Image Description: A cartoon map of UWA’s Crawley campus, with a large, orange question mark printed on top of it.
By Courtney Withers
With the end of the Semester looming, there’s been a lot of talk and whispers in the ‘virtual sphere’ about whether UWA students will be back on campus physically for Semester 2 or not.
After an unprecedented semester of online learning, Zoom tutorials, and ‘Examplify’ exams, things have been quite different to how they normally are, to say the least.
Students were told that lectures would all be online by Monday March 23, and that the restrictions in place would include no physical attendance required on campus until further notice. These restrictions have been in place since then, with no concrete decision as to when lectures and tutorials would resume back in person.
Obviously, the University is acting on the advice of the Federal and State Government, and has made decisions in accordance with State regulations, however students have been left uncertain as to what is going to happen with their learning and education in Semester Two.
On Friday May 29, the State Government announced the next stage of eased restrictions being in effect from June 6.
These restrictions include an increase on the limit of non-work gatherings raised to 100 people, with outdoor and indoor venues that have multiple divided spaces, up to 300 people, with 100 people in each space.
With this new stage announced, and the likelihood of further restrictions being eased shortly, I beg the question:
Will we be back on campus for Semester Two or not?
Although most units and courses have been flexible and adaptable in the online learning environment, some units have been extremely difficult for students.
Units with heavy practical elements have been tedious, and in some cases, even more work than what they would normally have been in person.
Students who had difficulty completing units with practical elements this semester in the online learning environment, would now be in the process of reviewing whether they would want to do similar units next semester, if it is announced that it will be online again.
The uncertainty around next semester also impacts other elements surrounding University life; particularly the running of campus clubs and faculties.
The phases of eased restrictions is something that is going to effect campus clubs greatly, particularly their ability to hold events.
Clubs at the moment are in the process of loosely planning events for Semester Two, and are waiting to hear a definitive ‘go ahead’ from The Guild. Until they receive this message, no concrete decisions can be made.
Despite the uncertainty of the pandemic and phases of restrictions in WA, the University has regularly communicated updates to staff and students.
These regular updates have kept the UWA community informed and aware of the changes to campus life, with the University now starting to comment on the plans for Semester Two, and what this will entail for students.
The University stated on their website that they will continue “to follow State and Federal health and safety advice to ensure any return to campus is safe, coordinated and sustainable”, with the safety of students and staff being their highest priority.
On May 8, UWA students were emailed by Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander, and UWA Guild President Bre Shanahan, about the gradual return to campus, and what students could expect with the easing of restrictions.
The email detailed the newly formed Recovery Management Team (RMT), and how they will be working to “oversee and coordinate a COVID safe reopening of campus and return to face to face working, learning and campus activities”.
They acknowledged that the return to campus may be going more slowly than some would have liked, but stressed the importance of the safety surrounding the situation.
Another email was sent to students on May 15, following on from the details of RMT, and the return of students to campus for Semester Two.
The email said that although more restrictions had been eased by Federal and State Governments, and that the UWA community are all keen to get back to “pre-COVID way of teaching and learning”, the reality of returning to campus “is some time away yet”.
“Our return to campus, in a new COVID-normal world, must be managed in a consistent, coordinated and controlled way to protect the health and safety of everyone – to do it any other way would be to risk a second wave of infection,” Vice-Chancellor Hollander and Bre Shanahan said.
“Hence, as we begin the journey we are taking a considered, planned approach as we did when we were ‘ascending the curve’ and preparing to teach and learn remotely.”
They also said that the RMT is working on a “four phased reopening of campus”, to ensure that health and safety regulations are maintained and regulated.
Until restrictions are fully relaxed, the University has stated that social distancing must be followed when on campus, and when accessing University facilities.
The University aims to have all staff back on campus by July 20, with most campus facilities and areas open, as a precursor of the return to Semester Two on July 27.
Even if the Semester returns with face to face classes again, like in the COVID-normal world, all classes will still be available online.
Another email was sent to students on June 4, regarding Semester Two timetabling, and the continued planning for the safe return of students to campus.
In order to accomodate the numbers of students who wish to return to campus for Semester Two, Vice-Chancellor Hollander and Bre Shanahan suggested that students update their contact details in studentConnect.
The email also contained important information about timetabling for Semester Two, and encouraged students to regularly check their emails for further updates.
The safety of all students is obviously the highest concern in the decision to whether students will return to campus for Semester Two, and this is worth stressing.
We have just started to get back a sense of normalcy in our everyday lives, however we are still experiencing, and recovering from the impacts of a global pandemic.
The decision to whether students will return to campus is one that will not be made lightly, and is something that cannot be rushed.
The future and situation of next semester is uncertain, but one important thing remains; the safety of staff, students, and the UWA community being of the upmost concern.
As always, continue to check the University’s FAQ page surrounding COVID-19 updates, and wash those hands!
Courtney is thinking about how the return to campus is going to be as epic as Lady Gaga’s new album.
Image courtesy of The University of Western Australia.