How journalism lecturers prepare for a new academic year post-lockdown

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, terms at university were cut short. Thousands of universities across the UK and beyond were forced to shut their doors for the safety of both students and staff. Many in the student journalism population were worried about the future of their degrees particularly because courses often involve lots of hands-on learning such as how to operate a camera and how to edit.

Journalism lecturers were also concerned. As students completed their studies at home, lecturers were adapting to a whole new style of teaching and their universities were busy planning how to continue teaching when the new term eventually rolled around. 

Helen Johnston teaches journalism at Sheffield Hallam University and is preparing for the new academic year. She says her university will incorporate "blended learning" to ensure student's safety. Blended learning is a mix of face-to-face learning and online learning. 

"It is a new challenge, but we are confident we can provide quality teaching for our students,” Johnston says.

She also highlights the appeal of online learning saying: "Many students aren’t fond of getting up for a 9am lecture so being able to do it at home in pyjamas could be a bonus!"

However, the transition for new students is something that may prove "challenging" she says, adding that the university will work hard to get this year’s cohort settled in as quickly as possible. The daunting feeling of starting university, especially during a pandemic, may be eased if this is implemented.

Johnston goes on to explain the structural changes to the term. She says: "Some practical modules which need to be taught face-to-face have moved to semester two in the hope that social distancing measures will have eased by then." She adds that the university will be consistently adapting to new situations as they arise.

Ultimately Johnston says she is looking forward to doing some face-to-face teaching and getting back on campus. This feeling is mutually shared with Alexandra Shakespeare, Senior Lecturer in media, journalism and publishing at the Oxford International Centre for Publishing at Oxford Brookes University.

Universities UK survey found that 97% of institutions are planning to provide on-campus teaching in the coming terms. Three of the 92 institutions who took part in this survey said they would provide teaching solely online. University of Cambridge and University of Manchester has announced that lectures will be provided online in Autumn.

Shakespeare says she is looking forward to trying new ways of teaching her students such as doing live newsroom days remotely. She references the Daily Mail’s ability to adapt from the ‘newsroom to Zoom rooms’ and adds: "Journalists have to be resilient and agile and ready to pivot to whatever circumstances the world throws at it. So essentially, it's good training." 

She says her department will draw on the industry's handling of continued operations during a global pandemic and that the virus will not change the structure of the course.

The university will be implementing government advised social distancing measures into their usual teaching methods. Shakespeare called on-campus time "vital" and explains that the centre will also be introducing a hybrid of live or recorded online lectures for cohorts over 25 alongside on-campus workshops and seminars for cohorts under 25. 

She adds: "Blended learning offers easier access in some ways and could potentially be a preference for students in the future, particularly for those that can't afford to live away from home."

However, Shakespeare also expresses concerns for new students starting this academic year saying: "It may be harder to feel an immediate sense of community as induction will mostly be online." 

The centre has so far kept in regular contact with its students via newsletters and weekly virtual coffee catchups for its students who were scattered across the world, which will continue.

With admission hanging in the balance after the A-level results fiasco, some universities have asked students to defer until 2021, according to the BBC. A University and College Union survey found more than one in five students could defer going to university this year. This could lead to universities competing for students to fill their courses.

Simon Hinde, programme director for journalism and publishing at London College of Communication (LCC), says that the college was also going to implement blended learning in the new term. “Within the teaching aspect there are a lot of complexities such as social distancing. We have been working out how many students every room in the college can hold, and there are hundreds of rooms.” 

Hinde also says that the final term of the academic year was conducted online because of lockdown, meaning that the lecturers and students have had some experience of virtual learning. However, he is concerned for the new cohort of students. 

He says: “Some of the difficulties that come with moving and adapting to a new city will be accentuated no doubt by blended learning and abiding by social distancing measures.”

Hinde adds that LCC has a “strong connection” with the industry. The college was frequented by many guest speakers. Unfortunately due to the pandemic and the guidelines now being enforced it will be harder to get speakers into the building to talk face-to-face. “We may have to get them to speak online,” he says.

He adds that the situation is fluid in the sense that it is constantly changing. He adds: “I’m confident that we’ve got plans in place for any foreseeable eventuality that will mean that the students will get a good experience.” Hinde explains that the priority of LCC is to keep students safe, but adds that he was glad that the university didn’t transfer all of it’s teaching online.

It is clear that universities are creating workable action plans to tackle the challenges posed by the virus. Teaching this academic year is set to be different for many students across the UK. Despite the pandemic, education will continue, albeit differently. Not even a pandemic can stop teachers and lecturers from passing on their wisdom to the next generation. As Johnston reassuringly says: “It’s going to be a challenge, but I think we’re up to it.”

Be sure to keep up to date with PressPad by subscribing to our newsletter here.