UCL Minds


Transcript: Episode 20

How do we safely return to university life?


ucl, students, people, campus, programme, activities, nhs, symptoms, pandemic, community, digital, student union, important, staff, term, offer, online, learning, university


Geraint Rees, Carol Paige, Norbert Pachler, Vivienne Parry


Vivienne Parry  00:02

Hello and welcome to Coronavirus, the whole story and award winning podcast all about the work of UCL community in understanding and combating the coronavirus pandemic. My name is Vivienne Parry. I'm a writer, broadcaster, UCL alumna, and your host on whispering softly - our 20th episode, which comes as cases of coronavirus are once again rising rapidly throughout the UK and indeed Europe too. It's the beginning of the new academic year. And so this week's episode is all about the return to campus life and what this term might look like. I'm joined by three guests, each playing a critical role, the safe return to campus, helping UCL adapt to remote teaching, and very importantly, ensuring that student voices are fully represented.

My first guest this week is Professor Gary Reese, the Dean of the Faculty of Life Sciences guarantees a stellar researcher in neurology who's also made huge contributions to the academic and career support available to students at UCL. Of late he has been busy helping to plan how and when the UCL community can return to campus. I'm also joined by Professor Norbert Pachler, the Pro Vice Provost in Digital Education. Norbert is a professor of education and founder of the London mobile learning group, an interdisciplinary and international research group for mobile learning projects. He's here as our expert on remote learning for the UCL community teaching and learning from home. My final guest for this week is Carol Paige, the democracy operations and community officer of the UCL Student Union. Carol studies risk disaster resilience, and I bet you're Carol, you never thought you would be quite so relevant so quickly. And she's currently on sabbatical. Whilst working for the student union, she was elected on a platform of working to create a sense of belonging for students at UCL, which feels like more of a mission challenge for this term, especially for first years.


So Geraint, let's start with you. And let's start by putting the whole thing in context about UCL’s plans for the new term. So first of all, who's returning to campus? And in what capacity?


Geraint Rees  02:21

Yeah, well, it's important to point out that, of course, the campus never really closed. There have been people here throughout the lockdown, keeping some of our experiments ticking over doing some of our COVID-19 research. And of course, some students have been here. There's also changes. Over the summer, many of our research buildings reopened, our libraries have gradually reopened, and again, the campus has gradually come to life with lots of staff there and just a few students. And now we're starting to see the students come back. Our medical students have been back in clinical placement for a little while, and many of our undergraduates are now going to arrive and our postgraduates, so it's not all happening at once. It's happening gradually over an extended period of time, and our preparations have had to respond to that.


Vivienne Parry  03:08

Now we've seen an announcement about UCL offering covert testing to students, how's that going to work?


Geraint Rees  03:14

So we've been working for months, I mean, all our planning, we started planning almost the day after we entered lockdown. In fact, we moved to remote teaching and learning before lockdown back in March. At the testing facility is one we've been running in pilot. Colleagues have been working incredibly hard for several months in the Paul O’Gorman building, which is the Cancer Institute. But that's not relevant to COVID. It's only relevant because that has the specialised facilities that we need to provide testing that will be linked to the NHS, which is important because what we offer needs to be complimentary to the NHS test and trace system, not replacing it. We're not set up to provide detailed contact tracing, particularly for staff and students who are in the community. But we want to provide a Testing Service for people who have symptoms, who can't get to their local NHS testing centre, or perhaps on campus. So the way that will work is just as with any testing process, you'll register on our website, let us know your symptoms and in a safe way that you'll be given a symptom testing kit a swab, with the result being processed just as it is in the large government laboratories with the PCR machines, and that'll then be fed back to you and and if appropriate, on to the NHS for test and trace.


Vivienne Parry
So Geraint, what happens if a student tests positive? Are they going to stay at UCL or go back home because there's quite a lot of debate about whether it's a good idea to send students home?

