Spring Trimester Plan
I am writing to let you know the plan for the School of Economics for the Spring 2021 trimester. In short, it will continue online as we have done for the Autumn 2020 trimester.
Currently, there is no indication what, if any, restrictions will be lifted for the higher education sector come January. We have been instructed by the university to assume that we will be starting under the same restrictions we have in place now. If, and that's a big if, restrictions are lifted, UCD may permit some limited return to campus. There are two important caveats to that. First, no class over 49 students will be allocated a room on campus. In Economics, this affects nearly every class we teach. Second, UCD has promised that any student who starts next term online can finish it online. Since we have to start online, this means we need to ensure that anyone who wants to can finish online regardless of whatever changes in restrictions might happen.
Putting these things together, the School of Economics has decided that the best thing we can do for our students is draw a line under it and go entirely online for next term. This gives students certainty so they can make decisions about where they choose to live, what travel plans to make, and so forth. In particular, since it is quite possible that even if restrictions loosen they may tighten again, meaning campus opens and closes repeatedly causing confusion. Because of that, we believe that it is better for everyone to simply make a plan that we know we can stick to.
This approach also gives us the ability to focus our energies into the quality of our online teaching. Based on the feedback we've gotten from you this term, live online lectures seem to be preferred to pre-recorded ones. Some classes will therefore be moving more in the direction of live ones (which will still be recorded and available for those who cannot make the live lecture). Note that, as with this term, everything will happen on Dublin time.
The other thing we have learned is that everyone – faculty included – miss the interactions that normally happen around on campus lectures. Here, we need your help. First, we need you to remember that we are here and available to talk. If you want to ask about careers, graduate school, current affairs, whatever, drop an email. We've done some of that this term, and while we can certainly do more, we need you to take the lead here. Set up a group of students, think about what you'd like to chat about, and email us so we can set up a coffee "together".
Second, when a lecturer uses breakout rooms or tries to get a bit of discussion going, take part. Turn your camera on. Say something. Ask questions. Normally, we can read faces and get an idea of whether the class is following what we're talking about. Now, we get a strip of 3 or 4 people who we can see, and a lot of the time, their cameras are off. We desperately need you to talk to us and tell us how it's going so we can catch problems early.
Third, by far the biggest issue raised in surveys with students is that they miss student-to-student interaction. We know you all love us, but the big issue is you miss each other. Remember that even during lockdown, you are permitted to travel to campus too (wearing masks, distancing, and following other restrictions of course). One regulations ease up, it may be possible to meet off campus. Make plans to meet up with others in the class to talk about homework assignments. If you have a group project, meet up at least once to talk about it. I've even seen students in some schools meeting up to attend their online lecture together. This type of planning takes a bit more effort than normal, and even when you do it, it feels a bit artificial with everyone wearing a mask and staying 2m apart, but it's better than nothing. But please, PLEASE make sure you follow all the health recommendations when you do this.
Nobody likes living online. Nevertheless, from the perspective of health, planning, and giving you the best education we can, making the decision now to be online next term is the best option we have. By reaching out to us and each other, we can make next term as good as possible so that we can get through this and see each other – for real – come autumn.
If you have questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a question about a specific module, contact the lecturer. But above all, take care of yourself, take care of each other, and remember that, eventually, this too shall pass.
Head of Economics