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Plans for learning and teaching in 2021

- Wits University

In 2021 many forms of support will be available to help staff and students transition from Emergency Remote Teaching and Learning (ERT&L) to online pedagogy.

Looking back over 2020

The Wits Learning and Teaching Plan 2020-2024 contains seven focus areas, the first of which is, “Increasing flexible and life-long learning opportunities”. When Covid-19 struck and South Africa went under lockdown level 5 in March 2020, we accelerated the implementation of this focus area by moving to Emergency Remote Teaching and Learning (ERT&L) in an online mode from 20 April. ERT&L continued for the rest of the 2020 academic year, barring selected clinical and laboratory activities for small groups of students that required a physical presence.

A number of resources were produced and shared across the university to help academics develop educational materials that could be accessed online, design assessment tasks that could be done remotely, and interact with their students using technology. Various forms of support for students were provided, including devices, data and electronic and telephonic advising, counselling, tutoring and mentoring. Mid-year assessments were all conducted remotely, as were the vast majority of final assessments. Although there have been many challenges, through the concerted and combined efforts of staff and students, Wits has managed to complete the 2020 academic year, largely via ERT&L.

Plans for 2021

We are currently experiencing the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa. In 2021 we will offer all courses in an online mode, at least at the start of the academic year and until it is safe to resume contact classes. All courses should have an active site on the institutional Learning Management System (LMS), which will be available to students both on a website and as a mobile app.  

When the Covid-19 pandemic began, the phrase “online teaching” was used to refer to both a mode of provision and a pedagogy, which is confusing. While ERT&L at Wits was implemented in an online mode, the use of online pedagogy was limited. Online teaching as a pedagogy, as opposed to a mode of provision, requires time, tools, resources, knowledge and skills to design engaging learning activities, educational resources and meaningful forms of assessment. In 2021 many forms of support will be available to help staff and students transition from ERT&L to online pedagogy.

Assessments should be conducted remotely as far as possible. Available tools, strategies and assessment approaches should be employed to try to ensure that the assessments provide a good reflection of students’ own work. If in-person assessments are essential, such as because of professional body requirements, all Covid-19 protocols must be followed and consideration should be given to students’ travelling and accommodation needs in determining the timing of such assessments.

Where experiential learning is essential, such as clinical, studio, field or laboratory work, faculties will make suitable arrangements that take into account Covid-19 health and safety regulations and consider students’ travelling and accommodation needs. This will mean, in most cases, that experiential learning will need to be done in blocks, with limited numbers of students per block. However, post-graduate and senior undergraduate students who need access to facilities for experiential learning for an extended period of time will be allowed to use them, provided that all applicable health and safety regulations are adhered to.

Extensive, holistic student support be available remotely, and, to a limited extent, on campus. Academic staff, Faculty Student Advisors, Student Affairs, the Centre for Learning, Teaching and Development, ICT, Academic Affairs, the Registrar’s office, Finance Division, the Disability Rights Unit, the Gender Equity Office and professional, administrative and support staff across the university are working together to ensure that students will be able to access the support they need to make their 2021 academic year a success.