20 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: University of Auckland suspends teaching for next week

5:08 pm on 20 March 2020

The University of Auckland has suspended teaching across all campuses next week in preparation for the risk of partial closure as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Signage for the Epsom Campus of the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

Signage for the Epsom Campus. Photo: 2015 Lakeview Image Library

The university advised students and staff that 23 to 27 March would be a Teaching Free Week and students would not be required to attend, but could if they wished to.

It said this did not apply to research students, or students on placement/practicum.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

In a statement, the university said the measure would allow for an orderly transition to online delivery, if this was set to happen in the longer term.

"Closure of schools and universities to help contain the spread of Covid-19 is a real possibility for New Zealand, particularly as the prospect of community transmission of the virus becomes more likely.

"The university is therefore preparing for a scenario in which teaching would continue even if students are unable to come onto campus. A range of remote learning technologies and practices would be deployed for students, while staff continue to work as normal on campus."

Tests that were scheduled for next week would also be postponed and replaced by off-campus assessment exercises.

The first semester is also set to be extended by one week to account for the break, and the following semester's timing may also shift slightly as a result.

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

Student services, including libraries, Kate Edger Information Commons, AskAuckland Central, Recreation Centre, retail outlets, and the student accommodation, will continue to operate.

A range of on-campus support will also available to help students next week, including support guides and drop-in clinics.

Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater said there had already been an "outstanding response" to support some of 2000 students stranded in China by the travel ban.

Prof Freshwater said providing remote teaching to 40,000 was a new step but she was confident it was possible.

"We are also very aware of the challenges to the continued delivery of our research commitments, which will also need some careful consideration.

"Suspending teaching activities for next week provides an opportunity for our staff to focus fully on these areas of core business and to adapt and adopt through creative problem solving and collaborative working."

Universities New Zealand chief executive Chris Whelan told Nine to Noon that every university was actively working to ensure that as many courses as possible were ready to go online if necessary.

"We've been talking across the university sector extensively over the last few days, there are some programmes that are going to be relatively easy to move online if we need to and others that are going to be significantly harder."

Whelan said the challenge was to verify whether it would work, but they were testing it now - like in the University of Auckland trial - while they had a chance.

"We know it's going to be pretty easy to put lectures online but a lot harder to be able to support students in much more practical programmes where there is a need - say, in engineering or medicine - for access to laboratories or workshops."

The preferred option was not close campuses but to move to a social distance model, where everything that could be taught online would be done that way, he said.

"So we can do workshops and laboratories with smaller groups of students, respecting the social distancing guidelines, but removing the need for a large number of students or staff to gather."

Whelan said it would be hard in the longer term to replace the benefits of hands-on teaching and learning opportunities if it were to be extended beyond the expected period.

"There are some programmes where we would be starting to say after a point in time 'actually we would be better to delay studies' and look at things like catch up in a later semester or in summer, or something like that."

What other universities say

The universities of Otago and Wellington say they are not yet planning to cancel classes or move to remote courses.

Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford said the institution already operated on a model which offered students choice over whether they attended a lecture in person or watched a video of the lecture from home.

The University of Canterbury is reorganising its teaching timetable in order to reduce class sizes, offering larger lectures online in order to encourage physical distancing and health safety.

UC Assistant Vice-Chancellor Professor Catherine Moran says the university is taking a calm, balanced and organised approach to Covid-19.

She says many of its large lectures will be offered online while maintaining small group labs, tutorials and workshops.

She says staff intend to keep teaching and researching as normally as possible, for as long as possible and if government advice changes and things need to be done differently, the university will do it.

A new schedule will be released on Sunday evening.

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