Lecture arrangements for next term differ markedly depending on the department, The Oxford Blue can reveal. A University email sent on 26th July to all undergraduates confirmed that the University is “planning to provide most teaching in-person next academic year, as normal.” It added that this would be enhanced by online teaching “in some instances.”

Despite this, an email sent to mathematics students on 21st July stated that all mathematics lectures for Prelims and Part A would be pre-recorded. In addition, in-person lecturing for Part C students will be limited with “lectures by pre-recorded videos” being complemented “by a couple of in-person sessions per course early in the term.” 

The email references “University guidance, space constraints in our building, implications for student and staff wellbeing, and feedback from students and staff” as being taken into account in making this decision. Further to this, the email suggests that “it is uncertain whether large lectures will be permitted.” This comes despite the UK progressing into Step 4 of the government’s roadmap for lifting restrictions on 19th July, which permitted all in-person teaching to resume, regardless of group size. 

Results from the MT20 Teaching and Learning Survey, seen by The Oxford Blue, raise questions over whether pre-recorded lectures fully satisfy students’ expectations. The report notes that “satisfaction levels were closely linked to the amount of in-person teaching being offered to respondents” and that “respondents in general were far more satisfied with any in-person forms of teaching than with online learning.” However, the data shows that 70% of students surveyed were satisfied with pre-recorded video lectures, suggesting that pre-recorded lectures are preferred compared to other forms of online teaching.

More recently, Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, suggested that he expects universities to offer in-person lectures from autumn onwards, and hinted that he might support calls for tuition fees to be refunded if universities fail to provide this.

In contrast, politics students were informed on 20th July that “almost all lectures will be face to face.” Further to this, students unable to reside in Oxford in Michaelmas were informed that “special arrangements for the provision of lectures” would be made for them following receipt of permission from their college for being out of residence. These provisions “apply only to those specifically affected by pandemic travel restrictions”, implying that accessing online lecture recordings will not be an option for students based in Oxford. 

In the Student Feedback channel for Trinity Term 2021 from the Centre for Teaching and Learning, it was noted that “students overwhelmingly reported that accessing online lecture recordings supported their learning during teaching and independent study” and that “many students who preferred in-person lecturing wished for lecture capture recordings to be available to all students so they could be used to review points and clarify understanding”. As a result, there may be questions over why the Department for Politics and International Relations has indicated that lectures will not be available to rewatch online in any form, despite having provided lecture recordings for the 2020-2021 academic year.

When asked whether if the Mathematical Institute’s plans to use pre-recorded videos for all 1st and 2nd year lectures are consistent with the University aiming to provide most teaching in-person, and whether the University has a policy on whether in-person lectures should also be supplemented by online recordings, a University spokesperson provided the following statement:

“We are currently engaging with departments to assess their readiness for the coming year, and cannot comment on the details of a department’s plans at this stage.

The extent to which lectures form a dominant part of the teaching mix varies from course to course, but we have asked all departments to develop plans that involve substantial in-person teaching, and to maintain substantial supporting online materials.

Pending the ever-evolving pandemic and government advice, it’s our intention that face-to-face will become the predominant method of teaching again at the earliest opportunity.”

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