Impact on Universities

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FlammableFlower
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by FlammableFlower » Mon Jun 08, 2020 3:58 pm

Just had our "Voluntary Exit Scheme" email = any takers? ...please...?

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Holylol » Tue Jun 09, 2020 12:11 am

First round is voluntary, second round is a raffle ?

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by FlammableFlower » Tue Jun 09, 2020 9:07 am

Holylol wrote:
Tue Jun 09, 2020 12:11 am
First round is voluntary, second round is a raffle ?
Arf. Could be! I did notice that it said that whilst the offer is there to take an enhanced deal, if you put yourself forward they may not accept...

Although I assume they'll weigh up all the applications to make sure they're not losing someone who is rather vital to things, or that they're offering large numbers really good offers, but it doesn't outweigh the savings...

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Turdly » Tue Jun 09, 2020 12:22 pm

FlammableFlower wrote:
Mon Jun 08, 2020 3:58 pm
Just had our "Voluntary Exit Scheme" email = any takers? ...please...?
Just received the equivalent email.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Turdly » Tue Jun 09, 2020 9:22 pm

I've been thinking this evening and this is going to be an increasingly unpleasant time to work in HE. The changes we are going to need to make to delivery of teaching online are huge and we're going to be expected to do that while potentially losing staff.

I've spent a couple of hours marking this evening and it's been much slower than usual due to annotation of PDFs rather than physical scripts and I am reasonably equipped for this. Most of my colleagues are not and we are getting little to no support (e.g. additional equipment) for this.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bird on a Fire » Thu Jun 11, 2020 3:33 pm

Is the pandemic affecting stuff like marking?

I only ask because my sister was told she'd get a provisional grade for her degree in the first week of June and hasn't heard anything yet. I have pointed out that is crazy times for everyone right now, but she's starting to catastrophise a little.

(She's at Birkbeck if that makes any difference)
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by FlammableFlower » Thu Jun 11, 2020 4:53 pm

It's pretty daft of them to have given a provisional date and then failed to meet it without communication with the students. It was part of the reason so many went for a simple No Detriment policy - at least the students knew where they stood before going into the exams...

We went for release of that unit's exam paper online then electronic submission of answers in a single pdf 24 hours later. The reason the exam period was spread out was to try to allow students time between exams. We could then mark the pdf,almost as if the real thing. It did take a little longer, but not massively. Before the exams, I have to admit I was worried that all the marks would come in very clustered and high... turns out I shouldn't have worried. Marks are similar to previous years, as are standard deviations! (We also looked VERY hard for collusion/plagiarism - looks like we've got well behaved students in the dept). Final year project vivas were done via MS Teams, two academics and the student. Worked really well actually.

We extended our exam period by two weeks and pushed back the exam boards until the end of June and the final year one in mid-July (when normally our graduation would have been in the second week of July) - so unless it changes further it'll be the beginning of the last week in July for them to get their results...

It has drawn everything out - especially ensuring the external examiners can scrutinise everything sufficiently, but also just the checking process.

In a normal year the process for us is (spoilered for length):Spoiler:


tl;dr - it's quite a long process. In a normal year you've got 4-6 weeks from sitting the exam to final result. This year it depends on the approach the institution has taken and whether that's resulted in marks that are way out of line with previous years, ends up with far too many low marks (shafting the students) or far too many high marks (devaluing the degree and shafting the students in other ways later on (oh, you graduated from X in 2020, well that's not worth the paper it's written on)). It also depends on the subject and type of assessments. My subject is pretty good for fairly short answers. It'll be different for assessors reading and marking essays if they're coming in electronically as opposed to on paper. Also it depends on the size of the cohort...

So, I'd be miffed at their lack of communication, not worried.

Yet.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Gfamily » Thu Jun 11, 2020 5:06 pm

FlammableFlower wrote:
Thu Jun 11, 2020 4:53 pm
We went for release of that unit's exam paper online then electronic submission of answers in a single pdf 24 hours later.

Before the exams, I have to admit I was worried that all the marks would come in very clustered and high... turns out I shouldn't have worried. Marks are similar to previous years, as are standard deviations!
Hmm, a work colleague was taking a couple of days off because she was 'helping her son with his second year Uni exams' - in Aeronautical engineering or some such. She's a maths graduate so able to potentially give a lot more support than many of her son's cohort could expect.

