Oxford University outlines teaching plans for 2020/21

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Martin Williams, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), sent an email to students which outlines Oxford University’s developing plans for the academic year of 2020/21, including a commitment to face to face, small-group teaching.

The email was received by current students this morning (the 17th of June), with a similar email sent to incoming students also.

The email begins by thanking students: “once again for your support as we have worked through what has been a turbulent period for everyone at the University, and for the positive way that you have adapted to remote University life”. It then describes various plans underway for the return to university in Michaelmas 2020.

To minimise the risk to both students and staff, the university plans to: open a testing service, support students who find themselves needing to self isolate, maintain social distancing, and make use of facemasks “and other hygiene measures”. Further measures will also be put in place for students and staff who are at high risk, including continued online teaching where necessary.

“Our approach will be informed by an expert advisory group made of Oxford clinical academics, as well as government guidance. We will follow UK government advice, and make detailed contingency plans in case additional measures are required.”

For students who are unable to travel or are self-isolating when Michaelmas begins, online teaching will continue to be an option, but the university continues that: “We expect that all students will be in residence by January 2021”. International students will be supported in self-isolation when returning to the University if government rules still necessitate this.

In terms of teaching: Our education will be built around Oxford’s distinct focus on face-to-face, small-group teaching, laboratory practical work and supervision; with access to laboratories, and other resources, supplemented by high-quality digital materials.”

The university will continue to “focus on personalised teaching and supervision”, focusing on tutorials and small-group classes. As with this term, lectures and most exams will be conducted online to minimise contact between larger groups, “at least for the first term”.

The role of Canvas will continue to grow, with activities remaining online where possible. Libraries, research facilities and laboratories will be open, working at a reduced capacity, with libraries “supplemented by digital resources” to reduce the need for physical library visits.

The university emphasises that their plans for next year are flexible. If the situation of the pandemic should change they are prepared to continue remote teaching, and term dates may be staggered and extended to ensure a fair distribution of contact hours.

Assuming the global situation progresses as expected: “We are pleased to be able to confirm that all our colleges will be open, with accommodation available for students.”

Apart from the academic side of college life, the university promises “We are working hard to maintain different aspects of college life, such as bars, dining halls and common rooms, and to ensure a rich social experience for our students”. The mentioned services will recommence once medical and legal advice allows them to do so.

The university is “striving to preserve Oxford’s student life despite the pandemic”, including planning a virtual freshers fair.

The university discloses: “Due to the nature of the ongoing pandemic, it is not possible to provide all the details of the arrangements for the new academic year at this stage”.

For students with more specific questions for next year, including students anticipating a year abroad, individual departments will begin to reach out to their students “in the near future”. Finalists are to be contacted separately also, with information about leaving the University.

The email ends by promising continued contact and emails between students and the University, and linking a new “Michaelmas term tab” on the student coronavirus advice page.

Further information in a press release advises that students with specific concerns or questions “reach out to course leaders and their college advisors”. The measures mentioned in the email, “are intended to reduce any additional burdens that the covid19 situation brings, which includes on the local NHS services upon which the whole city relies.”

Prof Martin Williams says: “The Oxford University experience is unlike any other. We want all our students to enjoy Oxford’s academic and social opportunities as fully as possible, and these plans will help them to do so within the constraints of the ongoing pandemic.”

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