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Update from Chair of Resumption of Teaching Working Group to staff

25 June 2020

Dear Colleagues,

Further to the Provost’s email of 22nd June, I would like to update you on the ongoing work of the Resumption of Teaching Working Group as we prepare to welcome undergraduate and postgraduate students back to campus for the beginning of semester 1 teaching on 28th September.

We have established some broad principles that are outlined below, with further information to follow in the coming weeks that will assist Schools in preparation of detailed plans specific to their courses, including shared courses.

It is not yet known if the Government restrictions that apply now will still apply by the end of September so we are planning for the following scenarios:

  1. A combination of online and face-to face teaching that observes physical distancing guidelines of 2m or 1m.
  2. A removal of physical distancing restrictions that will allow full or near full face-to-face teaching.
  3. A second wave of the virus that will require a move to fully online teaching.

As approved by Council, scenario 1 requires that face-to-face teaching will be maximised for all students, within public health guidelines. The present Government guidelines on physical distancing mean that the capacity of our teaching spaces is reduced by up to 80-90%. Therefore, as a general rule, teaching of groups greater than 25 students, which will mean most large lectures, will be delivered online. We can, however, safely accommodate small group teaching of up to 25 students in many of our lecture theatres and seminar rooms, and more than 25 in some of our laboratories and largest lecture theatres. The capacity of each teaching space has been calculated; this includes the Senior Lecturer’s pool of rooms and, with the help of Schools, locally managed space.

In order to give Schools the flexibility to timetable as much face-to-face activity as possible, we will be designating specific teaching spaces to Schools/Programmes for their own use, using the following principles:

  • Rooms will be allocated centrally by the Central Timetabling Unit (CTU) to Schools/Programmes based on the results of independent modelling and analysis of size and location requirements.
  • Schools will have first call on locally managed space but such spaces will also be available for other Schools if not being fully utilised, unless fitted out for specialised use (e.g. laboratories).
  • As many appropriate teaching spaces as possible will be assigned to each School/Programme.
  • All available and unavailable seating in teaching spaces will be clearly labelled by Estates and Facilities, following prevailing physical distancing guidelines. If Government guidelines change, so will College’s guidelines.
  • A zonal approach will be used, where teaching activity for each course is concentrated as far as possible in designated areas of the campus. The aim here is to limit the movement of students around campus for teaching purposes, avoiding intermixing of large groups of students. As an example, we will concentrate teaching of students in the Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Science courses at the East End of campus.

Schools will be asked to prioritise the face-to-face teaching and learning activities they wish to schedule, taking into account the space that has been allocated to them. While all students must be given the opportunity for face-to-face teaching, the decision of which teaching activities will be carried out in this form will be determined by the relevant School/Programme Office. We are modelling the total number of students that can be accommodated on campus and by zone at any given time using 2m and 1m physical distancing, along with hygiene and cleaning regimes. This information will also be provided to Schools to factor into their prioritisation plans. To facilitate a good on-campus experience for students, as many communal and social spaces as possible will be made available for students; these spaces are additional to study spaces in the Library.

We recognise that some students may be unable to attend on-campus, for example for health reasons. Therefore, we recommend that as much face-to-face teaching as possible is recorded or streamed. IT Services are producing guidelines on how this can be done and will be sending this information to Schools. Additional supports will be in place for staff and students for development and use of digital teaching and learning resources, for example the Blackboard module developed by Academic Practice ‘Adapting our Teaching for Learning Online’ that was recently made available to teaching staff.

Several Schools engage in specialised teaching activities, both on- and off-campus, that require specific considerations detailed below:

  • Fieldwork is an essential learning activity in many of our courses. The Working Group has agreed protocols that will enable fieldwork to proceed safely. This document will be released shortly to Schools and focuses on development of local approval policies, risk assessment and management, and control measures required.
  • Discussions and protocol development for student placements, both clinical and non-clinical, are ongoing with the relevant Schools, hospitals and other appropriate bodies.
  • We are also engaging with creative arts to ensure that their face-to-face activities can be carried out within the guidelines.

In the event of a resurgence of the virus, we may need to move our teaching fully online again (scenario 3 above). Schools are asked to consider and plan for digital alternatives to face-to-face teaching activities.

We realise that timetabling and preparation of resources for the next academic year will be a complex task for staff to undertake. We hope that the information included here outlining the general principles that the Working Group has developed is useful to you in your current planning. We will issue the ‘as-is’ timetabling dataset to Schools by 30th June to commence regular face-to-face timetabling up until 7th August, facilitating scenario 2 above. During this period, we will prepare the room allocations for Schools based on the 1m/2m physical distancing protocols in the event that a second set of timetabling to accommodate physical distancing protocols is required – this dataset will be released to Schools in the week commencing 10th August so that Schools can allocate their physically-distanced teaching to their allocated rooms. I appreciate your patience while we finalise our modelling and space allocation and thank all members of the Resumption of Teaching Working Group for their inputs.

As the work of the Resumption of Teaching Working Group continues, we will continue to provide you with updated plans as they evolve in line with Government guidelines.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Áine Kelly,
Chair of Resumption of Teaching Working Group