COVID-19:  Embracing Change

COVID-19: Embracing Change


– Prof Pam Ryan

Across the world, universities have had to be especially agile in their approach to education. Under the current lockdown, face-to-face tuition is no longer possible, causing university managements to issue instructions to their teaching staff to convert their courses to online versions. This is no easy task. Traditionally, a fully online course will take on average 18 months to design and execute, yet teachers are having to produce online versions of their course material overnight. Hermanus Varsity Trust is no exception. But in our case, the lockdown has revealed some surprises. Until now, our ability to think quickly, and in agile ways has been lurking in the shadows. Yet, over the past few weeks, ideas have mushroomed and hidden talents have blossomed. A small group has got together to brainstorm ways in which we can deliver virtual course material to our students, most of whom are “locked” in Zwelihle, and find ways in which we can circumvent the problem of expensive data and wifi charges, both of which affect our students’ ability to read and process study materials. Interactive workbooks to accompany the study material have been written, unit by unit, at great speed, but with the necessary critical and editorial processes in place. Mobile-friendly versions of these workbooks have been devised and tested on tutors and a few willing students. Virtual dictionaries related directly to difficult vocabulary in the learning material are ready for distribution.  Mock tests are being trialled by the tutors.

Our tutors have their students’ email and WhatsApp contact details, and keep in touch every day, monitoring student progress and attending to challenges that are not always educational. Hunger is one of these. Some of our tutors are not particularly digitally savvy, yet they have leapt on board, so to speak, despite their awkwardness with social media.  A general student social media WhatsApp group ensures that students can talk to each other and to staff at HVT, while tutors have their own student WhatsApp groups, consisting of four or five students, so that they can keep an eye on potential student issues. 

We are finding data-free sites to allow all our students equal access to their education but we are still in need of support in this sphere.

Zoom meetings take place weekly to monitor progress and challenges. The ideal situation would be to set up Zoom for students to see their tutors, but with the afore-mentioned data issues, this is not yet possible. But we will no doubt find a way to do this.

A luta continua. 

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