On Wednesday 7th July, representatives from The Mancunion, the University of Manchester’s student newspaper, spoke with the university’s Senior Leadership Team on their upcoming plans for online learning.
The meeting, which was broadcast live on Facebook, was organised in response to the university’s recent announcement which caused outrage amongst students wishing to fully return to campus in September following the easing of coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions.
Hundreds of students took to social media to share their frustration, with a petition targeting the university’s ‘unacceptable’ decision gaining 7,220 signatures at the time of writing.
In Wednesday’s Q&A session, Dan George (the Associate Vice-President for Blended Learning) expressed how “we are so sorry for all of the stress that this misrepresentation has caused.”
“It is not and has never been our intention to move lectures or teaching permanently online,” George stated, instead expressing their eagerness for students to return to campus in any capacity possible.
When asked what blended learning will consist of, George stated that it “combines the best of online and digital content with outstanding in-person, on-campus interactions”.
“Anything we’re going to do in the digital space is about enhancing, not replacing, the learning experience”, she added to address students’ concerns that lower-quality teaching and impersonal videos will entirely replace their classes.
Students also expressed their worries about teaching time, with the petition addressing how blended learning may result in lower contact hours for the many degree programs that consist largely of non-interactive lectures.
However, Dan George dispelled this by stating that “there’s absolutely no driver to reduce contact hours by blended learning”, and instead the university will strive to utilise these hours in better and more interactive ways.
Action has also been taken to ensure that students can play an active part in creating the new blended learning model after the uproar it initially created.
April McMahon, the Vice-President for Teaching, Learning and Students, stated that the announcement was not intended to be a fixed decision of online content going ahead.
Instead, she stated that “this is your chance to get involved […] help us shape blended learning for after the pandemic, the way that it’s going to give the best value for students.”
The University of Manchester recognises that it has previously made these large decisions with no student input, so open meetings will be held throughout the summer to allow them to have their say.
This news follows a difficult year where the university’s students have felt ignored and mistreated by their institution. In particular, the erecting of fences around student accommodation and a student experiencing a racially aggravated attack from security guards led to a vote of no-confidence in Nancy Rothwell, the university’s president.
While other universities may potentially make a similar announcement before the next academic year, the University of Manchester is the first to make a formal announcement.
Featured Image – The University of Manchester