Universities move classes online for new academic year

Universities move classes online for new academic year

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Senior staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 12, 2020

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THREE of Jamaica's four major universities are moving all classes online with a complement of blended modalities as they prepare to reopen next month at the start of the 2020/2021 academic year.

The institutions — The University of the West Indies (UWI), University of the Commonwealth Caribbean (UCC), and Northern Caribbean University (NCU) have made the decision to go fully digital and include face-to-face contact where applicable.

“Based on the prognosis that COVID will be with us for some time, certainly within the first semester of 2020/2021 we are continuing our planning to be able to open the academic year having full regard to the realities that we face in the COVID period,” said UWI registrar, Dr Donovan Stanberry.

“We are not going to be able to go back to 100 per cent face-to-face delivery of courses, teaching that is. So we are preparing to have all our courses online, even though we are planning to deliver those courses in a blended mode. Blended mode meaning that some classes will have to offer online particularly where the courses attract hundreds of students and we have such courses – our foundation courses and many of our first year courses, particularly in the Faculty of Social Sciences and in the Faculty of Science and Technology,” added Dr Stanberry. “However, courses which have student populations which are smaller we would be able to accommodate in a face-to-face mode, again complying with all the relevant protocols and regulations having to deal with the technicalities like the spacing and those sort of things. We are going in a blended mode but we have put all our courses online just in case there is a second wave somewhere in the semester and we have to switch to complete online. For science courses that require labs, we are going to go forward with them. Those labs would have to be face to face except, though, by virtue of the requirement for physical distancing we are going to have to accommodate fewer people in the labs.”

Erika Martin, senior marketing coordinator at UCC said the move to online classes was executed in the summer, however, for the new semester students will be able to choose between online classes or blended learning.

“Starting this Fall, students will have the option to pursue either 100 per cent online or blended modality. That is, 60 per cent online and 40 per cent on our campuses islandwide, with social distancing,” Martin said.

NCU President Dr Lincoln Edwards said the university will reopen two weeks later with all classes online, except for those with laboratory or practicum components.

“The university is scheduled to reopen for the Fall semester on Monday, September 7, 2020, for classes – two weeks later than the usual scheduled start of the new academic year, because of the pandemic. All students will be taught remotely or fully online for the 2020 to 2021 academic year. However, face-to-face sessions will be held for students engaged in laboratory work or practicums,” Dr Edwards said, noting that students without access to computers and Internet service will be allowed on campus.

Meanwhile, University of Technology, Jamaica Acting President Professor Colin Gyles said all classes would not be administered online due to the unique nature of some courses.

“It would not be feasible for the university to have all its classes offered online, given the practical nature of some of the courses. However, all modules that can be delivered online will be delivered online,” Professor Gyles said.

In relation to tuition, The UWI said fees will not increase, even though some aspects of the operation costs have gone up.

“We are not proposing to reduce fees and at the same time we are not proposing to increase them, so fees remain the same. There is a fallacy that is out there that online courses are cheaper to deliver. That is not the case. Online delivery in a seamless way requires a very, very robust IT system to ensure that we are providing tech support to our students and to our lecturers, so it is an expensive affair. Our fees would not be reduced and they will also not go up, even though, obviously, we are going to face increased costs,” Dr Stanberry said.

In addition, UCC said it will offer up to 25 per cent tuition waiver to students who have lost their jobs or need support, regardless of modality chosen.

Likewise, Professor Gyles also shared that UTech's fees will not increase, but the impact on operation costs was varied.

“Fees will remain the same as the major inputs, such as the costs to pay expert lecturers, remains the same and the value of the training and certification is not diminished. There have been reduced expenses in some areas such as utilities but these have been offset by reduced revenues from auxiliary services such as dormitory fees, concessionaires fees and others, coupled with increased costs in some areas such as online learning management licences and expansion of broadband Internet services. Hence, the cost to deliver the training has not diminished,” Professor Gyles said.


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