Covid-19: Varsities go online to keep studies going

University of Pretoria vice chancellor Tawana Kupe
University of Pretoria vice chancellor Tawana Kupe

In an effort to ensure that teaching and learning continues remotely amid the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis, universities have come up with innovative ways to keep studies going.

One of those drastic measures is providing online platforms, just like the University of SA’s distant learning.

A snap survey to establish what measures the country’s 26 universities have undertaken to respond to government’s directive to suspend lectures found that different universities have various ways of dealing with the pandemic.

Read: Suspected case of Covid-19 at Wits University

Elijah Moholola, the University of Cape Town (UCT) spokesperson, said they had to make serious decisions after two cases of Covid-19 were confirmed on campus this week.

He said UCT was developing a different approach to teaching and learning so that students did not lose the academic year.

“The university has worked on plans to move undergraduate courses online in all faculties – except in health sciences, for which we are developing a specific plan.

UCT will have to teach remotely during the second term of the first semester. The only way of doing so is by taking courses online. To do this, the university has created a teaching online task team.

“The task team is made up of the faculty deans as well as colleagues 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 department,” Moholola said.

The task team has two working groups:
  1. The communications working group, which focuses on creating a supportive environment for students to learn remotely, including psychological support; and
  2. The vulnerable students working group focusing on strategies to help every student succeed under the current circumstances.

Moholola said UCT was aware that students would have different levels of access to the internet and technology.

Some students, he said, may be in environments where it would be difficult to study.

Focused mixed race woman wearing headphones watchi

Taking this into account, online teaching would have low-tech options so that students with low bandwidth connections could participate fully.

“Arrangements are being made by UCT, Universities SA and service providers for zero-rated mobile data to specific UCT online resources, so that students do not have to carry the costs of remote learning,” Moholola said.

He said a working group dealing specifically with the needs of vulnerable students has been set up as part of the task team, to reduce obstacles to learning for these students.

Innovative ways

NWU and Fort Hare
  • North West University (NWU) has widened its online system by ensuring collaboration between the Centre for Teaching and Learning, the department for information technology and the unit for open-distance learning. The project will take teaching and learning into the online environment via module sites on the university’s learning management system and other tools for teaching and learning. Louis Jacobs, the NWU’s spokesperson, said like other universities they were negotiating a zero rate with service providers for students who access the university’s domains and subdomains.
  • University of Fort Hare’s spokesperson, Tandi Mapukata, said different programme coordinators, lecturers, deans and course administrators were busy with the project of developing online teaching and learning methodologies.

It was early days, Mapukata said, to report comprehensively on the various blended teaching and learning strategies that members of the academic community have embarked on or were still exploring.

  • University of Western Cape spokesperson Gasant Abarder said the university had a well-established institutional learning management system, which enabled students to continue studying remotely.

The platform allows lecturers to use various e-tools for teaching, learning and assessment purposes. Modules across faculties have dedicated course websites that provide an online environment which supplements face-to-face teaching.

The platform and modules sites, Abarder said, could be accessed from all devices that had internet access.

  • University of Pretoria (UP) vice-chancellor and principal Professor Tawana Kupe said UP had activated its learning continuity plan through the online teaching and learning channels.

Study materials had been made available to students on clickUP, which is the university’s online learning platform, Kupe said.

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