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Faculty of Classics

 
Teaching Classics in the time of Covid-19

Dr Renaud Gagné, Director of Undergraduate Studies, discusses the on-going challenges and adaptations made by the Faculty as the Covid-19 crisis continues and Lent term began under a renewed lockdown.

Students returned to Cambridge in October 2020 for the first time since March 2020. Following a great deal of preparation and adaptation of classrooms at the Faculty, the overwhelming majority of Classics’ undergraduates were able to attend seminars and supervisions in person. The University’s asymptomatic testing programme helped keep everyone safe, and online provisions were made for those who were isolating or shielding. By the beginning of 2021, the University made the difficult decision to move all teaching and learning online for the entirety of the Lent term.

“The majority of our undergraduates are not currently in Cambridge, lectures are once again being delivered remotely, language teaching and supervisions take place via Zoom and we have finalised plans for assessments and end of year exams to be held online,” explains Renaud.

Lectures are being delivered by a variety of routes, some live, some pre-recorded, all of which are available for students to download for the remainder of the academic year. Q&A sessions have been added to the schedule, to allay some of the difficulties of teaching remotely.

“We had to devise emergency new assessment methods in 2020, and put in place mitigation measures to make sure students were assessed fairly and not penalised by the situation,” added Renaud. “Our experience with such measures has greatly helped us with our ability to devise new remote assessments in 2021.  Assessments cannot be paused without detriment to the degree. Naturally, there are anxieties around the changes, but early planning has allowed us to provide clarity to students on what the examinations will entail this year, and how they differ from the past.”

There are various routes through the Classics Tripos. For Part II students who have chosen to write a thesis, the vast majority of resources usually available are not online, thereby limiting the possible areas of study for students this year.  Both the University and the Faculty Librarians are offering a scanning and delivery service to provide undergraduates with the materials that they need.

The tutorial structure at Cambridge is particularly good at supporting students.  To prevent students feeling isolated Directors of Studies are in close contact, and the Faculty is offering as much flexibility as possible within the teaching schedule. Colleges have been able to support students with the provision of IT equipment.

“Students have been incredibly resourceful this difficult time. I admire their resilience.” Renaud commented.

The 2021 new intake of undergraduates was larger than in previous years.  Recognising that the cancellation of A-levels and a disrupted final year at school might have impacted their preparation, Directors of Studies were in touch with incoming students early with suggested reading lists.  Students arrived well prepared having used their time wisely.

Whilst the majority of undergraduates are based in the UK, the graduate community is more international with many now managing their research from different time zones.  During the Michaelmas term, investment in new technology allowed the Faculty to operate a hybrid teaching model with attendance at supervisions and Faculty meetings possible for both those who were joining remotely and in-person simultaneously. This proved invaluable for the Faculty’s MPhil students and for the graduate student’s Research Seminar series. For now, graduate students who are in Cambridge are able to access the library.

“We are missing the precious sense of community that comes with being in the Faculty building.” Dr Gagné remarks.  “We are more keenly aware than before of how much information is conveyed in person, and how much richer the channels of communications are.  So much happens in the Faculty over and above attending lectures, the discussions over coffee, the chance meetings whilst moving from one area of the Faculty to another. We are all looking forward to returning.”

“We have been quick and efficient at adapting and the support team have been great. Teaching continues apace and well, as methodically as ever, and with much added support. We are learning what lessons we can from this massive current experiment with remote instruction. One thing is clearer than ever: on-site teaching will always be preferable.”

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