More on that Uni email: Student reactions to four-hour block learning

Team Bath or Team Laugh: How University plans have split student opinion

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Physical teaching is to be conducted in one four-hour block each week, as the University of Bath announces plans for students’ return in September. 

In an all-student email, the University revealed that students can expect one four-hour block of in-person teaching each week, which includes seminars, group work and tutorials, while lectures will move online.

Reacting to the announcement, Adèle, a final year politics student, said: “I think it’s irresponsible, no one is going to want to engage in four-hour lessons when engagement now should be more important than ever, given that we have nothing else. Who thought this would be a good alternative? Even two, two-hour sessions would be better and fills up more days. It will be hard to motivate myself as a final year student to structure my time when the only contact I have is one four-hour block.”

“And by irresponsible, I mean you are risking your students’ grades.”

In a comment provided to Bath Time, the University confirmed that they are planning these measures “for the whole academic year,” but will remain agile to adjust teaching arrangements in case of any changes in the epidemiological situation.

The University is following others across the country that have been making alternative plans for the next academic year, with a survey from THE revealing that 97% of institutions plan to deliver some in-person teaching. 

The Universities of Cambridge and Lancaster were among the first to announce plans for next year, back in May. Today’s announcement is the first concrete commitment of its kind regarding next year from the University of Bath.

“This is a great concern for student mental health, wellbeing, quality of work, and the reputation of the school.”

For George, a sixth year Architecture student, the University’s blanket approach is particularly worrying: “As a group of students who rely on constant access to our design studios, and the myriad benefits that they provide, we are deeply disappointed in the blanket approach that the University has taken in developing this system.” 

“Studio is the physical manifestation of our education and learning experience, and to lose this is a great concern for student mental health, wellbeing, quality of work, and the reputation of the school.”

In comment shared with Bath Time, the University clarified that laboratory and studio time may be part of a students four-hour slot, or may be additional to that: “In programmes in which laboratory practicals are an essential part of the learning outcomes, relevant departments will either use some of the four-hour block or, indeed, additional time on the same day within departmental facilities to undertake such laboratories.”

Other students are relieved by the update, and pleased to be guaranteed at least some in-person teaching: “I feel very encouraged by the Vice Chancellor’s email, knowing that we will have at least some face to face teaching next semester! I was worried that my course would be entirely virtual, which I feel would have taken some of the enjoyment out of Final Year.”

Students and academic reps have long been requesting a firm, cross-University policy on lecture recording, only to see those requests denied yearly.

Lisanne, an undergraduate Politics student coming into her final year, said: “It still seems very vague to me, but I’m feeling quite apprehensive about the move to online lectures because the politics department is renowned to be against recording lectures. Before COVID-19 this had been raised numerous times in SSLC meetings, but always with the same outcome. Hopefully this will change now because of the circumstances, if not this could have huge consequences for students’ education.”

“I feel very encouraged by the Vice Chancellor’s email, knowing that we will have at least some face to face teaching next semester!

Following further questions from Bath Time on the announcement, the University provided the following statement:

“Our students will have a full timetable of learning and teaching, with a blend of in-person time, online live interactive learning and independent study that can fit in with individual schedules. We are planning that each student will typically receive a 4-hour in-person session every week. This enables us to have staggered start and finish times, which will allow students and staff to get to and move around campus as safely as possible, enable cleaning regimes and make social distancing much easier. The health and safety of our students and staff is a vital part of our planning and we are installing hand sanitiser at building entrances and exits, one-way systems where feasible as well as altering the layout of rooms and installing clear signage. In addition, we are developing guidelines for members of our University about the things we can all do to keep one another safe both on campus and in the city.”

“In addition to the in-person learning and recorded lectures, the live online sessions will allow for interaction including discussion, problem-based activities and questions from students. In programmes in which laboratory practicals are an essential part of the learning outcomes, relevant departments will either use some of the four-hour block or, indeed, additional time on the same day within departmental facilities to undertake such laboratories. We know how important study spaces on campus and in the city are for our students and we are prioritising this space, alongside room for in-person learning. We are now finalising details at programme level with Departments and further information will be available in early August.”

“We are looking at all transport options but clearly bus routes are going to be important. We are in discussions with First and have shared initial projections of bus passenger numbers, which is enabling is to explore different route scenarios. Socially-distanced transport for students to campus has played a significant role in our planning.”

“Overall, we are planning for the whole academic year, but are working to ensure our arrangements are agile enough to respond to any changes in government advice to deliver the quality learning and teaching our students deserve.”

[UPDATED] The SU have issued the following statement:

“We welcome that the University has now updated our student body with further information about how next academic year will unfold. We hope that today’s communication has started to clarify the many doubts our students have had over the past few months about the student experience as of September. However, we fully hear concerns that this communication does not give you enough clarity, particularly regarding the delivery of learning. We have collected a huge amount of your comments, views and concerns through our ‘New Normal’ survey and are working to put out a statement next week. What is clear is that our students are rightly worried about a wide range of issues not only regarding learning and teaching, to include extra-curricular activities, housing, finances and transport, among others. Even within the topic of learning and the ‘four hour block’ model, there are a lot of impacting factors that students still need and must get clarification on; importantly, there needs to be more transparency about how those four hours will take place and what type of learning will be employed. We will continue to lobby the university to make sure that these questions are answered soon.

We believe that it would be difficult and indeed detrimental if the University was to take an entirely one-size-fits-all approach and we are aware that each department, and course, comes with its own nuances. Staff members across all departments are working hard to make the best out of a unique and challenging situation. We look forward to University departments sharing the more specific details of the changes to the delivery of learning and teaching with students in a timely and honest manner, as that is the least our students deserve and need to start the academic year with the full information. 

The SU has set up an Academic Advisory Panel where students can participate and discuss proposals as to the delivery of learning in 2020-21. You can express your interest to being a part of this by emailing academicreps@bath.ac.uk 

We are also working tirelessly to adapt and protect the extra-curricular offer that makes the student experience at the University so special. Your Academic Reps, the Officer Team and SU Staff members are part of a wide variety of committees and project teams championing the student voice and making sure that the institutional response to the pandemic leaves no student behind. 

We are acutely aware of the uncertainty students are still facing looking at the next Academic Year and that there are a lot of questions still unanswered. We will continue to make sure that your academic and overall student experience is to as high a standard as possible, and will keep lobbying our University to ensure that students receive transparent communications about their student experience in a timely manner.

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