A definite 'Hmmmm - :( ' from me.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by FlammableFlower » Thu Jun 11, 2020 5:43 pm

From what I marked, if they had help, it was piss-poor, and didn't make a blind bit of difference. We had a few cases of students trying too hard but actually the additional stuff they put in didn't answer the question/add anything to what they'd already put. Unless your work colleague is very sure of themselves and the marking, they may actually be hindering more than helping...

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Gfamily » Thu Jun 11, 2020 5:50 pm

FlammableFlower wrote:
Thu Jun 11, 2020 5:43 pm
From what I marked, if they had help, it was piss-poor, and didn't make a blind bit of difference. We had a few cases of students trying too hard but actually the additional stuff they put in didn't answer the question/add anything to what they'd already put. Unless your work colleague is very sure of themselves and the marking, they may actually be hindering more than helping...
There is that of course. If it worked, we'll find out in due course; if we don't find out, we'll assume it didn't
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Turdly » Thu Jun 11, 2020 5:53 pm

FlammableFlower wrote:
Thu Jun 11, 2020 4:53 pm
It's pretty daft of them to have given a provisional date and then failed to meet it without communication with the students. It was part of the reason so many went for a simple No Detriment policy - at least the students knew where they stood before going into the exams...

<snip>

So, I'd be miffed at their lack of communication, not worried.

Yet.
Sounds very similar to what we have done/are doing here.

Communication is key in all of this and we've had good feedback from students in general. I have been pissed off with uni-level communication outlining e.g. no detriment policy to students with little info to staff and then telling students to send questions to their department but the students have been accepting when we've explained when things will happen and why they've been fine.
FlammableFlower wrote:
Thu Jun 11, 2020 5:43 pm
From what I marked, if they had help, it was piss-poor, and didn't make a blind bit of difference. We had a few cases of students trying too hard but actually the additional stuff they put in didn't answer the question/add anything to what they'd already put. Unless your work colleague is very sure of themselves and the marking, they may actually be hindering more than helping...
Same, I was concerned about very high averages, partcularly as, on the grapevine, I've heard of some horrendously high numbers of 1st class degrees in other unis. I was pleasantly surprised when the mean/sd were bang on what I'd want.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by FlammableFlower » Thu Jun 11, 2020 5:58 pm

Also, we invoked the right to pull anyone in for a viva, to check (we did tell them before the exam period as one group of second years seemed to be planning Zoom exam answering sessions). If someone had been getting help and a result out of character for them, then they'd have had to defend it well, so that threat (at least in what we've marked) seems to have worked in the main. Two first years will get first offence letter...

We've certainly come down very hard on cheating in the past - I had to investigate one case that ended in "degree terminated without award" and one a few years ago resulted in a student ending up with a 3rd class degree when they really could have got a first, were certainly good enough.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bird on a Fire » Thu Jun 11, 2020 7:07 pm

Thanks very much, FlammableFlower and Turdly (what a username combo!). I did expect that there'd be a lot of extra work going on behind the scenes to make sure things were fair, but wasn't sure of the details. I'll pass on a précis and hope that is some reassurance.

I agree that communication is pretty key, especially in times of uncertainty.

(As it happened, just after I posted this she got her marks for the last semester's modules so can calculate her provisional grade herself (her course was coursework only, not sure about the rest of the dept.). She's a bit gutted because it's a couple of points off a 1st, but that's a beyond the scope of this thread!)
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Turdly » Fri Jun 12, 2020 8:02 am

Very ominous email this morning asking us to consider:

- What are the areas of genuine excellence in the Department?
- Are there activities that we should reduce or stop doing?

Under normal circumstances I'd be less concerned but it was prefaced with the financial situation/lost tuition fees etc so feels a lot like being asked "who should we make redundant?"
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by FlammableFlower » Fri Jun 12, 2020 10:33 am

Crikey. Good luck! Expressions like "genuine excellence" are quite worrying.

Other than the Voluntary Exit Scheme, we've so far had - all unfunded research activity is to be halted - teaching is the number one priority.

