Thursday 26 March 2020

All student email

Important information: Update on assessment, teaching and learning 26 March 2020

Dear Student

I hope that you are keeping well in these unprecedented and worrying times. The current Covid-19 crisis has meant the world looks very different for all of us, and we are committed to supporting you to keep healthy and safe, and to study and progress to the best of your abilities.

Periods of assessment are stressful at the best of times and the current circumstances add to that. We have carefully considered all online assessment and teaching options in light of this and can now provide you with some more information on how these will take place. This information will be complemented by further details from your Departments.

Before I set out details, I want to acknowledge the range of feelings on the issue of assessments. I have heard from students who would like all assessments cancelled for the rest of the academic year and from some who would like all to continue. I understand the strength of feeling and we have considered all your concerns very carefully.

Ultimately, we believe that assessment for everyone except undergraduate first years should continue, albeit in adapted form. This is to maintain the integrity of your qualification. However, we are also clear that assessment should fairly reflect the unprecedented circumstances we are all facing and we have put a range of measures in place to ensure this is the case.

In short, we will do everything we can to support you to complete this academic year successfully. We know that it is likely that some students will fall ill over the coming period, and some students will be trying to study whilst dealing with difficult family circumstances and we will work hard to support you and deal with these circumstances and others flexibly and sensitively.

This email gives an overview of options and changes with more detail provided on the COVID-19 learning, teaching, assessment and progression webpage.

You will also receive more detailed information specific to your studies from your department. There are special arrangements for International Pathway College students and the IPC will communicate with IPC students directly about these.

New ways of working

  • All teaching and learning resources will move online
  • All examinations will move online, with the exception of all undergraduate first year assessments which have been cancelled

Teaching and studying online

Most provision of online teaching and learning for the rest of the academic year involves online materials, online lectures and online discussions. General information on all three is summarised here. Your department will be in touch about the specifics for your courses.

Online materials: Lecture recordings, reading resources and further study materials will be made available within your VLE module site. Although you do not currently have access to the Library's collection of printed books and other physical resources, you continue to have access to our full range of electronic resources (including ebooks and ejournals).

Please contact your Academic Liaison Librarian with details of any specific resources which you are struggling to access and we will investigate what electronic options are available. You can find their details on our Subject Guides. You are also welcome to request ebooks not already held in the Library's collections.

Online lectures: Most remaining lectures will be recorded and put online for you to download and view at a time that suits you and your current circumstances. We feel this is the best solution for our students who may be trying to keep up with learning in different time zones. You may also find that online lectures will be broken up into smaller ‘chunks’ than you are used to in a physical lecture theatre setting.

Your lecturers can no longer travel to campus under the new Government guidance which means in most cases they will be recording content from their desks at home, so you may see and hear some unusual background noises or be treated to glimpses of passing children, other family members or pets. We are all having to adapt to new ways of working in the current situation so please bear with us.

Online discussions: We know how much our students value and learn from engaging with the ideas of their classmates and through contributing to discussion. Normally, seminars provide the mechanism for this. Now your classmates may be spread around the globe in different time zones. Many students will have caring responsibilities or periods of illness that mean they need to engage at different times. For these reasons, lecturers may instead set up discussion boards on the VLE and to set seminar subjects regularly. They will keep in touch with you to discuss whether students may be able to engage with them in ‘real time’. There may be times when your lecturers are not able to actively participate, for example if they themselves are unwell or are caring for unwell family members.

We are also encouraging student groups to self-organise and to set up their own chat groups and virtual spaces where they can exchange ideas and talk about the course materials. We have put together a learning online resource for students that gives you guidance on the digital tools you can use.

Changes to assessments

We understand that moving to online assessment may cause you concerns and it may not always be possible to replace all assessment with an online activity. We are working with academic departments to decide the best way to run, at a distance, each remaining assessment between now and the end of the academic year.

For most students we expect assessments will change in one of the following ways:

  • A coursework alternative where some exams will be replaced by an open assessment with at least one month allowed between students receiving the assessment specification and the submission date.
  • An open exam alternative where the exam is replaced with an online exam. Mostly these will have a duration of 24 hours although in some cases the timing will be different or there are other special arrangements. We will base our new on-line exam timetable as closely as possible on the currently advertised timetable. In some cases changes will be made to ensure that we do not overload students or the online system. The day-long time-slot also recognises that students will be undertaking the exam in a variety of locations and settings.
  • A waiver. In a limited number of cases the assessment may be waived

We are aiming to confirm hand-in dates and times for all coursework assessments as soon as possible and no later than 17 April. In most cases you will be hearing from your department within the next few days. You will have at least a month for coursework and the latest due date for a piece of coursework will be the end of week 6 (22 May). We are working to fit together the open exams into a new exam timetable. This is likely to be released in the week commencing 20 April and will show on your student timetable in the usual way. If you are an International Pathway College (IPC) student you should work to the dates that have been advised to you by the College.

Changes to supervision

We will be doing all we can to support you with pastoral and dissertation/research supervision. We recommend that you engage with your supervisors to discuss a platform and way of maintaining contact that suits you both.

Exceptional circumstances

We appreciate that many of you will face challenges to engaging with your study and your assessments as a result of Covid-19. We will recognise these as exceptional circumstances and have amended our policy to allow you to self-certify. We do not want you to seek such evidence from health professionals who will be very busy dealing with the most acute cases. You can still apply for exceptional circumstances in the usual way using the existing form.

Our aim is to support you to complete this academic year successfully. We know that it is likely that some students will fall ill over the coming period, and some students will be trying to study whilst dealing with difficult family circumstances. We will work hard to help and support you flexibly and sensitively, and we will treat requests for extensions sympathetically.

For more information

I have only provided a brief overview here. There is more general information on the University response to Covid-19 on the main University Covid-19 webpages and more detail on assessment and teaching on this page. Your department will also provide you with more specific details as they work through your programme of work. For those of you wishing to gain an even deeper understanding of our work in progress here is a link to the Covid-19 Academic Guidance issued to departments last week. If you have any further queries please send them to

Please keep safe and well.

Kind regards

John Robinson

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching, Learning and Students