NEWS & ANALYSIS

Teaching and learning to continue online – UCT

University says staff will be duly authorised to work offsite and are legally protected in terms of relevant legislation

Teaching and learning to continue online at UCT

23 March 2020

The University of Cape Town is moving teaching and learning online to continue the academic programme during the second term of teaching and learning.

The online plan applies to undergraduate students in the faculties of Commerce, Engineering and the Built Environment, Humanities, Law and Science.

“The state of disaster declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa forces all of us into new approaches to what we do, to help flatten the potential curve of infection. Even with suspended lectures and closed residences, the academic programme needs to continue,” said Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning, Associate Professor Lis Lange.

To deliver the academic content planned for this year during this time of crisis, UCT has to move teaching and learning online.

“I know that this creates considerable anxiety among students because this is new and unexpected, and because some students are living in circumstances that will make it difficult to study and work online at home. We are dealing with all these issues to ensure that no one is left behind because of the need to teach remotely online. The information available indicates that we could be working online between three and five months,” said Lange.

The UCT timeline for preparing for Term 2 is as follows:

1 April: by this date, students will be informed about how the term will be organised, including how assessments will take place.

6-9 April: The second term will start with four days of orientation online, to make sure students are connected, comfortable and ready to learn.

16 April: Actual teaching will begin.

UCT has already set up a Teaching Online Task Team, where all faculties are represented along with student representation. The Task Team has support from staff members in the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching and other units in the Centre for Higher Education Development, Student Wellness, the Disability Service, the libraries and the Information and Communication Technology Services.

The task’s team’s work has three parts:

First, a focus on staff at faculty level, to prepare academics to teach online.

Second, a focus on establishing the right type of communication with students to support them before they go online and during the process of learning online.

Third, a focus on vulnerable students who might need extra help. This includes students with disabilities, students who are less familiar with computers and the internet as learning spaces, and those who need to learn in challenging social setups.

Recognising that access to data is an issue for some students, arrangements are being made for zero-rated mobile data to specific UCT online resources, to keep the costs of remote learning as low as possible. All online teaching will have low-tech options so that students with low-bandwith connections can participate fully.

Provision will be made for students to have contact catch-up time if necessary. There are only exceptional cases in which UCT students do not have access to computers. UCT has provided laptop computers to all students on financial aid.

“We are facing not only COVID-19, but also the fourth industrial revolution, where technology will play a more central role. We recognise that there will be challenges for all of us in working this way. Together we are going to make a success out of this crisis,” said Lange.

UCT is preparing a start-up pack for students’ learning online experience, to be available by orientation week (6-9 April). The university is setting up the necessary infrastructure and services for students to have support during this time.

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UCT redefining the workplace in response to COVID-19

In line with the principle of social and physical distancing and in order to ensure the safety of staff, the University of Cape Town UCT is redefining the workplace to include working from home where appropriate.

This means that staff will, with due urgency, be duly authorised to work offsite by their line managers and are legally protected in terms of the relevant legislation, while remaining subject to UCT’s staffing policies and protocols.

UCT chief operating officer, Dr Reno Morar, said: “Ensuring the success of this approach will require alternative ways of working: prioritising electronic communication and other online functionality, reducing meetings and walk-ins, consultations via email/circular wherever possible, and scheduling meetings only as an exception.”

In response to COVID-19, line managers at UCT are:

producing business continuity plans for their areas of oversight and accompanying resource plans. Standard management practices are in place while classes are suspended and the residences are closed, including the delivery of work and services while ensuring staff safety and care.

expected to segment work based on the nature of the work, whether it is a priority during this period and whether it can be performed remotely. Line managers are also to familiarise themselves with the modes of transport used by their staff members to inform decisions about work segmentation.

reducing the presence of staff on site. Only where it is absolutely necessary for work to be delivered “on-site”, or as part of an “essential service” line managers will put in place leaner staffing models/skeleton services, limited shift rotations and make special arrangements to transport staff to limit exposure to the virus in public transport.

During these unusual times the university’s approach to dealing with leave will be guided by whether there is a need for work to be performed or not. This will apply to remote and on-site work.

“If a staff member suspects that they may have been exposed to COVID-19 or are feeling unwell, they must apply for “special leave”. The COVID-19 guideline for special leave of 14 days will apply. A staff member diagnosed with COVID-19 must complete the sick leave process and notify UCT’s Occupational Health and Safety unit. A member of staff who has recovered from COVID-19 must contact their line manager for back-to-work discussions and provide the necessary health records to work as required,” said Morar.

For staff who are working in critical/essential areas and are required to take care of children as a result of the national directive to close schools, the principle of special leave will apply where they are unable to perform their duties at home.

Immunocompromised staff are a special area of consideration for line managers and supervisors. Line managers need to identify such staff members under their care, but staff may also self-identify. Line managers must ensure confidentiality in cases where staff have a particular diagnosis which links to their immunocompromised status.

“Staff who fall within this category are better protected from exposure to the virus by working remotely, where this is required, and will not be required to perform on-site work. Staff members who fulfil essential/critical functions and are unable to work onsite due to their immunocompromised status, will therefore be covered through special leave provisions.”

The university will provide the appropriate safety gear and protocols as advised by UCT’s Occupational Health and Safety unit for on-site and essential services staff.

Issued by Elijah Moholola, Senior Manager: Media Liaison and Social Media, Communication and Marketing Department, University of Cape Town, 23 March 2020