It became clear that China faced a public health emergency after almost all our students and many faculty members had left for their Chinese New Year vacation during January. The campus was shut down, apart from staff and students living on site. We rapidly decided to delay the start of the new semester and go online for at least a month. In reality, 100% online learning lasted two months. Eventually, at the end of April 2020, students were allowed to return.
Now that we are teaching on campus again, what are the challenges we have been facing and that others can expect?
Voluntary return: to what extent should students be obliged to return? Obviously, those unable to travel or with risky routes were not obliged to return, and we continue to support them online. But what about those who do not want to? After some debate, we allowed a free choice and continued to support such students online.
Length of semester: we extended the teaching semester with two weeks of ‘consolidation and revision’ to enable students whose online study might have been disrupted the opportunity to perform well in final assessments. This has been received well and reduced calls for tuition fee reductions.
Off-campus students: as travel remains restricted, we have accepted that many international students may not be able to arrive at the start of the autumn semester. Teaching plans are ‘hybrid’ face-to-face and online, including support for all off-campus students and for staff unable to return. Contingency plans have to include moving rapidly back to 100% online delivery in the event of a resurgence of COVID-19 in China.
Assessment: while maintaining academic standards, we are more flexible in assessment methods. Online exams have been introduced for off-campus students with similar (or higher) invigilation rigour than on-campus. Communication was critical as students needed to be disabused of a mistaken perception that they would be able to cheat online without penalty.
While no one would have wished to have this year’s COVID-19 experience, it has shown how faculty members, professional and support staff at UNNC have done amazing work in maintaining academic standards and quality, as well as developing new student experiences.
University of Nottingham Ningbo China