Reflecting on Michaelmas term

Like many other colleagues, I completed my final in-person teaching session of Michaelmas term last week, giving me a chance to reflect on the term that has just gone, and to think about the months ahead.

While this term has often been challenging, and was ultimately exhausting­­­, there is a lot to be positive about – in particular the commitment colleagues have shown to supporting students’ learning, and protecting them and the wider community from COVID-19.

Teaching and learning

We have now had initial feedback from colleagues through the department assurance exercise and the college feedback process about Michaelmas term teaching, learning and assessment.

The results were broadly encouraging. While there is some variability, in most areas we appear to have achieved our goal of offering students a stimulating mix of in-person teaching and good-quality online materials.

Colleagues have appreciated the high-quality support for flexible and inclusive teaching provided by the Centre for Teaching and Learning and the Canvas teams. There is a good level of confidence in the measures put in place to enable in-person teaching and assessment to take place safely. The feedback also highlighted that it was possible for teaching or assessment to move online at short notice if necessary (for example, in cases where students had to go into self-isolation).

Through the open feedback channel, students have said that they have appreciated the teaching arrangements and acknowledged the hard work of staff to make them happen. They’ve also enjoyed the online alternatives to lectures.

Like many people, I personally had initial reservations about in-person teaching. I thought it would feel odd to teach wearing a face covering, but when it came to it, I found it unproblematic. I recognise some colleagues feel differently about this, especially when teaching continuously for several hours, and can understand why they might find a mix of in-person and remote more manageable.

Stopping the spread

I know some people have also been concerned about the risk of virus transmission through in-person teaching. On this, I have been reassured by the insights that our clinicians have shared about the transmission of COVID-19 at Oxford.  

Our Health Measures Advisory Group has carefully looked for evidence of transmission when positive tests have come through the University Testing Service; so far they have been unable to demonstrate any student-to-staff or staff-to-staff transmission.  

This is perhaps one of the reasons why we have been able to contain the spread of COVID-19 at the University – further information about which is available on the University website. Our containing the virus so effectively is in large part due to the careful work of our colleagues in the colleges and departments, as well as students acting in accordance with the Student Responsibility Agreement.

Looking forward to Hilary term

As you will know, the Government has now published its guidance on students returning to university, including advice on staggered starts and testing students for COVID-19 on their return. We are now working through the detail of what this means in an Oxford context, and will provide further details later this week.

Whatever Hilary term looks like, I am sure that colleagues across the University and colleges will continue to support students’ academic and wider needs in the diligent and thoughtful way that they have to date.

Finally, while I’ve struck a positive note here about how things are going, I realise that this has been an exceptionally tough period for everyone, and that the upcoming remote undergraduate interviews add yet more complexity to an already difficult term.

I hope all colleagues will have the opportunity of a proper break over the Christmas period. The positive news about vaccines and testing means that we can go into the break with some hope that when we come back, the start of a return to normality may be in sight.