Reduced contact hours: “a kick in the teeth”
After a week of schedules shifting and changing during Freshers’ Week, many students were confused after timetables finalised on 21 September displayed less contact hours than the average year.
Contact hours have been split between synchronous teaching that is timetabled, and asynchronous teaching which is based on online resources.
Exeposé obtained teaching plans from all six University colleges, which reveal the ‘norms’ and contact hours for learning amidst the pandemic.
The majority of courses in the College of Humanities, such as AHVC, Archaeology, Classics and Art History, English and Film, shortened seminars from the typical two hour session to “at least 45 minutes for a 15-credit module and 60 minutes for a 30-credit module.”
The English Department norms report stated: “We propose to retain seminars as the heart of our interaction with students, but recognise that the existing 1.5 or 2-hour discussion will not work effectively online.”
Many students were alarmed to find themselves with two contact hours because their seminars, usually two hours long, were shortened to an hour each.
One third-year English student called it: “another kick in the teeth, that not only do we have our contact hours reduced but the contact hours we do have are even shorter.
“Even though I support our lecturers completely right now, and I understand on their end this is a really difficult time to be teaching, I do worry that online learning will result in poorer quality of teaching.”
When applying for the hardship fund, the student found they did not qualify as their course was “less than 25 per cent pro rata”.
Similarly, Law’s norms report referred to “1 hour fortnightly synchronous seminars in groups of 20.” One third year Law student confirmed that this differed to “the 1.5-2 hours I’ve previously had. But as I have not had one as of yet, I’m unsure how that will affect my studies.”
STEM students have also been impacted, with a third year Computer Science student noting they have six this week, “which is little for a scientist.” One third year maths student said their timetable displayed “roughly half of what I’d expect to have.”
I really feel for students at the moment – what a terrible year you guys have had. But we have faced our own challenges as well.Professor Henry Power, Associate Dean of the College of Humanities
A Digital Learning Developer told us of their experience working with lecturers to develop ELE pages: “amongst the subscriptions that the University pays for, [they] have the capacity to make for really interesting digital classes, assessments, and coursework projects.
“But there is nobody enforcing that the lecturers make the most of these resources, so most pages consist of a lecturer recording and a bit of reading each, which is the bare minimum that’s required.
They also noted: “In the pedagogical meetings there is no student input, and the DLAs only work six hours a week so they don’t have time to check every module.”
A Digital Learning Assistant said they felt, at times, the University had “purposely avoided student feedback.”
In the pedagogical meetings there is no student input, and the DLAs only work six hours a week so they don’t have to check every module.Anonymous Digital Learning Developer
Exeposé spoke to Professor Henry Power from the English Department and Associate Dean in the College of Humanities.
Professor Power noted of the online resources: “we’re able to use the campus at 30 per cent of its usual capacity. So if we wanted to get as many face to face seminars as possible, we were going to have to think quite creatively about how we did it.
And of course we physically can’t get 16 people into most of our usual teaching rooms in Queens, Amory, Old Library or whatever. The decision we took is that we would halve the seminar groups and halve the times.”
On the difficulties of creating digital content during these new circumstances, Power explained: “Academics have been working through the summer, under incredibly challenging conditions, to make sure that students are well-supported this year.”
Power also revealed they had already received positive feedback for their online resources.
“I really feel for students at the moment – what a terrible year you guys have had. But we have faced our own challenges as well.”
A spokesperson for the University said: “As you will have seen from university communications this is now being reviewed given the new government guidance and alert level changes this week. The key point for students is to check their timetable each weekend as there will be updates and changes as we get the balance of on campus and online teaching right. The main information was in the Registrar’s message this week as below:
“We have deliberately begun the academic year at a low level of face-to-face in person teaching on our Exeter campuses, planning to build up to approximately 30% of all live teaching delivered face-to-face on our Exeter campuses over the first three weeks, as part of our blended model, whilst teaching on our Cornwall campus is currently at 30% face-to-face. On this basis, we are content that the teaching planned for this week is aligned to the new risk level and only modest changes are required.
“As a result of the new guidance we will limit our levels of in-person teaching to a level below that initially planned for week three and beyond. We will review this on a weekly basis, and make sure that staff and students are prioritised in specialist facilities such as labs and performance spaces, and noting that it may be possible to maintain higher levels of face to face activity on some of our campuses.
“We will be asking Directors of Education to undertake an exercise to identify which teaching sessions should be prioritised for face-to-face teaching as we progress through Term 1. This will enable us to ensure that we can sustain blended delivery for all our programmes and students for as long as the current guidance and situation pertains.”