Picture: David Ritchie
Picture: David Ritchie

5 things to consider when planning for tertiary education in 2022

By Harvest Thwala Time of article published Dec 8, 2021

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The Covid-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented disruptions and uncertainty to higher education institutions in South Africa.

After 18 months of the pandemic, which significantly impacted teaching and learning in many different ways, most students have flourished in embracing hybrid learning models and have grown confident in the new ways of learning.

The 2021–2022 school year is under way and some learners will make the transition into higher education in 2022.

Professor Heather Nel, senior director of Institutional Strategy at Nelson Mandela University, offers the following advice for ensuring students engage and interact with flexible learning in a meaningful and productive way.

1. The importance of being digitally ready

Students must prepare themselves for a combination of mask-to-mask and online learning. Being “digitally fluent” can ensure that students are prepared and that they embrace the digital tools and online learning platforms to successfully navigate the flexible learning environment.

Not all students, however, are expected to enter their first year of study being equally digitally prepared. Students embarking on their university journey may feel isolated or overwhelmed. It is therefore vital for students to tap into the student support services offered by universities.

2. Preparing for on-campus and remote learning

It is extremely difficult to predict what the 2022 academic year will look like. Considering that we are on the cusp of the fourth wave of the pandemic, which is predicted to continue into early 2022, most university programmes are expected to take a hybrid approach, comprising both online content and mask-to-mask learning.

Mask-to-mask learning that takes place on campus is the first prize, but higher education institutions will only be able to ramp up such sessions on campuses if population immunity among students and staff is attained. Nelson Mandela University is encouraging students to get vaccinated as this remains the only way to return fully to on-campus learning.

3. Understanding e-assessments

The way that students are assessed has also changed. Pre-Covid, most courses would have had some form of formative assessment – for instance, assignments, tests and practicals – occurring during the term and then a formal exam at the end of the term. Universities have had to shift to continuous and e-assessment methods because this is a much better indicator of progress in an online environment.

All assessments are conducted in a way that is fair to students, but also ensures academic quality and integrity. In this way, the final marks obtained are a true reflection of the student’s knowledge, understanding and ability to apply the content.

4. Student well-being

It is easy for a student to feel overwhelmed when transitioning to higher education. Given the added pressure of Covid-19 restrictions and the responsibilities that come with flexible learning, students may need support to ensure that they are able to cope effectively. Higher education institutions have numerous pillars of support designed to promote student success. Those pillars include peer-to-peer student support service and student health services.

5. Embracing beyond-the-classroom activities

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of living a balanced life. Sitting at a desk and being fully immersed in coursework for the majority of the day can have a negative impact on one’s well-being in the long term.

Being a successful student is more than just preparing oneself academically. Student success is also about cultivating the kinds of qualities, attributes, values and skills in addition to the disciplinary knowledge gained at university to add value to society.

Students are encouraged to adopt this thinking from the start of their university journey, otherwise they get locked into their studies and this becomes the sum total of their university experience.

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