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New academic year, new normal

David Marshall

This week marked the start of our 2020/21 academic year – six months after shutting our doors when Scotland went into lockdown. Getting to this point is a real milestone for the college, one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced in our history.

In line with Scottish Government guidance, the further education sector is following a learning model which involves a combination of online learning as well as a limited number of on-campus classes for small groups of students in practical subjects.

Classroom-based teaching for courses like painting and decorating, engineering and beauty is quite simply essential. Without it, students wouldn’t learn new skills, refine existing ones or get to where they need to be for career development.

But preparing a college split across three campuses for the safe return of students is a big operation.

It starts with cleaning – at 5.45am each morning to be precise. A team of over 100 cleaners work throughout the day sanitising every surface with cutting edge technology and disinfectant. This is the frontline of the fight against coronavirus, and one we are taking extremely seriously.

Returning students will also notice public information signage prominently displayed across our estates, while having access to 150 sanitisation stations. Two metre social distancing and face coverings in communal areas is the ‘new normal’ and as much of a part of college life as lectures or exams.

Putting procedures into action requires more thought for some courses than others. Take dance for instance, a physically demanding subject which would usually require students to work in close proximity to one and other.

Our curriculum has been adjusted, new procedures rolled out and studio capacity reduced to accommodate social distancing. As a result, we’ve been able to welcome 90 dancers as the first college in Scotland to resume studio teaching for dance students.

But for the first part of term at least, the majority of 16,000 students will continue to learn online, via the remote teaching platform – Canvas – as well as on daily video calls with lecturers.

For those who are brand new to the college, we appreciate that it can be more difficult to integrate with your peers and lecturers when sitting on your laptop at home. For this reason, the first two weeks of the new term were dedicated to introducing students to a new way of learning and meeting their classmates. Safe visits are being arranged for students to see facilities and meet lecturers, as well as each other.

It should also be recognised that college can be a sanctuary for students with difficult home lives. As a result, “safe spaces” are available in our libraries on each campus, which will be fully equipped and available to use by any students in need of somewhere quiet to take part in online learning.

It’s exciting to welcome students back to classes – whether they are digital or practical. Despite the unprecedented challenges faced in 2020, the concerted efforts of the entire college team have ensured that we’re able to continue our sector-leading teaching for the new academic year.

by David Marshall, Assistant Principal: Student Experience