Third-level colleges aim to resume more face-to-face teaching early next year

On-campus sporting activity likely to resume subject to public health advice

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris has said every effort should be made to resume more on-campus activity for first year and final year students. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris has said every effort should be made to resume more on-campus activity for first year and final year students. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Third-level colleges may be able to increase face-to-face teaching for first year students and resume sports activity on campus early next year in line with an easing of Covid-19 restrictions, according to Government sources.

A formal announcement is due on Friday afternoon and follows discussions between the Department of Higher Education and representatives of third-level colleges over options to boost on-campus activity.

While most learning will continue to take place online next year, Government sources say there is a shared intention that face-to-face learning on campus will increase for “priority groups” along with more “small group learning”.

Restarting sporting activities such as training and opening gym facilities are also being examined. All these activities would be subject to social distancing and limits on congregation.

The representative group for the State’s institutes of technology on Thursday night confirmed that its members will seek to enhance face-to-face learning on a “phased and incremental basis”, as public health conditions permit.

Dr Joseph Ryan, chief executive of the Technological Higher Education Association, said that while blended learning will continue, there will be capacity to increase the attendance of “designated individuals and groups” on campus until the summer of 2021.

It said this will take place based on advice from public health and will be kept under review, with discretion to adjust the amount of on-campus activity as circumstances allow.

University sources say they are planning measures such as allowing a resumption in sporting activity and small group learning.

Some have signalled that resuming face-to-face lectures for first years , in addition to lab work and practicals, could prove highly challenging.

Separately, Trinity College Dublin is considering a number of major changes aimed at modernising teaching and learning at the campus.

The ideas are contained in an internal discussion paper drafted by the Trinity Futures Group, which was established earlier this year to “consider the opportunities that are triggered by Covid and have longer-term value for Trinity”.

The suggestions outlined in the paper include transforming large lecture theatres to facilitate “collaborative learning” spaces; establishing an off-campus hub; reducing the number of people working on campus; and selling off a number of properties.

The paper suggests that all large class lectures with more than 100 students be moved to online delivery, so that large lecture theatres can be reconfigured to facilitate collaborative learning.

The Trinity Futures Group says technology should be used to enhance and support teaching and learning, such as “provision of online content, lecture capture, collaborative group activities, online polling and student-led discussions, and online assessments”.

Funds from selling off buildings could be reinvested into refurbishment projects or creating an off-campus hub.

It also states that campus buildings could be re-purposed as “residential units, meeting room hubs” or for other purposes.

It states that smart working could improve effective use of the Trinity estate and “prompt the transition from a traditional campus to a connected campus.”

The idea behind a hub would lessen the need for dedicated offices for staff engaged in “hybrid working”, a mixture between remote and in-person work.

The document says that the move to “smart working” could reduce the number of staff based full-time on campus.

Trinity declined to comment on the paper, but a source said the contents will be discussed at a number of committees within the college before any decisions are made.

“It is premature to talk of plans, but naturally Trinity needs to ask the sort of questions that every other business and institution is asking in the wake of the pandemic,” the source said.

“Right now, the priority is restoring in-person teaching next term as soon as is safe to do so.”