Why some teaching remains online

11 February 2022

Student studying at a laptop

“We are clear that your health, and the health of University staff, must come first.”

Professor Anne-Marie Kilday, Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Experience and University Community, explains why some teaching remains online.

Some students have asked us why we have kept some teaching online now that Plan B restrictions have been removed.

We know how important face-to-face teaching is to you: in response to your survey feedback last year, we increased the number of face-to-face teaching sessions taking place on campus. Of all the scheduled teaching events for the 2021/22 academic year, more than 90% are taking place face-to-face. We know that some of you have questions about why we have kept the remaining teaching sessions online and we’d like to share with you the reasons for this.

To summarise, we are continuing to hold some teaching sessions online so that we can:

  • Protect the health and welfare of students and staff;
  • Protect your existing face-to-face teaching sessions;
  • Avoid large groups of people being in close proximity on campus;
  • Continue to offer the flexibility for some teaching sessions, which you’ve told us you appreciate;
  • Limit the spread of Covid-19 within our community.

Protecting your face-to-face teaching

At the end of January, I shared with you the reasons why we all need to continue wearing face coverings while we’re indoors on campus. Thank you to all of you who are continuing to do so.

We take our responsibility to protect the health and safety of staff seriously and we have a legal responsibility to provide safe working conditions for staff who have health conditions. For a small number of staff, this may prevent them from teaching face-to-face at this time; we appreciate your understanding with this. The scientific evidence about how to minimise the spread of Covid-19 is clear: wearing face coverings, ensuring good ventilation, and making space between people reduces transmission of the virus.

These simple measures are effective, and mean that we have been able to deliver more than 90% of teaching sessions face-to-face and keep our campuses open. However, if case numbers continue to rise, existing face-to-face teaching sessions and campus services may be affected by staff illness.

This is why we are retaining a number of Covid-secure measures for now, including keeping some teaching online.

Covid-19 case numbers

Our Covid-19 case numbers have, as a whole, increased dramatically with the return of students to our campuses. In fact, we have recently recorded our highest weekly total to date. We expected that this would happen, with the start of the semester and with the high transmission rates of the Omicron variant. But this also means it is simply not the right time to remove our Covid-secure measures.

Teaching space

We have risk-assessed our teaching spaces using the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of face coverings, space and ventilation. Our risk assessments:

  • provide us with the maximum number of people each room can safely hold
  • mean that we can maintain Covid-secure campuses which keep people safe
  • help to stop the spread of Covid-19, therefore protecting safe face-to-face teaching and access to our campuses.

We are clear that your health, and the health of University staff, must come first. It is our responsibility to ensure that we continue to protect existing face-to-face teaching by preventing infection from spreading.

Timetables

Finally, it’s important to explain that changing our teaching plans mid-way through a semester would result in substantial changes to students’ timetables: all teaching events would be impacted, not just those which are currently online. Changing the plan for large lectures would affect timetabling for other sessions too. We know that having a known and regular timetable is very important for many students, especially for those who need to plan work and caring responsibilities. For that reason it would be disruptive to many students if we were to change arrangements at this stage.

If you have any questions about this subject, or have other questions regarding our Covid response, please contact Covid-19@brookes.ac.uk.

Update: 23 February 2022

We’ve received further feedback from students asking why we are not offering more, or continuing to offer, online-only classes as we did during the lockdowns.

Almost all of our degree programmes are approved to be held face-to-face only - only a very small percentage of our courses can be delivered online only. During the pandemic, the government granted special permission to universities to hold scheduled face-to-face teaching sessions online instead, so that teaching could continue despite lockdown measures.

Now that government instructions have changed, we must return to the approved or validated mode of teaching, which is face-to-face rather than online. When we surveyed students last semester, a majority told us that they wanted face-to-face teaching sessions rather than online sessions. However, students have also told us that they value the opportunity to rewatch recordings of lectures, and we have updated our recording policy to make this possible.

If a student does not want to return to face-to-face teaching, then they may wish to consider a period of temporary withdrawal from their studies. However, before reaching such a decision, we would strongly advise them to discuss the feasibility of this with their Academic Advisor.