Geraint Rees
Well, the most important thing of course, if any of us develop symptoms, because it's symptoms that are more important than a test is that we stay at home or in a place where we can isolate safely. And that will differ for different people with different living arrangements. But the most important thing to do is, of course, stay at home, if you have symptoms, isolate appropriately, inform the NHS and the university through our Connect to Protect web service, and then get a test. If the test is negative or positive, then the NHS can also provide advice then on what the best and most appropriate way to handle that is in a way that protects not only the student or the member of staff who's tested positive, but also, of course, everyone around us because what we're trying to do here is protect not just individuals, but our community,


Vivienne Parry  05:38

We've all got a very clear idea of what Campus Life is like, particularly in this term, you know, whether it's teaching or sports or society meetings, what are they going to look like now?


Geraint Rees  05:49

Well, they're going to look very different because of course, all of our preparations on campus for all sorts of activities involve the fundamentals of safety, which we of course, all know, involve washing your hands, making space to be to social distancing, and masks, and that impacts upon social life and the vibrancy of campus, as well as impacting upon our teaching and research. So we've made extensive modifications to all our student accommodation, for example, all our venues, and worked very closely with the Students Union, who have been incredibly supportive of trying to put on a programme for incoming students, which is as vibrant as possible, whilst also being safe. And for all of those plans, we've got to stay flexible, because what we know about the covid epidemic pandemic so far, is that it isn't going away, and that it is waxing and waning. So we need those plans to stay flexible at all times. So we can either pull back, or if things become safer, again, alter them appropriately.


Vivienne Parry  06:54

And at the moment, it looks like it's really escalating.


Geraint Rees  06:57

Well, sadly, it does, cases are going up nationally, although in London, the rise at the moment is more muted. So there's this different situation that we need to very closely monitor, both in London and in our local borough, Camden, very closely. So our plans need to respond to that. Early indications as we know in the news, it's difficult to tell, certainly hospital admissions are going up and little. But perhaps not as much as some of our Commission's expected. One of the things we can do at UCL to help with that is not only use the official sources of information, but also use our own experts. And we have a public health advisory group that we've set up to formalise that advice and ensure the management team and all our community are properly advised not only about the general measures we're taking, but whether we need to take any specific measures. We've done that already, of course, we made the move to remote teaching before lockdown back in March. And so we're prepared to do that if necessary. But we always want to be guided both by our local public health experts, our local academic experts, and of course, national guidance.


Vivienne Parry  08:06

One of the things to say here is that of course, every year, we see a spike in all sorts of colds, flu, all sorts of things, just as students return to university because they're bringing their home bugs to one place and spreading them around a bit. So how difficult is it going to be to distinguish the normal kind of spike of respiratory infection that goes on at this time of year? And COVID?


Geraint Rees  08:36

Well, there are some slight differences in the symptoms between colds and runny noses, and the temperature of the system, new cough, and other symptoms such as nausea that we associated with COVID. But I think it's a very good question. The starting point would be the precautionary principle that if you feel you have symptoms, then we're advising everyone stay home, let us know, let the NHS know and get a test and respond on that basis. But it's quite interesting when we take advice from our academic experts as well, because in the southern hemisphere, they've already had their flu season. And one of the very interesting things about winter flu and all those coughs and sniffles is that doesn't really seem to have been pronounced flu season in the southern hemisphere. So much so that researchers who wants to study the joint impact of flu and covid were unable to do so because there simply weren't enough flu cases in places like Australia and other parts in the southern hemisphere.


Vivienne Parry  09:33

I guess it shows the extraordinary effect of social distancing.


Geraint Rees  09:36

Maybe or maybe it's masked or maybe it's something different. I think, you know, more research is needed there. But pragmatically, that could be very helpful. We're going for our belt and braces approach though because, for example, the flu jab will shortly become available. And we're making that available to all our staff and also in a pilot programme making it available to our students and we're encouraging us To get vaccinated for the flu as well, we need to take a responsible approach. Because just because the southern hemisphere hasn't had a flu season doesn't mean we weren't. And we need to do our bit not just to distinguish the symptoms, but also to alleviate any pressure on the NHS.


Vivienne Parry  10:16

I had my flu jab this very morning.


So let me turn that to Norbert because there are lots of people who can't attend a campus. Even with the safety measures, that Geraint has outlined, not how much of the teaching that is, would have been taking place this term is taking place online?