One of my colleagues shared this analysis that goes through a lot of the issues

The difficult bit is responding to an ever changing scenario. Cambridge has gone for online lectures for the whole year. We've gone semester 1 in the first instance, we'll see where it goes. But we are opening campus for face-to-face stuff (tutorials, labs, small group workshops). So far the uni has gone for 8 hours F2F per student, with only 20% of students on campus at any one time. But that's going off the current 2m distancing. If it reduces it may change again, if we second wave and there's another lockdown... well, that's everyone's nightmare.

Certainly as far as chemistry goes, unis are working out lab capacities, person flow and knock-on impact on what experiments can run, when and do we need to change what we do.

We've got one scenario for 2m distancing, one for 1.5m and one for 1m...

For us one big problem is going to be sufficient teaching space of the right size. Whilst no lectures will be happening, all the F2F stuff will require more smaller groups but in bigger rooms than you'd normally use for that group size. Our room occupancy apparently was 95% (vs general uni average of 76%). Timetabling is going to be a massive headache...

There's a lot in newspapers about students worrying they aren't going to get the experience or value for money. It might sound cold... but as far as I can see, that's pretty much going to be the case for everything nationally, whether you're a student or not. Hopefully, it'll just be this one year that has this problem.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by science_fox » Fri Jun 12, 2020 10:40 am

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Thu Jun 11, 2020 3:33 pm
Is the pandemic affecting stuff like marking?

I only ask because my sister was told she'd get a provisional grade for her degree in the first week of June and hasn't heard anything yet. I have pointed out that is crazy times for everyone right now, but she's starting to catastrophise a little.

(She's at Birkbeck if that makes any difference)
OtherHalf is studying an online Law course. This routinely happened on modular exams, even when there wasn't a pandemic. University of Law, who were supposed to be quite good.

My building will be one of the first to open on campus, for a select few researchers from select research groups phasing into a week on, week off shift scheme, no movement between floors, no offices (too hard to clean apparently). Platform Technologists (me!) may get more freedoms but not much. We'll see it was planned for next week, but may be the week after..... not holding my breath.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by bob sterman » Fri Jun 12, 2020 11:47 am

Turdly wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 8:02 am
Very ominous email this morning asking us to consider:
- What are the areas of genuine excellence in the Department?
- Are there activities that we should reduce or stop doing?
Easy to answer...
- Teaching & research
- Pointless form filling and metric-chasing

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Turdly » Fri Jun 12, 2020 12:46 pm

FlammableFlower wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 10:33 am
Crikey. Good luck! Expressions like "genuine excellence" are quite worrying.

Other than the Voluntary Exit Scheme, we've so far had - all unfunded research activity is to be halted - teaching is the number one priority.

One of my colleagues shared this analysis that goes through a lot of the issues

The difficult bit is responding to an ever changing scenario. Cambridge has gone for online lectures for the whole year. We've gone semester 1 in the first instance, we'll see where it goes. But we are opening campus for face-to-face stuff (tutorials, labs, small group workshops). So far the uni has gone for 8 hours F2F per student, with only 20% of students on campus at any one time. But that's going off the current 2m distancing. If it reduces it may change again, if we second wave and there's another lockdown... well, that's everyone's nightmare.

Certainly as far as chemistry goes, unis are working out lab capacities, person flow and knock-on impact on what experiments can run, when and do we need to change what we do.

We've got one scenario for 2m distancing, one for 1.5m and one for 1m...

For us one big problem is going to be sufficient teaching space of the right size. Whilst no lectures will be happening, all the F2F stuff will require more smaller groups but in bigger rooms than you'd normally use for that group size. Our room occupancy apparently was 95% (vs general uni average of 76%). Timetabling is going to be a massive headache...

There's a lot in newspapers about students worrying they aren't going to get the experience or value for money. It might sound cold... but as far as I can see, that's pretty much going to be the case for everything nationally, whether you're a student or not. Hopefully, it'll just be this one year that has this problem.
Currently we have been told to prepare for blended learning but not much more from central. As a department (also chemistry) we have decided that we'll plan for the whole year of lectures to be replaced by some form of online delivery. That way we have more flexibility with respect to timings so we can prioritise labs between any further lockdowns. Tutorials etc. we'd prefer to do F2F but have managed remotely for the end of this semester so we'll aim to do them F2F but have the backup plan for online.

