face-to-face teaching
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Australian university under fire for ordering return to face-to-face teaching

A Queensland university has come under fire for ordering its academics to return to face-to-face teaching amid  the Covid-19 outbreak.

The move by the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) has prompted an angry response from staff.

It had been announced that the university would be suspending all classes for one week in order to transition to technology-enabled learning and teaching.

The Guardian reports that staff had been told to reverse plans to deliver the vast majority of their courses online in favour of face-to-face teaching.

Acting vice-chancellor Professor Robert Elliot told students that campuses would remain open despite the week suspension.

He said: “The library and study spaces will be operating and staff will be working, with additional hygiene and sanitation measures, as well as enhanced social distancing measures.

“We recognise that for some of our students, food services on campus are also vital. These will remain operating, again with additional hygiene, sanitation and social distancing measures implemented.”

The decision appears to go against the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which supports universities using as much online teaching as possible.

Given the demonstrated feasibility of online delivery of lecture content, we support universities and higher education centres moving to an online platform, where appropriate, for continuity of student education

– Australian Health Protection Principal Committee

In a statement, the committee said: “Given the demonstrated feasibility of online delivery of lecture content, we support universities and higher education centres moving to an online platform, where appropriate, for continuity of student education.”

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) described USC’s decision as deeply irresponsible.

The Union’s Queensland secretary, Michael McNally, said: “For the University of the Sunshine Coast to say we were ready to have online delivery for some of our subjects but actually we’re going to return to our normal timetabled operations, that is just nuts.

“There’s no reason for that. Many universities are actively trying to put their stuff online, for the simple reason that even if universities aren’t closed, it reduces the risk to the community to deliver as much of the teaching as possible online.”

The USC did not respond directly to the NTEU’s criticism, but a spokesperson said that the university was “working towards what is expected to be a government directive to suspend face-to-face teaching in the near future”.

A number of Australian universities, including the Universities of Queensland, Melbourne and Adelaide, have moved to transition their courses online. However, some are continuing with some form of face-to-face teaching of lectures and other classes.

Monash University is to continue lectures and provide recorded material to those who can’t fit into lecture theatres due to social distancing requirements.

Similarly, the University of Technology Sydney has paused classes for one week to redesign them with social distancing in mind. All of its campuses and study spaces are operating as usual.

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