Norbert Pachler
We've taken the view very early on that health situation is going to be rather unpredictable. And therefore, it is best for all of our students and our staff if we adopt a digital first approach. And that means we have the flexibility to offer all of our core teaching online during term one that includes lectures, tutorials, seminars assessment. Of course, we recognise the undoubted benefits to students of attending university based activities in person. And we obviously will try and offer as much of that as as we can circumstances permitting, but it is likely not to be much more than one to two hours a week. And we've been spending a lot of careful thought on how best to ensure that these activities where students can partake in them out complimentary to the digitally available activities, and that those students who can't come to campus won't lose out but will also be available to avail themselves off the rich intellectual rigour of the programmes that we offer.


Vivienne Parry  11:45

Yeah, we shouldn't forget as well, quite a lot of people who have places or who, maybe even second and third years, who have effectively been marooned in their home country, and are just not able to get to UCL. So that must be very, very difficult for them. What other elements of UCL life are having to move online, Norbert?


Norbert Pachler  12:07

Well, obviously, we recognise that the social experience is a really, really important and integral part of student life. And we've really done a lot of planning around the notion of the connected learner to try and put in place a virtual infrastructure that, wherever possible, tries to emulate the rich social activities that would normally be available on campus. And I want to sort of echo point that's been made earlier, we've been fortunate to work in close partnership with the Student Union to enable us to offer to our students these opportunities, but they range all the way across to activities that maybe Carol will talk about later on. But they also involve, of course, central services that we would normally have been making available face to face, which we're now needing to migrate into the realm of the virtual campus -such as a student support and and well-being, career support work, or personal tutoring, and so forth. So we've taken a very, very holistic and lateral perspective on this, and that trying to really make all of the service online for our students who can't come and join us in person.


Vivienne Parry  13:29

Is it possible to recreate social experience? Because I don't want anybody else that but as zoom cocktail is not really the same as a real Manhattan in a real bar?


Norbert Pachler  13:40

Well, obviously, there are some differences. That goes without saying, but I think it's also important to try and understand the unique affordances that some of the technological tools have, particularly around connecting learners and ensuring a connected approach to learning at UCL. We've historically had a signature pedagogy that was called the correct curriculum, which was around research based education. But we've tried to do in the transition from emergency remote teaching, to starting to plan for more online delivery during the current academic year is to really tease out some of the key features of our signature page to get a culture around, connecting with people connecting with knowledge, and connecting with the wider world. And we fuse these sorts of design principles in trying to maximise the affordances of technology. And in fact, what we've seen is colleagues are really starting to understand the benefits, for example, that having recordings of events can bring in terms of the ability to listen in again to reflect on what's been said. And therefore, potentially develop a much richer learning experience.


Vivienne Parry  15:04

But it does require a whole new skill set, doesn't it not just on students’ parts, but actually on on academic staff, because giving a lecture online is really very different to giving it in person. I mean, you do have to think about, you know, where am I looking, you know, what are my materials? How are they going to be interpreted? You know, what can I do differently that's more effective online.


Norbert Pachler  15:32

And you're you're absolutely right. And again, we've been very fortunate in being able to draw on some really established teams at UCL both in terms of the UCL Arena team, as well, our Digital Education team, who've been able to come together over the last few months and develop staff development opportunities, which we call the connected learning essentials programmes, which do exactly that, which try and prepare our sort of 7500 or so teaching active staff for the challenges and the opportunities of working online. And it's not just staff, of course, we need to get used to working in new ways, but it's students as well. In order to support that, we've also developed the connected learning at UCL course for students. So when they come, will be even before they come and start the programme, they're able to familiarise themselves with what it's like working remotely. And we've done so just as the staff, UCL but we've done so partnership with students. And it's been really, really great to have student interns, for example, work closely with us draw to our attention the sorts of benefits that they have derived in the past, from studying at UCL some of the challenges they face. And we've been able to incorporate that in in our planning and staff and student development activities.


Vivienne Parry
So Norbert, I'm going to put you on the spot, I want you to give me one tip for staff. And one tip for students that helps in this new way of learning?

