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9:20am on Tuesday, 16th June, 2020:

Room for Improvement


With the 2-metre social distancing rules in place, the capacities of the teaching rooms at the university are somewhat reduced.

2 can hold 62 students
3 can hold 26-35 students
4 can hold 17-20 students
42 can hold 11-16 students
94 can hold 2-10 students

From this, it's clear that we're going to need to change our delivery methods. One of my modules last year had 80 students registered for it: there isn't a lecture theatre capable of holding that many. Even taking into account the fact that no more than 50% ever showed up at the same time, there's still only two rooms they'd fit in (the same two rooms that would be needed by every other medium to large module in the university).

One solution would be to deliver the same lecture multiple times. Sadly, we barely had enough teaching rooms available when we only delivered them once. The number of modules on offer across the university has been reduced because of Covid-19, but only modestly. Even a change to the social distance rule to 1 metre instead of 2 metres wouldn't free up enough rooms. This also assumes that lecturers have the time to be delivering the same material four or five times over.

Fortunately, the university has foreseen this and is encouraging us to consider different delivery methods. We can pre-record them, deliver them live, or both. If we deliver them live, we can either do it in a lecture theatre, over the Internet, or both.

The university was leaning towards such flexibility anyway, particularly for postgraduate taught courses that students overseas might want to take without having to travel to the UK to do so. The implications of social distancing have merely accelerated what was already in the planning stage.


If we deliver the lectures in a lecture theatre, we have to follow the principle of "no student turned away". This currently reads as follows:

Where face-to-face teaching is scheduled, it must be planned to be available on a face-to-face basis for all students enrolled on that module (in line with physical distancing measures). No student can be turned away because the room is of insufficient size. Therefore, delivery should be planned on the assumption that all students will attend.

In other words, when it comes to timetabling, it doesn't matter how many students will attend the lecture, it only matters how many could attend it. I've fallen foul of this rule before, when one student switched to CE217 and in so doing pushed the total registered for the module to one more than would fit in the largest room the university has with large or movable tables. I needed large or movable tables for most of the classes (it's hard to play board games on anything else). The Timetable Office was deaf to my pleas, however, and informed me that I had to teach in a larger-capacity room "in case"" all the students chose to appear. Airlines might well overbook their flights because they know a certain percentage of their passengers won't make it to the airport, but the Timetable Office admits no such argument.

So, we have an unsatisfiable equation here, caused by the combination of: 80 students; limited room capacities; limited numbers of rooms for multiple deliveries; the principle of no student turned away.

I don't have to teach face-to-face, though. I can deliver the lectures in a pre-recorded fashion, or over Zoom. Students can't ask questions of recorded lectures (not that they did that in the live lectures Before the Sickness Came) so the obvious thing to do is to teach entirely over Zoom.


Some of our students with specific types of learning disability (such as an attention deficit) don't get on with video lectures. They have to attend them face-to-face, or they can't focus. Zoom or pre-recorded lectures are not an option for them. This means we're obliged to teach them face-to-face regardless — which in turn means we have to teach all the students on the same module face-to-face, because of the principle of no student turned away. We can't teach them all face-to-face because we don't have the rooms.

The common-sense solution would be to teach face-to-face but with a live Zoom feed that's also recorded. Students with learning difficulties would have priority seating for the physical lecture space, and anyone else who wanted to attend could do so on a first come, first served basis.

My guess is that the rules will eventually be relaxed to allow this when the Timetable Office admits defeat.

Oh, we also have to take into account that students may be in different time zones.

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