Since the early start of the recess we have all seen a rapidly changing world around us requiring individual, institutional and national agility. We have all been asked to adapt the way we live to mitigate the possible local impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We all find ourselves in unchartered waters. At this point no-one knows how long the pandemic will last, and we do not yet have all the answers to the multitude of questions that you may have. As an institution we have had to take difficult decisions, all with our students’ best interest in mind. Above all, our aim is to provide as much support as possible to reduce anxiety while we strive to continue our academic offering in a different mode. It is important to note that arrangements could change at any time, either due to internal processes or due to national announcements. Please consult the COVID-19 webpage with a link to ONLINE LEARNING very regularly, as well as your faculty website.
We have taken the conscious decision to plan with the longer term in mind, put simply, preparing for ‘what if contact lectures cannot continue after 14 April’. All students should please note that no-one should return to SU accommodation until we are able to resume contact classes. Enquiries may be directed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have created the Institutional Committee for Business Continuity (ICBC) to manage all COVID-19-related responses at SU. Friday morning the following decisions were taken:
• That all faculties, except the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, will proceed with online lectures and teaching support without any contact sessions as from 30 March 2020 (i.e. the first day of next term);
• That the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences will make special arrangements for clinical rotations from 15 April 2020 as these will require students’ presence on campus. These arrangements could change as the situation in the country evolves. Specific arrangements for the Tygerberg campus will be communicated by the Dean’s office or specific line functions.
• That assessments will only be scheduled after 14 April 2020 to enable our students to familiarise themselves with online teaching during the two weeks from 30 March; and
• That environments such as the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) which has been completely online for lectures and assessments since the beginning of 2020 will proceed as per their current model for teaching and assessments. There will be no contact sessions at the USB.
It has been encouraging to see what we can achieve by working together. Academic staff, as well as professional and administrative support staff, have been working hard to ensure that we will be able to continue with the second term of 2020 via the SU online platforms as from 30 March 2020.
Of course it will not be without challenges: both staff and students will have to adapt to a new way of teaching and learning. Our students may actually have an advantage – your generation is more comfortable in the digital world than many of our academic staff, but we are all learning! More than 90 academics ‘attended’ the first webinar about online teaching this week and these webinars will continue daily till at least 30 March 2020.
We are advising lecturers to use SUNLearn as their online learning platform. We know that some lecturers prefer to use their own online learning platform(s) and, in those cases, they will communicate the details to you. Your assessment details will be module specific and communicated via your lecturer responsible for the specific module.
Please be assured that we are making every effort to keep all the learning activities “data light” so that you will be able to also access your learning material and activities via the SUNLearn app on a mobile phone. We do, however, know that it will not always be feasible to access everything on a cellphone and that some students might not have a computer and/or access to the Internet.
Some access options include:
• From your home, if you have a computer and Internet access.
• If you are still in Residence, from your residence room, if you have a computer. NB: Students who have left campus will not be able to return to residences on 30 March 2020 because of the possible health risks.
• If you are in Stellenbosch or close to Stellenbosch, at a Computer User Area (details will follow via the COVID-19 website Student Support link).
• Mobile phone and tablets. The University is negotiating with all major cellphone providers to zero rate data to SUNLearn and SUNStream (details will follow via the COVID-19 website Student Support link)
The university is currently investigating effective solutions:
• to enable cost-effective communication options from off-campus locations to the virtual learning environment located within the university; and
• to simplify online access to platforms and support services.
The intention is to provide simple procedures to enable stress-free on-boarding of all participants in this new learning paradigm, whilst realising that specific circumstances of individual students and staff may vary greatly. The availability of learning facilities on campus will also be re-evaluated as circumstances evolve.
The links below lead to comprehensive information to assist you with preparation for online study, with websites which will be updated regularly with support material. We hope that it will help to reassure you and answer at least some of your questions. We will be dealing with the various practical challenges typical of specific study fields as they surface, but the majority of our students should be able to continue learning with the guidelines provided via this communiqué.
Please approach this situation in a responsible manner. Continue to practise the global hygiene protocols and social distancing. Social media channels pose a risk to validated information. I therefore wish to appeal to everyone to not spread fake news. It is a criminal offense with serious consequences. Determine the facts before passing on messages. Refer to https://www.gov.za/coronavirus/fakenews for more information.
I would like to urge you, amidst all the uncertainties and inconveniences, to focus on the successful completion of your academic year. We have the technology and the teamwork to do so; and we remain interconnected despite social distance. The Stellenbosch University website remains your reliable information source. Regularly consult the ONLINE LEARNING webpage for our official communication regarding SU’s online academic offering, and where to get support. Should you have further enquiries, the contact details can also be found here.
With best wishes
Prof Arnold Schoonwinkel
Vice-Rector: Learning and Teaching