we are constantly learning too, especially now as we are going through the process of reimagining learning and teaching and exploring the possibilities this current moment affords. That means we won’t always get things right first time. There will be frustrations and we recognise this may not look like the student life you’d imagined; however, we are committed to working with you to ensure that your Exeter learning journey and experience is as fulfilling as possible.
In relation to our campuses, we are committed to doing everything possible to enable us to welcome new and returning students to the University campuses for the start of the autumn term. The start of term will be 21st September for undergraduates and 12th October for Taught Postgraduates (further information for postgraduate students will follow). Please note that start dates for programmes in the College of Medicine and Health vary, including by year of study; specific advice regarding these programmes will follow from the College. As long as it is safe to do so, we will keep our campuses open and we will seek to enable social interaction, access to facilities and face-to-face teaching. Nevertheless, we must be realistic because we expect that physical distancing and other restrictions are likely to continue for many months and the situation and government guidance that we must follow may change very rapidly at times during the year ahead. We also know that it is possible that some students and colleagues may need to self-isolate or shield at points during the next year.
In learning and teaching, we are planning for flexibility and for resilience in our approach so that whatever the year throws at us we will be providing you with the best possible opportunity to learn, to progress on your degree programme and to succeed.
This will require a new approach to learning and teaching, best described as ‘blended’ learning. We’re drawing on the best knowledge available and that includes the wealth of educational expertise we have here at Exeter to strengthen learning communities and to enable transformative learning. We will capitalise on the flexibility that online environments provide for anytime, anywhere access to learning resources and we will embed face-to-face, real-time learning and teaching to ensure that all students have access to the support that they need. Face-to-face teaching will be on campus whenever safe and possible and online at other times and we will ensure that those shielding have access to face-to-face teaching and support.
To support the transformation of our degree programmes to this blended model of learning and teaching, we are making a major investment over the summer and into next year. We are calling this Project Enhance because we believe that the enhancement of the digital resources supporting all of our degree programmes is essential to underpinning the adoption of this blended model and to enabling us to realise our commitment to excellent learning and teaching. We know from well-established research that blended learning and teaching models have benefits for students in accessibility, agency and independence of learning and they offer equal opportunities for your academic success.
In Project Enhance, we have brought an expert team of academic and professional service staff together under the leadership of the Director of our Education Incubator, Professor Sarah Dyer, and our Associate Academic Dean for Students, Professor Beverley Hawkins. They have worked in conjunction with the Officers of the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union, to draw up Digitally Enhanced Module Design Principles thatbuild on published research, as well as their own experience and that of other colleagues. Colleagues in our academic departments are now discussing these principles and turning them into plans for implementation in all of our degree programmes and their constituent modules.
The work is underway and, therefore, the details of what blended learning will look like on your degree programme are still to be determined. However, you can expect that the mix of face-to-face and guided independent learning will be different from degree information published before Covid-19. For example, much of the curriculum that might typically have been delivered through lectures, will now be translated into guided online resources. This is not a case of replicating on-campus lectures, instead colleagues are developing a structured learning environment, with rich resources, that you can navigate at your own pace. The regular face-to-face contact time will typically have a focus on smaller group teaching (physical distancing in teaching spaces means many fewer people in each one) and will be more dynamic and interactive. As you will realise, some types of learning and teaching are more readily translated into this blended model than others and our colleagues are using their knowledge, creativity and resourcefulness, alongside the evidence base of successful practice around the world, to design solutions. We want to call on your insights and ideas to co-create our new blended model and we commit to keeping you fully informed and providing you with options as our plans develop.
How you can get involved
At the core of our vision for the next academic year, and Project Enhance, is a strong desire to digitally enhance our portfolio with and for you, our students. That means listening to your feedback and embedding current and recent students – both undergraduate and postgraduate – within our departments to play an active, hands-on role in the process of preparing our modules and degree programmes for the blended model of learning and teaching over the coming months.
Listening to your feedback: Having reached the end of what may have been your first taste of online learning and online examinations, you are now in a great position to reflect on the experience and help shape blended learning and teaching on your degree programmes. We would be grateful for your feedback, and will soon be sending you a link to a short survey, as well as an invitation to join one of our online focus groups. You can also feed back simply by emailing us, and of course through your Academic Representatives and Officers through the Guild and Students’ Union. Please feel free to feed back on any aspect. The more feedback we get, the better we will be able to embed what works well and find solutions to the problem areas.
Paid opportunities to be embedded in Project Enhance: We realise the additional challenges in the internship and employment environment this year and we really want your expert input into Project Enhance. Therefore, we are making a substantial investment in a number of new opportunities for our students, the first of which we are advertising today. For continuing students, the opportunities are Digital Learning Assistant internships to work alongside academics to provide real-time feedback on modules in development, including signposting and navigation, types of digital content, etc.. For graduating students there are opportunities to become Digital Learning Developers, also working closely with academics and our professional service colleagues to develop digital learning resources to support blended learning and embed them in the new ELE. You can find details of these opportunities here. We hope that many of you will be interested in these exciting opportunities not only to shape the future of your degree programmes but also to gain invaluable digital skills that are highly sought after by employers across all sectors. We’ll continue to update you on progress and other opportunities in Project Enhance and elsewhere over the coming weeks.
In the meantime, if you have any queries or concerns please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once again, congratulations to those who have completed examinations and assessments and to all for your adaptability and resilience. Thank you for working with us patiently when things have gone well and when they haven’t. We look forward to hearing your feedback and stories and working with you over the coming months. We remain confident in the future because of the strength of our International Learning Community, because of your talents and qualities, and because of the commitment and dedication of colleagues in academic departments and professional services across the University.
In whatever way you spend the summer, whether continuing postgraduate study, working with us or elsewhere, or just taking a well-earned break, we wish you, and those near and dear to you, health, safety and fulfilment.
Professor Tim Quine