LSE is one of the first universities in the UK to deliver the rest of teaching online as part of its effort to tackle the COVID19 pandemic situation, and also to switch summer term written exams into online assessments. All public events are also to be cancelled or postponed. My department is to enact this from Monday 16 March, after which all teaching will be using online resources. Students and staff are all naturally anxious and many things remain uncertain as to how the remaining academic year is turning out to be. Several students from abroad have already told me about their plans to return to their home countries and join their families.
Last Friday, on the last day of delivering teaching in person, I was able to meet most of my students in the MSc programme I directed and in the PG courses I taught, having had a chance to explain what’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen.
A few things I highlighted were that: (1) this is not the end of their programme and learning experiences; (2) staff including myself are here to support them; (3) staff and students are all new to this uncharted territory and all of us are worried about the pandemic situation, so let us acknowledge that there would inevitably be many glitches along the way as we try new systems; (4) it would be important for us to act with courtesy when we approach each other.
I have also emphasised the duty of care, that is, the need of looking after their own selves as well as other people within their social network, especially those physically, socially, economically and politically more vulnerable during the times of crisis. For any dissertation-related field research, I have encouraged students to reconsider the scope, scale and nature of their dissertation research, and actively think about research ethics, especially the duty of care for research participants while they look out for their own health and safety.
No matter how much the university tries, the learning experiences are never going to be the same for students, and the teaching experiences are also going to be different for staff members. But, with some sense of solidarity and care, I do hope that we survive this and create teaching and learning experiences that are positively different from the normal times, and that we’d reflect upon this moment at a later date with laughter and celebration.
At the end of the talks with MSc programme students, in particular, we took programme cohort photographs, and I appreciated their high spirits and the kind words many shared with me. Here, I share some of the photos. I look forward to seeing them again and especially in the December graduation celebration.