Although the planning horizon for the opening of the University of the Free State (UFS) for staff and students is 20 April 2020, spokesperson of the UFS, Lacea Loader, said dates are subject to developments on national level regarding the lockdown.
The UFS will, however, update staff and students during the week of 13 April 2020 on developments, also confirming the date of reopening.
Loader says that continuing learning and teaching during a global pandemic pose unprecedented challenges for both students and staff. Many international institutions have shifted to online learning to continue their academic programmes during this time. As a result, there are an abundance of resources and advice available on making this shift.
Loader told Bloemfontein Courant that in the meantime the UFS introduced the Keep Calm, #UFSLearnOn campaign for their students in March and the Keep Calm, #UFSTeachOn campaign for staff beginning of April. “These campaigns are aimed at providing the best possible support for academic staff and students by adapting existing support and practices that are best suited to the university’s new low-tech environment,” she said.
She explained that the first edition of the Keep Calm, #UFSLearnOn focused on helping students to assess their current realities, and to kick-start the planning for learning to continue. The first edition of Keep Calm, #TeachOn focused on the launch of the #UFSTeachOn portal and resources to help move learning and teaching online. She also said that, catching up is possible and will be done through their campaigns.
On the question whether the UFS will be moving online like other institutions, Loader explained that in the South African higher education context, moving online poses many challenges for students. “Many of them do not have frequent and reliable access to the internet when they are off campus, or do not have the necessary devices to learn optimally. Some do not have data to download material or access the Learning Management System, which means that it is critical for the UFS to develop low-tech approaches to learning and teaching,” she said.
Loader concluded by saying that exact dates have not yet been set for graduation ceremonies. At this point they have been postponed until further notice.