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UCT targets September for resumption of lectures, laptops sent to needy students

Lis Lange says UCT's 2020 academic year might have to be completed early in 2021, depending on the length of the lockdown.
Lis Lange says UCT's 2020 academic year might have to be completed early in 2021, depending on the length of the lockdown.
Image: University of Cape Town

September 1 has been set as the date when University of Cape Town students are expected to return to campus for lectures.

In the meantime, students who need computers to study remotely will be lent laptops which will be delivered to their doors. 

A letter to students on Thursday from Lis Lange, the deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning, said the 2020 academic year might have to be completed early in 2021, depending on the length of the lockdown.

“The senate executive committee has approved a calendar that assumes the need for remote teaching throughout the second and third quarters, with a return to contact teaching on campus in the fourth quarter,” said Lange.

“Undergraduate and postgraduate students who are registered for course work will be taught remotely.

“The calendar has been organised assuming that as from September 1 we will be able to begin bringing students back. This may involve a staggered return, beginning with students in specific programmes that rely on face-to-face teaching.

“The current proposed calendar makes allowances for a summer term that will run into 2021, pushing the beginning of the new academic year to March 2021. Again, this plan is subject to change, and a return to campus may happen earlier or later, depending on national directives.”

Lange said a student survey had identified students who need laptops and meet the criteria for receiving them on loan.

“We have acquired computers to be made available. Because of the importance of helping as many students as possible to continue their studies online, we have arranged for door-to-door delivery of the laptops to these needy undergraduate and postgraduate students,” she said.

Plans to help students without internet access were still being developed. “One possible proposal, which is still under development, is to deliver flash disks and printed materials to these students.

“Our aim is to ensure that as many students as possible can continue to learn while they are away from campus, using whatever materials we can make available to them.

“We are aware that even with all these plans to help students continue to pursue their study programmes, there are some who will not be able to study successfully until they return to campus.

“We are making provision for students to catch up with their studies through blended learning [which combines online lectures and face-to-face tutorials] once the university is able to reopen.”

The new plan has been developed by UCT's teaching online task team, and Lange said it aimed to provide an “equitable learning experience” for all students.

“We have taken particular care to prevent the remote teaching experience from reinforcing or increasing existing inequalities, by putting in place mechanisms to identify students who have technical difficulties for access and those whose social circumstances are not conducive to remote learning,” she said.

“All guidelines for curriculum development and design have these students in mind. Of special relevance are the decisions to make remote teaching asynchronous and to be informed by low-tech options, as well as the redesign of curriculum. We have also taken into account the limitation that students will only be able to engage in 30 hours a week of remote learning.”

Continuous assessment would replace exams in the first semester; final marks would be dispensed with in favour of “pass” or “fail”, except in the law faculty and exit-level courses; and there would be no academic exclusions this year.

Lange said the new academic calendar was a moving target.

“While we are aiming to complete the 2020 academic calendar as close as possible to the normal year, we must also take into account the possibility of unforeseen further delays.”


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