One thing that works in our favour is the old, space inefficient labs that cost us a fortune in estates costs may be quite good for social distancing.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Gentleman Jim » Fri Jun 12, 2020 1:06 pm

Presumable the requirement will be the same for all education establishments but in schools we have been told that safety specs must be washed and dried between each use
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by shpalman » Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:53 pm

There was a very strange proposal for how teaching would work here in September.

Normally a course consists of about 8 hours of "frontal" (i.e. a teacher standing in front of the students) time per week. Obviously with distancing rules we won't be able to get all the students (if there are more than, say, 40) in to the lecture hall at once, and some students may not even be able to get to Milan, but we can't just stay completely online, so the idea would be, instead of 8 hours of "frontal" lectures:

4 hours distance learning;
4 hours frontal lectures for half the students;
4 hours of the same frontal lectures for the other half of the students.

I am not sure what sense that makes.

At least my specialist masters' course had few enough students that I think it could all be done in the normal way.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Sciolus » Fri Jun 12, 2020 8:58 pm

FlammableFlower wrote:
Fri Jun 12, 2020 10:33 am
There's a lot in newspapers about students worrying they aren't going to get the experience or value for money. It might sound cold... but as far as I can see, that's pretty much going to be the case for everything nationally, whether you're a student or not. Hopefully, it'll just be this one year that has this problem.
If the worst impact of the current socioeconomic meltdown is that you miss a few hours being in the same room as a lecturer, you've got off very lightly indeed.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by MonkeyWrench » Fri Jun 26, 2020 3:14 pm

The obvious answer is to go back in time and get a job in the university that practically invented distance learning.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Gfamily » Mon Jul 06, 2020 10:42 am

Gfamily wrote:
Thu Jun 11, 2020 5:06 pm
FlammableFlower wrote:
Thu Jun 11, 2020 4:53 pm
We went for release of that unit's exam paper online then electronic submission of answers in a single pdf 24 hours later.

Before the exams, I have to admit I was worried that all the marks would come in very clustered and high... turns out I shouldn't have worried. Marks are similar to previous years, as are standard deviations!
Hmm, a work colleague was taking a couple of days off because she was 'helping her son with his second year Uni exams' - in Aeronautical engineering or some such. She's a maths graduate so able to potentially give a lot more support than many of her son's cohort could expect.

A definite 'Hmmmm - :( ' from me.
Ah, turns out it was his finals and he was awarded a First.
My avatar was a scientific result that was later found to be 'mistaken' - I rarely claim to be 100% correct
ETA 5/8/20: I've been advised that the result was correct, it was the initial interpretation that needed to be withdrawn
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by FlammableFlower » Mon Jul 06, 2020 11:16 am

One additional thing to consider is what (if any) No Detriment policy they had in place. For example some (actually quite afew) places put in a "backstop" of: whatever your current programme average is, it can't go below that because of your final, COVID-affected, exams. So your colleagues son could have had a guaranteed First anyway...

Our programme exam boards are next week, so I've not yet chance to see the paperwork and how our measures will impact people's degree classifications where I am.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by FlammableFlower » Mon Jul 13, 2020 12:33 pm

Well, out of 127 final year students we had a grand total of 2 that were promoted a classification due to the No Detriment policy (and they were v. close to the boundary) whilst another 7 were promoted under our standard Individual Mitigating Circumstances rules, which would have occurred anyway ignoring the impact of COVID-19 (these are serious, acute (and not foreseeable*) occurrences that have a significant impact on a student's ability to carry out an assessment - illness, injury, bereavement etc).

The external examiners were very impressed with the robust exams and level of consideration (and deliberation) in project marks too.

Also, our numbers of 1sts 2.1s etc was broadly in line with previous years. So overall this year it hasn't made an enormous difference to the outcomes of the students.

Next year's final years will be a different matter as they will have had half of one year seriously impacted by shutdown and, even if we don't get a second-wave shutdown, next year is going to be different/disrupted too...

*i.e. for chronic conditions/circumstances (excepting in cases of very near to assessment diagnosis) the student should be in contact with student services to have measures in place (extra time, separate venue, scribe etc.).

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