All teaching to move online – as Spanish architecture school explains how it went fully virtual in two weeks

Update, 5.30pm, 13/3/20:

UCL has announced all face-to-face teaching has been cancelled after a student tested positive for Covid-19. Classes will move online from Monday.

The student, who tested positive last night and is being supported by UCL’s wellbeing team, has not been on campus for 10 days and self-isolated at home. UCL staff have been striking in support of a dispute about pay and conditions and proposed changes to a pension scheme.

The university provost said in an email to students they were working closely with Public Health England, adding: “It is inevitable that there will be further cases in the coming days and weeks as cases increase in the UK.”

The Bartlett by Hawkins Brown

Source: Jack Hobhouse

The Bartlett by Hawkins Brown

The Bartlett did not respond to requests for further details about how the architecture school specifically is planning to run its courses.

UCL is one of a handful of universities to take the step. The LSE and Durham have both cancelled lessons, the latter from Monday. King’s College London is switching traditional exams to “alternative assessment formats and modes”.

And Bristol University also said today it was moving most lessons online from Wednesday (March 18), but that there were currently no plans to alter exams.

Bristol has also had a coronavirus case, while Oxford has had five at the time of publication. A spokesman for Oxford said they were all in self-isolation, and that contingency planning was underway with a number of events being cancelled.

UCL’s statement in full:

Today, UCL’s Academic Committee confirmed that face-to-face teaching will be suspended for the rest of the academic year and all assessments scheduled to take place in exam halls will be replaced by online alternatives.

The university has updated students about these changes and is working with staff across the university to provide support for delivering alternative teaching and assessments.

UCL is also today strongly recommending that all staff with a pre-existing health condition, or who are close to someone who has, start working from home if possible. If staff are not able to work from home, they will be granted special leave.

The university has separately also agreed to release all clinical academics from their UCL responsibilities if they wish to support NHS services during the current crisis.

UCL President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur said: “These are absolutely unprecedented circumstances for us as a university community. The outbreak of COVID-19 is requiring us to work at speed to find a way through the challenges of keeping our community safe whilst continuing as far as possible to teach, study, research and collaborate.

“At present, we are planning for every contingency, including the provision of critical services, and the ongoing care of our students here in the UK as well as overseas. The measures announced today are necessary for the wellbeing of the UCL community and our families. These are extraordinary times, and as such, require an extraordinary response.”

Detailed measures for students include:

  • All face-to-face teaching will cease with immediate effect as the university moves as much teaching as possible online from Monday 16 March until the end of term two.
  • All teaching in term three will be delivered online as far as possible.
  • UCL will seek to significantly reduce the amount of further formal assessment for first-year undergraduates this year to reduce the burden on staff.
  • Alternative forms of assessment will be put in place for all other taught students, such as open book assessments and further coursework, to enable students to complete assessments away from the university.

March 12, 2020:

The London School of Economics has announced it is to move all its teaching online by March 23.

The exceptional measure will continue for the rest of the academic year. It was confirmed as coronavirus was confirmed as a pandemic.

The LSE, home to the internationally respected LSE Cities urban studies centre led by Ricky Burdett, said in a statement issued this afternoon that this summer’s exams would also move online or be conducted via another method, with students to be informed as soon as the details have been worked out. Academic staff have until April 20 to upload new forms of online assessment. The graduation ceremony planned for July will also be rescheduled.

Ricky Burdett

Ricky Burdett

Other urban studies and architecture schools will be watching the situation closely, though Building Design understands no other British schools have yet adopted the measure. Westminster University has cancelled an open day this weekend.

Madrid’s School of Architecture and Design at IE University was one of the first to announce it was moving teaching online after a case of coronavirus on one of its campuses on February 27. By Monday March 2 all classes had an online option and within two weeks all teaching had moved online.

David Goodman, vice dean and director of the Bachelor in Architectural Studies, told Building Design: “It was hard work but we did it without missing a day of class.”

The Madrid regional government shut all schools and colleges on Wednesday this week in response to changing advice. Goodman said the school was well prepared because it had been teaching partially online since it launched 10 years ago.

David Goodman

David Goodman teaching a class this week

He said any UK school could follow suit by downloading the necessary software “right now” but said the difficult bit was getting staff up to speed technically – and helping them adapt their teaching style.

“It’s not just a question of putting a camera in front of a professor and have them give a lecture – that would be the most boring thing ever,” he said. “There’s an art to doing it in an engaging way.

“It’s more challenging for an architecture school than other disciplines because it’s such a physical subject. People like to look at models and drawings. We’ve been doing 3D sketch models.”

Using Adobe Connect – one of many available software applications – the professor and students can hear each other and take it in turns to present their work as pdfs. The tutor can see who has their virtual hand raised and choose to switch their microphone on so they can comment.

Goodman said online classes took about twice as long for staff to prepare for, but that the students had taken to the new system very quickly.

He was having to think how to turn a planned study tour to Madrid into a virtual trip for the students who are now based all over the world.

Lorraine Farrelly, head of architecture at the University of Reading, and the chair of Schosa, the heads of architecture schools network, said: “All universities have different responses and their architecture schools are acting accordingly.

“Generally we are doing as advised by Public Health England and at my university we are continuing teaching as normal. This is under constant review. We are developing contingency plans as the situation may change and this could involve using our online platform for remote teaching and more online assessment.

“We are a very supportive community in architecture education and I am sure we will share our approaches to deal with these challenges as they occur. Our priority is our students’ health and wellbeing in these uncertain times.”

Princeton in the US is one of many American universities to announce a move online.

Updates from selected UK schools

Westminster University said its campus and facilities remained open but that it had cancelled an open day planned for this weekend. It added: “Some changes are being made to University activities that require travel outside of the UK. No University colleagues or students should feel obliged to travel internationally for University-related reasons.”

The Bartlett said there were no plans to close buildings at present. However, staff are being advised to prepare for possible building closures. Those that could work from home are being advised to take their laptop and charger home every night and ensure that they have all the software needed to work effectively from home (e.g. VPN, Microsoft Teams)

The Architectural Association said: “Following Public Health England advice, the AA remains open at this time. A response plan regarding COVID-19 has been established. In the event of closure, the plan aims to minimise disruption for all those working, studying and wishing to visit the AA whilst taking steps prudent to support the health and wellbeing of the AA Community and prevent the spread of the virus.”

London Met’s most recent update in March 10 said: “All of our buildings remain open and all activities are running as normal.”

Newcastle issued new advice: The university has taken the decision to advise against all non-essential international travel on university business.

Birmingham School of Architecture and Design: Remains open. Planning for various scenarios.

Sheffield: Remains open.

Oxford Brookes: Unless advised otherwise, all teaching and assessments will continue as planned. Unless advised otherwise, all examinations and assessments will continue as planned. We are carefully monitoring the situation, and any changes to current arrangements will be communicated via email to students as well as posted on the exams webpage. Currently, there is no government or sector advice to indicate that there is any reason for studies to be disrupted; while this remains the case, we will proceed as normal.