As Edinburgh College prepares to welcome back students, Student Wellbeing Adviser Jenni Moreland tells us what the new session looks like for college students and staff…

We find ourselves now in early September, and at Edinburgh College already around 8,000 students are fully enrolled and over 1,000 students have joined the Student Association’s virtual campus group on social media, with over 3,000 contacts getting in touch with various enquiries. This indicates that there is an appetite for engaging with the college community and the courses on offer, and provides a promising start to what will inevitably be a very different era for the college and wider sector.

This blog post will seek to explore a range of insights into some of the ongoing adjustments, how we will continue to support students, as well as some associated hopes, fears and expectations for what we’d optimistically thought might be a post-COVID phase.

Uncertainty and Anxiety

The current advice being given to students is that the majority of teaching will be delivered online only at the beginning of term – with the exception of a few classes for specific courses where it is necessary and safe to do – which is likely to reflect practice across the sector. The number of enquiries from students mentioned above perhaps indicates a level of uncertainty and anxiety around interpreting new timetables and ways of working. It gives staff a sense that their main focus is going to be on providing a level of reassurance for their learners, and finding quickly what works best to keep them engaged. The need for nurturing our students is greater than at any other time, and some of the experience gained already during lockdown clearly will be invaluable, as well as some of the revised processes, for example, ensuring faster access to payments from Discretionary Funds for students facing financial hardship.

Sharing information online

A week of online ‘Welcome events’ took place week beginning 31st August, providing a very different experience from pre-pandemic start of college sessions. It entailed a full programme of pre-recorded videos, providing information about health and safety, college support services including the role of LDTs, learning support and wellbeing, some live Q & A sessions, along with demonstrations of Moodle and Microsoft Teams and messages from the college principal. Online transition workshops have been delivered for our new Care Experienced students and students with autism spectrum conditions, attendance at which was in far greater numbers than previous years when offered face to face on campus.

Digital Inclusion

Enrolled students are being surveyed to collate information about their digital needs prior to systems being designed to allow application for the recently announced SFC funding to support digital inclusion. Early information is that there may be up to £350 available for individual students to be supplied with IT equipment on a loan basis, which is very positive news for students who may have been facing the prospect of attending online classes using just a mobile phone.

An updated student agreement has been produced to give some guidance on engaging with online learning, including expectations around etiquette, behaviour – asking that disturbances and distractions within the learning environment be kept to a minimum, a softer approach than demanding complete isolation in recognition of the fact that for some students access to an appropriate study space within busy households may be a challenge.

College staff

Some colleagues across both teaching and non-teaching roles have shared their points of view about the start of term with me, and there is a definite sense of mixed feelings. There is naturally some anxiety being expressed around the challenges of online delivery via a digital platform, and conversely some enthusiastic embracing of the opportunities it offers for innovative work. Training webinars have been offered using Microsoft Teams for meetings and to ensure that teaching & learning are well attended. Lecturers and LDTs will be upskilling and using features which can enhance and break up delivery with quizzes, polls and promote learner engagement.

The different ways in which students will be successfully supported to engage and hopefully get off to a good start on their learning will become clearer as the next few weeks unfold. There is a sense as described by one lecturing colleague, that we’re all in the same boat, and as college staff we all need to pull together to help each other – in individual colleges and right across the sector, in order to navigate the uncharted waters ahead.

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