Wits University adjusted to its first week of online learning, in an attempt to salvage the 2020 academic year.

Wits University’s transition to an online learning academic programme went off largely without a hitch from Monday, April 20, but a number of students and lecturers were confronted by new challenges as they adapted to the teaching platforms. 

A hand-drawn sketch by final year, architecture student, Bella Mzolo who is conceptualising a braai restaurant in Braamfontein. PHOTO: Courtesy Bella Mzolo

Melinda Silverman, a third-year design lecturer in the school of architecture, says her department has had to adjust to creative methods to lecture students. “Under the new conditions, we are doing a lot of mentoring online, where students send us their drawings on Sakai, WhatsApp or email and we give them feedback on their drawings.”

Silverman explains, “We’re going to level the playing fields by making everybody submit hand drawings”, as they do not have access to the software in the computers labs at wits, which are used for assessments. 

Kabelo Zulu, 20, a second-year architecture student, has been voluntarily continuing his syllabus since the beginning of lockdown. He says that the transition to online learning has reduced the pressure in his course. 

 He said, “It’s been productive so far, as we are now four weeks ahead of schedule and there is less pressure. Lecture times are the same, but they happen every two weeks. So we have more time to focus on our submission dates.”

Some Wits courses though, have had to postpone their practical components during the online session as they cannot be taught online. 

Kamilah Vein, 22, a fourth-year music performance student, says, “We’re unable to do our performance class online as we can’t practice any pieces if we’re apart.”. However, Vein says, his class have been sent videos to prepare for writing their thesis. 

 Students in the Faculty of Sciences are facing the suspension of certain subjects during the online session. 

Saskia Meadows, 21, a final year biological science student, said, “We can’t do any assessments because the questions are based on our lab results.” In the meantime, his class have been given lecture slides with voice-overs to complete their tutorials.  

Professor Luke Chimuka, a Professor of Environmental Analytical Chemistry said, “labs provide practical skills at undergraduate levels, [as] most continuous assessments are based on labs.”

While practicals pose a challenge, some students continue to be faced with connectivity issues. Amanda Gumede, 20, a third-year dramatic arts student, was unable to participate in her first class on Monday, April 20, due to not receiving her 30 gigs of data from Wits in time. 

Gumede said, “I missed half a class because the data I bought finished. I couldn’t get first-hand information from the lecturer and asking my peers doesn’t help because they only share how they understood it, not the way the lecturer explained.”

In response to similar complaints, Wits Information and Communications Technology (Wits ICT) have asked people on twitter to direct message or email them their details to resolve the issue.

Wits’ say they are satisfied with how the first week of online classes went. Wits senior communication manager, Buhle Zuma says, “reports from faculties indicate that online class attendance patterns almost mirror those of contact lessons.” In addition, the university says it is aware of the challenges that have emerged during the online transition and will ensure students are not penalised.

“Wits will make provision for these students when contact teaching resumes, which may include high-intensity immersion programmes, a recalibration of the academic calendar and extended teaching sessions during the September and December vacation breaks,” Zuma says. 

Featured Image: Student uses Wits-e website to access online learning resources from home. PHOTO: Zinhle Belle. 

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