Fans of the Marx Brothers may recognise the title of a sketch that focused on the inability of one of the brothers to properly enunciate the word ‘viaduct’. Confusion reigned with hilarious consequences.
The confusion that we are experiencing around our employer’s attempts to justify and indeed facilitate non essential face to face contact would be equally laughable if it wasn’t so tragic!
First principles of risk management are simply being ignored (i.e. remove the risk if possible) in favour of mitigation through the use of face coverings and visors even though the latter have been declared as insufficient and virtually worthless.
Scientific evidence of the risks associated with congregation in enclosed spaces for extended periods (the government’s own advice suggests longer than 15 minutes) is also being conveniently set aside, with lecturers being advised to don ineffective visors so that students who need to can see their lips moving.
But why the obsession with face to face teaching?
First and foremost this appears to be ‘in the interests of the student experience’ despite the fact that the mitigation measures themselves contribute to an adverse experience. Wearing a covering for an hour or more is hardly pleasant and for some downright distressing. Even making oneself heard through a face covering especially when social distancing is being employed is a challenge and can be frustrating. Reports of students removing coverings to make themselves heard make a mockery of risk assessments that rely at least in part upon face covering, and will be concerning to those around them who witness such actions.
Sheffield Hallam recently announced that it would move all teaching teaching online, and further postponed some practical sessions as a response to tier 3 status being declared in South Yorkshire.
Some might consider that both sensible and pragmatic; indeed most recent government guidance on Lockdown 2 suggests that “Universities and adult education settings should consider moving to increased levels of online learning where possible”.
UCU continues to call for ALL non essential teaching sessions including tutorials to be moved on-line not only in the interests of staff and students safety but also to ensure that all students get a consistent experience, including those from overseas who we already know will be unable in some instances to participate in face to face activities and may as a consequence be faced with delays to their programme of study – a challenge both for them and for the staff expected to support them.