Norbert Pachler
Well, I think one of the really, really important things for staff to get their head around is the fact that online learning works best in an asynchronous mode, rather than in a in a synchronous mode. That's not to say that real time synchronous activities aren’t beneficial. But I think it's really important to understand that in order to maximise student learning and enable them to succeed, it's important that the material are presented in a way that they can access them at any time, and particularly at their own pace and in their own time. And that, of course, requires a move away from sort of 60 minute 90 minute lectures to cut inputs down captured in in 15-20 minute segments. And then develop activities around those segments that either prepare students for being able to engage with the video or afterwards, activities that engage with the new ideas and knowledge that's being presented. And that's of course, a very, very significant shift in terms of planning. And needless to say, it is quite time intensive in the in terms of preparation time.


Vivienne Parry  18:30

But if you say you're discovering the things that that we know in journalism, that it takes far longer to write a long piece – no a lot longer to write a short piece than it does a long piece. Because you you know that that making it look easy and making it work in short bits is is actually much harder than it than it looks. Very, very quickly, Norbert, a tip for students?


Norbert Pachler  18:56

Well, I think they're really, really important thing is for us, for students to not just remain in isolation, although they may be working on their own in a particular geographical location. But to see university life as a broader community of practices as it were and to avail themselves of all the myriad of different ways that we are trying to put in place to really join up with and hook up with fellow students. And that of course, may mean familiarising yourself with a number of different tools that one may not have used before, and investing a bit of time in social networking activities. But I think becoming part of the wider family in this virtual way will be will enrich the student experience significantly to not just learn from staff, but also learn from each other.


Vivienne Parry  19:46

Thank you. You're listening to Coronavirus the whole story a podcast brought to you by UCL Minds. If there's a question about Coronavirus you'd like our researchers to answer, email us at minds@ucl.ac.uk or tweet @UCL. Now, a lot of the podcasts so far has been about getting UCL ready for students. But what about getting students ready for UCL? Carol, how have you been involved in the process of getting UCL students ready for the new academic year?


Carol Paige  20:23

So I've been involved in a lot of communication campaigns and kind of really trying to translate all of the incredible risk assessments and technical documentation and all the different changes in policy that the union and UCL have kind of made happen over this last six months, and really transforming that into kind of a set of words, a set of posters, a community agreement, that students can really get on board with. And that's definitely been a focus of mine over the over these last few weeks, and kind of with students almost arriving to campus. I'm very happy to say we're almost there.


Vivienne Parry  21:03

Well done you, well done. What would you, we’ve ask Norbert for some tips about digital learning. But what about your advice for students who perhaps worried about coming onto campus? Or are they worried about coming onto campus? What? because lots of people of your age are not worried so much about the virus, although they may of course be worried about taking him back home if they have people that they live with who are vulnerable.


Carol Paige  21:28

I can't speak for kind of the general population who is my age, but our UCL students are really concerned about their safety. And with the ramp up to the beginning of term, I've definitely seen more students email me with concerns around kind of their safety on campus, whether it would be compulsory for people to wear face coverings on campus, and just kind of the granular level questions about what their experience would be like and how seriously UCL will be prioritising their safety. And with with my replies to that I always reiterate that UCL and the Students’ Union, take their safety as they are top their top most priority. And that always kind of makes them feel a lot better, and have a lot of the kind of communications are kind of going out now. So hopefully, I'll see kind of certainly fewer students emailing me about the kind of nitty gritty safety questions. But I will say that kind of our students, a lot of our students are from abroad. And they're from countries which are having different approaches to Coronavirus, if I can say that. And so they will be coming to the UK and to London with a whole different set of kind of norms and kind of normal behaviour. And so sometimes that's more relaxed than the UK. And sometimes that's a bit stricter. And so my role at the moment is all about making sure that they understand what's expected of them when they come to UCL. And I think my first tip for students is to read to read everything you've been emailed. And a lot of a lot of the messaging is going out to their email inboxes. And to really kind of go through everything that you've been sent, because sometimes messages can be lost. And that's kind of a good way to try and catch up on everything.


Vivienne Parry  23:24

Now that first term that you spent at university, and even all these years later, I remember mine very well, is the time that you start to make friendships actually, which probably last your whole life. You get involved in societies. How do you get people accustomed to campus life, when they're not actually on campus?


