Health chiefs are predicting it, the NHS is preparing for it, the north of England is locking down for it – a second wave of coronavirus is on its way and HE providers are expected to do all they can to minimise its spread, especially as infection rates among 18–21-year-olds are rapidly increasing.
But with greater restrictions around in-person teaching comes a unique opportunity to accelerate beneficial long-term changes that your institution was already planning.
Covid-19 testing is vital for anyone who displays symptoms or has recently come into contact with an infected person, and HE providers should ensure that staff and students are aware of all their options to access a test if one is required.
Many universities are now offering their own in-house symptomatic testing services to enhance local NHS testing capacity, as well as weekly asymptomatic screening programmes to identify people with asymptomatic infection and prevent further spread amongst staff and students. Test results are often available within 24 hours and those who test positive must self-isolate with their household for at least 10 days.
Needless to say, more stringent hygiene measures will mitigate the spread of the virus. A 2009 BMC study showed that enhanced cleaning in a UK hospital, through the addition of just one more cleaner, was associated with a 32.5% reduction in levels of microbial contamination at hand-touch sites. More frequent cleaning of rooms, shared areas and touch points with regular detergent is effective, but you can also consider more vigorous solutions.
Corona Busters Ltd, for example, offers long-lasting, total surface protection through an antimicrobial barrier – approved by NHS hospitals and care homes, the contractor promises five months of surface protection against both coronavirus and influenza.
The addition of just one more cleaner was associated with a 32.5% reduction in levels of microbial contamination
Student access to devices
Though many students will be fully equipped to work remotely, there will be a portion left floundering in the baffling sea of hardware. Make sure they know what laptop or computer specs they’ll need (modern Intel i5, AMD Ryzen 5 or equivalent processor, 8GB or higher memory, 256GB SSD or higher storage) and where to purchase cables and keyboards. Reliable internet connection is non-negotiable for home-working and can be achieved through high-speed networks like Jisc’s Janet Network. Currently carrying three petabytes of data each day, the purpose-built service provides a reliable internet connection for institutions that doesn’t fold under the weight of a thousand freshers streaming Netflix.
Virtual learning environments were already considered an integral part of the university brand but the pandemic has placed them front and centre. Modern VLE technology is web-based and integrates resources, activities and interactions between staff and students to enable seamless and flexible learning, whether through one product (Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas), or a combination of tools with additional functions like e-portfolios. VLEs allow common materials to be reused, and therefore economise teaching time and the cost of instruction.
A broad term, used to describe a variety of software and hardware solutions, lecture capture is the process of turning classroom lectures into videos, allowing content to be accessed anytime, anywhere – essential for online learning. The University of Stirling streamlines this system by having recording as standard policy for all students, and many academic staff record their lectures through Listen Again, a facility that can be built into lecture theatres and can synchronise with PowerPoint presentations.
With a system like Panopto, lecturers can create video recordings on a laptop and deliver them to students via Moodle.
One of the biggest pandemic-motivated changes to HE is the move to almost entirely online assessments and exams, which, though effortful at first, have the upsides of making students less anxious about exams and potentially saving institutions a lot of money. iParadigms’ Turnitin is an external database that can make the tutor’s job of detecting plagiarism in academic submissions a lot easier, as well as facilitating feedback. Questionmark Perception (or QMP) is a dedicated system for delivering and managing online formative assessments and can be accessed by students at a set time, or in their own time, depending on the type of test. Virtual objective structured clinical examinations (OSCEs) for medical students are even a possibility.
Excellent wellbeing services are vital for ensuring students feel utterly supported while studying
Cloud computing is, of course, nothing new; it’s just that the reasons for it have become more critical. Using cloud technology allows information to be stored and managed via the internet instead of a local hard drive or server, resulting in greater data security and more flexible working, as well as reduced expenses. Enlist the help of a company like CirrusHQ to help your institution migrate to the cloud effectively – they have 14 years’ experience and also provide leadership on best-practice cloud infrastructure as guiding members of ucisa.
Catering and food delivery services
Covid-catering looks very different, with a greater emphasis on pick-up services over dining, especially in the case of self-isolating students. Catered halls face the biggest challenge, and some university canteens have brought in ‘click and collect’ services, where students can order food online in advance and collect it during an allocated time slot. Contactless payments are necessary for keeping dining areas contact-free and maintaining social distancing – companies like Civica and Synel combine cashless catering, ID management and EPOS expertise to provide integrated payment solutions.
Clear guidelines about the use of personal protective equipment should be provided by your institution. At the very least, face coverings should be worn in public spaces, corridors, toilets and other areas of campus where two-metre physical distancing cannot be guaranteed. Universities may also wish to step up the use of face coverings across campus, for example in classrooms, in the context of local or wider outbreaks. Bulk purchases of soft face coverings for staff and students may be an option.
Existing in the pandemic landscape can be variously challenging, disorientating and upsetting, and can leave students feeling overwhelmed, whether they have arrived at university for the first
time or are in the final stages of their course. Excellent wellbeing services such as mental health counselling, disability support and financial advice are vital for ensuring students not only stay at
university, but feel utterly supported while studying.
Online exams and assessments could be here to stay, says TerminalFour
The delivery of traditional exams has been severely disrupted in 2020.
While the first wave of the pandemic saw institutions rapidly innovate to facilitate students sitting exams from home or from student accommodation, it was clear that a more strategic and organised approached was required.
One of the fastest growing companies in this field is BetterExaminations who have built an end-to-end exam and assessment management solution.
The platform is easy to use by students, no matter what they study, while ensuring that university and college governance, workflow, integrity, proctoring/invigilation and reporting concerns are addressed.
In a post-pandemic world, beyond the efficiency improvements, the significant cost savings alone could see online exam and assessment delivery here to stay.
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