UCT has fourth case, and gears up for a virtual second term
Covid-19 is changing the way forward for most faculties, creating a new frontier for the institution
The University of Cape Town is preparing for a long-term lockdown rather than adopting a belief that the first bout of viral spread will occur and the academic programme will simply continue as always in term two.
On Monday, just a few hours before president Cyril Ramaphosa announced a three-week national lockdown, UCT reported its fourth confirmed case of the virus – which is also its first student case.
“The latest case is of a postgraduate student. UCT previously confirmed three cases, all of them involving staff,” said spokesperson Elijah Moholola on Monday. “The three staff members and the postgraduate student are in isolation, while the department of health has also immediately begun contact tracing in the respective cases and those identified as close contacts have been informed and asked to quarantine themselves for two weeks.”
Meanwhile, the university’s plan for term two is already carved out, and represents a new frontier for the 191-year-old institution.
The executive leadership has decided that to deliver the academic content planned for this year during this time of crisis, UCT has to move teaching and learning online.
The plan for online teaching in term two “applies to undergraduate students in the faculties of Commerce, Engineering and the Built Environment, Humanities, Law and Science,” Moholola told Times Select.
Deputy vice-chancellor: teaching and learning, Associate Professor Lis Lange, said: “The state of disaster declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa forces all of us into new approaches to what we do, to help flatten the potential curve of infection. Even with suspended lectures and closed residences, the academic programme needs to continue.
“I know that this creates considerable anxiety among students because this is new and unexpected, and because some students are living in circumstances that will make it difficult to study and work online at home.”
She said the university was dealing with these issues to ensure that “no one is left behind because of the need to teach remotely online”, and that “the information available indicates that we could be working online between three and five months”.
A careful timeline has been plotted. On April 1 students will be informed about how the term will be organised, including how assessments will take place. Then, from April 6 to 9, the second term will start with four days of orientation online, to make sure students are connected, comfortable and ready to learn.
On April 16 actual teaching will begin.
UCT has already set up a Teaching Online Task Team, where all faculties are represented along with student representation. The team has support from staff members 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.
Recognising that access to data is an issue for some students, arrangements are being made for zero-rated mobile data to specific UCT online resources, to keep the costs of remote learning as low as possible. All online teaching will have low-tech options so that students with low-bandwidth connections can participate fully.
Together we are going to make a success out of this crisis.Deputy vice-chancellor: teaching and learning, Associate Professor Lis Lange
“We are facing not only Covid-19, but also the fourth industrial revolution, where technology will play a more central role. We recognise that there will be challenges for all of us in working this way. Together we are going to make a success out of this crisis,” said Lange.
The university says it is also “redefining the workplace” by opting for remote working by staff as far as possible.
This means that staff will, “with due urgency, be duly authorised to work off site by their line managers”.
UCT chief operating officer Dr Reno Morar said: “Ensuring the success of this approach will require alternative ways of working: prioritising electronic communication and other online functionality, reducing meetings and walk-ins, consultations via e-mail/circular wherever possible, and scheduling meetings only as an exception.”