Carol Paige  23:44

It's difficult. I'm not going to say any anything otherwise. But we've really spent kind of particularly the last few months at the Students’ Union, trying to create the most engaging set of digital events possible. Everything that the Students Union is doing is digital first, because quite quite a lot of our students will be joining us remotely, at least at the beginning of term one. And something that's really important to sense of belonging and to that sense of community is that we don't want the people who are joining us remotely to feel like they're missing out. And with kind of the most recent government guidelines, we really felt that when we first made the decision to be kind of an almost complete digital welcome period. And we now feel that it was the right decision because if we were not planning back then we'd certainly be frantically planning it now,


Vivienne Parry  24:37

How do you feel about the conversations that are going on a lot in the media? There's a particular push from politicians on this about the role that young people are playing in the spread of Coronavirus whether that's because they're socialising with friends or they're travelling to the to their jobs and of course so many young people have jobs in service industries, or they're on public transport. How do you feel about that? And how is UCL again to help students stay safe, whilst making the most out of living in London? Because of course, you can protect people on campus, but not beyond.


Carol Paige  25:16

To answer the first part, it certainly frustrates me, I myself, and kind of all the people I interact with on social media take this very seriously. And to see the media kind of almost blame, or almost entirely blame young people, whoever that describes, for this kind of most recent increase in cases. I'm glad you mentioned that, it kind of frustrates me. And I'm glad you mentioned that kind of young people are those more likely to be in the service industry, and those more likely to be forced back into the hospitality jobs that keep those bars, pubs, cafes, and restaurants running. And I believe it was a message from Matt Hancock saying that young people need to get back to the pubs, bars and restaurants. And the whole Eat Out to Help Out scheme was designed so that people would be going out into the bars, pubs and restaurants, to reinvigorate the economy. And yet, now, it's definitely frustrating to see the same people that they were encouraging to go out, are now being blamed. And so it's definitely kind of a cause of a lot of frustration on my part. And to answer your second part of your question, how do we how do we encourage others encourage our students to take the same care when they're off campus


Vivienne Parry  26:35

want to make the most of London because London is a fantastic, fantastic city, and people want to go out and explore it and use it, and have fun in it.


Carol Paige  26:47

So I thought the first part of kind of the first part of my answer is around encouraging good behaviours. And I've definitely worked in partnership with UCL ensuring that there's a real sense of We Are One community regardless of where we are, and whether we are on campus or not. And so I really hope that that message kind of encourages, not just our students, but everyone who visits our campus to really think about their actions both on just when they're at UCL physically and when they're not. And the second part around exploring London, there are certainly a lot of things that you can do to explore the city, which don't require you to be in more than a group of six. I know that when I first started first at UCL more than a few years ago, I just spent a whole afternoon just wandering around the city, and just doing a lot of self-guided walking tours, which are a great way a great free way to explore the city and stay active.


Vivienne Parry  27:47

I have to ask you this, you’re studying Risk, Disaster, Resilience. How much has that has that course helped with this?


Carol Paige  27:58

More than I could ever say, the reason why I started that course was because I was always interested in kind of natural hazards. Pandemics never really passed, like went through my mind with that. And so I wanted to know how I could help people adapt to the hazards they live near. And on the course, there was a lot on risk assessments, how to cope with or how to deal with incidents that happen, whether they be long standing incidents, or just one event. And it's definitely a lot about the procedure. And that's something that I brought with myself that kind of challenging voice and that challenging stance when people both at the Students Union and at the UCL. So this is the best way to do it. And I go, is it? Where's the proof that it's the best way, and always that kind of analytical slant to it as well, where kind of I will be looking at the whole picture. And I definitely have my course to thank for that


Vivienne Parry  28:54

There you are – Carol – your person in a crisis. And I've always thought that actually the best degree on offer at UCL and I know you're all gonna fight me now, but is earthquakes with disaster management? Yes, I agree, top course! So I want to ask you all now, because this is something that we've we've done all sorts of things to mitigate this dreadful thing that's upon us. However, I suspect that an awful lot of things are not going to go back to what they were pre COVID because we'll have discovered new and different ways of doing things which actually add to UCL not subtract from it. So Garaint, can I turn to you first? What do you think that we will not see returning again after COVID?


