Teaching in the new COVID times

Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education and so my boss has been sharing his opinions on the coming university academic year. One thing he said that I agree with is

Parents would find it “odd” if students could go to other social activities but were not allowed back into lecture halls, the education secretary told the Universities UK conference.

Students may also find it odd, if they can cram into a nightclub, but are asked to socially distance in a lecture theatre, which has a reduced seating capacity due to University-imposed COVID-19 restrictions.

But there are differences between going to university and to a nightclub. Going to a nightclub is optional, so if you worry about catching COVID-19, for example if you have a compromised immune system. Then you don’t have to go. You miss out on the fun of course, but the UK government has basically left it us as individuals to decide what to do here. So students and others can just make up their minds about what risks to run in their social life.

University teaching is different, we have an obligation to teach all students, from those careless of any risk from COVID-19 to those who are very nervous about it. Also, a nightclub really will not work over Zoom, so there is no alternative there. While for lecturing, although recorded lectures certainly have disadvantages (also advantages), students can watch them and learn. An in-person lecture is in that sense an avoidable risk. Certainly, running a lecture theatre at full capacity is an avoidable risk. And COVID-19 has not gone away, about 100 people are dying of COVID-19 every day.

So, it looks like most but not all lectures this semester will be recorded*, but there will be a few lectures and all tutorials run in reduced capacity lecture theatres. The government is leaving mask wearing up to us all but I think except perhaps if I am lecturing and so farther than two metres from anybody else, I will be wearing mine. But as it has been left up to us, I guess staff and students will need to start the semester off with little chats about what we are comfortable with.

* At time of writing. This sentence may or may not age well. Schools have now gone back so it is likely that COVID-19 transmission will increase. I don’t know whether it will increase to a level where the government does something.

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