Following last issue’s exploration into students experiences of in-person and online teaching, Exeposé spoke to lecturers to gage their opinions.
Speaking to a number of lecturers the general consensus is that they are “glad to be back doing what [they] do best”, with all lecturers we spoke to happy to be back teaching face-to-face, especially as they considered online teaching a “poor substitute academically.” With virtual teaching also making it difficult to keep up with student welfare, as it was “much too easy for [a] student to spiral away into isolation and depression” when their only contact was on Zoom for a couple of hours. One lecturer stated “the issue is not about personal preference but public health.” That same lecturer also likened the situation to a cruise ship being steered purposefully towards an ice-berg, describing it as a “public health disaster.” They express a wish for a “middle course” where there are recorded lectures and in-person seminars to “reduce footfall of students” in building with poor ventilation.
A public health disaster”
Discussing the safety of lecturers during in-person teaching there was general agreement that students should be mandated to wear masks. As stated in the previous article, they are a suggestion rather than a requirement, the University of Exeter website states that “face coverings will no longer be required in outdoor areas” however there is a “strong expectation that students and colleagues will continue to wear face-coverings in shared indoor spaces.” This is putting both students and staff members who are clinically vulnerable, and otherwise, at unnecessary risk. Masks are still mandated in many places, including public transport and healthcare settings. When talking about their safety one lecturer spoke about getting ‘freshers flu’ despite wearing a mask at all times stating that “if COVID 19 is in the air then we’re pretty likely to get it (even if inoculated).” Another lecturer mentioned that they got COVID 19 after the first week back teaching in-person, causing them to be very ill. Masks and hand sanitisers are available in all buildings.
When Exeposé asked lecturers whether they feel the university had given enough guidance and support there was a mixed response. One lecturer said that “the Uni has done a great job in keeping everyone informed of the state of affairs.” While another simply replied “no” when asked, following up by expressing sympathy for the University because it is “being threatened by the Department of Education if it does not have in-person teaching.” Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, at the beginning of September, said that students should expect in-person teaching, warning university leaders to not use online learning as a cost-cutting measure. This was announced after some universities had suggested remaining online during the autumn term, there are some universities which are still offering a mix of online and in-person seminars and lectures.
Regarding online teaching, a lecturer felt they would be able to move online if needed at short notice as there are “still the recordings of lectures from last year.” A different lecturer was “actively prevented” from preparing online teaching resources, despite informal agreement that this is the “most likely scenario come November.”
A University spokesperson responded to the comments from lecturers and questions; “The health and welfare of all our students and staff is our highest priority, and we keep our approach to teaching under constant review and in line with Government advice. This includes the strong expectation that everyone continues to wear face-coverings in shared indoor spaces unless there are medical exemptions.
The health and welfare of all our students and staff is our highest priority”
The University is delivering primarily face-to-face teaching from the start of this academic year, supplemented by blended and online material together with personal academic support. As part of our blended learning model, we know that in-person teaching has significant benefits in terms of engagement, wellbeing and attainment, and that the majority of students and staff support this view provided activity adheres to government and public health guidance, which we continuously monitor and adapt to.”