Geraint Rees  29:45

I think we, I think I’ll answer that in a slightly different way. What what what I think we're midway through is this transition toward both Norbert and Carol said is digital first. So the whole organisation thousands of columns. and worked incredibly hard to go from an organisation that's fully face to face to one that's digital first, with just minimal face to face that's required, for course enrichment or for central practicals. I think that gives us when this pandemic is over, or is waning an enormous opportunity to think carefully about what that means for the future of our education, how we keep the bits that are good. So I'd prefer to think about how we keep the bits that are really transformational, that we've put so much effort into achieving, whilst obviously, thinking about the bits that we will miss while we are keeping safe, and how we put those back in. And perhaps the final reflection on that is also I think, Carol said, ‘We're one community’, and the close partnership, working between all members of our community has been incredible so far. And I think if we can maintain that and augment that sense of community, then we're doing what what a university is an academic community that comes together to generate disseminate knowledge and transform the lives of young people. So I'm, although completely mindful of how challenging the situation is, at the moment, I can also see in an optimistic way that many of the things we're doing here will outlast the pandemic and offer real value to our university and the wider community.


Vivienne Parry  31:33

Norman, I’m going to ask you that question the other way around, because obviously, you're a great enthusiast for digital first, what of the things that we aren't able to have at the moment, do you think are essential for the future? So what are the face to face things that you think have really been revealed to have great value?


Norbert Pachler  31:54

I think it's a really interesting question. And if I may, I would just like to sort of support Geraint’s point just now, in that what the constitution really offers us is to invest in our technological infrastructure to really bring the affordances of new technologies to bear much more strongly. So if we took, for example, that many lab based and practice based activities that are currently going on face to face, it's been really, really interesting to see that there's a lot of opportunity to actually make those experiences happen virtually. And in so doing, although they might change slightly, they might actually become a richer learning opportunities for our students, by virtue of the opportunity to use things like AI and VR, and and strengthen what's available online. But very, very, obviously, you sale continues, as I said earlier on to very much believe in the undoubted benefits of face to face learning experiences, and these social interactions and the opportunities for learning that those create, I think, something that where colleagues, students choose to happen, rather than opting for fully online programmes we should be trying to make more of in terms of supporting our learning experiences. By that I mean, that we should foreground interactivity more and more, and try and move away from transmission based approaches where they still exist.


Vivienne Parry  33:52

Carol, I want to get the last word to you on this. What do you think, will change forever?


Carol Paige  33:58

I think, the way in which people consider education so to kind of to really just go slightly further on kind of Norbert and Geraint’s answer. Some of the things we've seen in the, in the changes to digital education is that now it's a lot more accessible to all of our students. If there's a meeting on teams, and a student just goes into the settings, they can turn on automatic automatic captions, which means that if they are hard of hearing, or if English is their second, third, fourth or fifth language, then they have that in order to aid their understanding. And I think that that will change forever in the there will always be that option. Now, just last year, a lot of our a lot of our disabled students at UCL were told that it would be impossible to have recordings of lectures with subtitles on it or not impossible, but very unlikely, but yet this year, that's right. That's reality for the for the majority of our students. And I think that that needs to set stay the way forward because in order to have a great education at UCL for all students, it needs to be accessible for all of our students.


Vivienne Parry  35:19

Great point. Although Can I just say that the text underneath teams, it's a bit like BBC text, sometimes it's areas because it's completely Miss. Miss Miss reads a couple of words. And I do worry for some overseas students, if they're relying on on teams text, translate, but you're absolutely right. That's so such an important point about accessibility. You've been fantastic guests. Thank you so much to all of you. So you have been listening to Coronavirus the whole story. This episode was presented by myself Vivienne Parry, produced by UCL with support from the UCL health of the public and to UCL grand challenges and edited by the ever splendid Cerys Bradley. Our guest today were professors Geraint Rees and Norbert Pachler and Student Union rep Carol Paige. And if you'd like to hear more of these podcasts from UCL Minds, subscribe wherever you download your podcasts, or visit ucl.ac.uk forward slash Coronavirus. And can I mention our back catalogue which is also there for you to enjoy? This podcast is brought to you by UCL Minds bringing together UCL knowledge, insights and expertise through events, digital content, and activities open to everyone to be with you again soon. Bye for now


Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Edited by Stephanie Limuaco