Online tests and one-way systems: How Aberdeen University is preparing for next semester

What are the responses to Aberdeen university’s new ‘blended learning’ approach to teaching.

Students have been informed via email that the university will be re-open in September.

The logistics of how the university will run however suggests a very different university experience. The  university’s decision to move ‘large lectures or large group sessions’ to online comes as a blow to many students who are hoping to return to ‘normality’ next semester.

Charlotte Cairney, who will conclude her English studies next semester commented: “We signed up for a full time course to be taught in campus so I would honestly prefer that they just gave us all the semester off and paused teaching and had us back in once the pandemic has calmed down”.

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With over 30% of European and international students at the University of Aberdeen, the future of the university could look very different. Due to the high percentage of non-British students, many could face travel restrictions which would not allow them to return to Scotland.

Chris Scalia, who is a third-year engineering student at the university, comes from Sicily and says: “If university is predominantly online it makes no sense to come back to Aberdeen”. It has already been confirmed that lectures will be available virtually so it begs the question why come back when you can live at home, in some cases rent free and still receive the same quality of education?

The university’s preparations for next academic year focuses on  applying ‘blending learning’ to the first half session. Ruth Taylor, the Vice-Principal for education, is leading the ‘Blended Learning Implementation Group’, which is attempting to provide  learning consisting of a mixture of teaching methods such as face-to-face teaching with social distance measures if possible and online delivery which allows for those physically unable to attend to still study at the university. As different disciplines are affected in various ways, each school has a micro blended learning team who are working on the implications of this change in teaching to their subjects.

Dr Gundula Sharman, programme coordinator for German studies, commented: “A lot depends on how many (students) will be allowed in one class… at the moment there are no specifics”. So how will it be decided who will be allowed to study in the classroom or not? This is not yet clear. However, the biggest concern, according to Sharman, is: “How do we keep the students motivated?”

Weekly mini tests have been proposed as being a way to keep students engaged and on top of their work. These exercises either live or on blackboard could be the reality for the upcoming semester.

‘The return to campus group is currently working on ways which would allow students to safely study at the university. Ideas which enable social distancing such as reducing the number of students in a class and introducing one-way systems have been discussed. Nevertheless, these changes come at a cost, and add further strain to the university’s finances which are ‘under very serious pressure’ according to a leaked letter signed by the principal, George Boyne.

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Aberdeen University warns that although teaching could resume on campus, this could be once again stopped, and we must be prepared to ‘move rapidly to a resumption of lockdown at any point’.

A University of Aberdeen spokesperson said: “Our students are the heart of our university community. It is our priority to keep everyone safe and well, and we look forward to welcoming everyone back to our campuses as soon as possible”.

Whilst the university’s implementation of ‘blended learning’ is a step in the right direction to restoring the higher education system, the reality of it is, it will be a long time before university life is back to ‘normal’.