Thousands of University of Pretoria students resume classes online

Posted on May 08, 2020

The University of Pretoria resumed classes online on Monday, 4 May, with thousands of students logging on from across South Africa and more than 20 countries globally. This semester is set to continue online until the end of June 2020.

Using UP’s online teaching and learning platform, clickUP, staff and students were able to continue with the curriculum following the closure of the university on 16 March 2020 as a precaution to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Since then, the government has introduced restrictions on movement and public gatherings, which led to UP and other institutions of higher education needing to migrate to online learning in order to save the academic year.

Over 463 047 sessions were recorded on UP’s online learning management system in the first three days of online study. Between 2 000 and 4 500 students were concurrently actively engaged at any moment during office hours. Undergraduate students recorded more than 8.5 million course accesses during the first two days of the week. Students and staff were working from across the continent and the world, including in countries such as the United States of America, Kenya, Vietnam, Malawi, Brazil, the Netherlands, eSwatini and Germany.

The University is viewed as a leader in the integration of educational technologies to support teaching and learning and student success strategies due to the level of maturity it has reached by integrating a hybrid approach to teaching and learning for more than two decades. UP staff and students have used an online learning management system as part of various study programmes for more than 21 years.

The University’s Education Innovation Department has been working hard to support staff and faculties to ensure teaching and learning online goes off without a hitch. One of the ways the work has been done is through the UP Connect platform, which allows students and staff to access University-related websites such as clickUP, Library Services and their emails without incurring data costs. The system remained stable enough on Monday to allow 6 000 students to work concurrently online through UP Connect. Students who cannot afford to buy internet-enabled devices themselves are currently being supplied with loan laptops by the University.

In addition to lecturing staff, IT Services and Faculty Student Advisors were on hand to provide students with the necessary support to get going. While there are still a few remaining glitches and snags, most of the University’s students were able to access the online system. UP urged students experiencing problems to contact [email protected].

UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe said he is pleased with the results of online teaching and learning so far. “I am grateful for the effort and preparation made by our lecturing and support staff to ensure that online teaching and learning happens successfully. I would also like to applaud our students for taking control of their studies by making an effort to work online. I want to reassure our staff and students that by working together we will overcome and make a success of this challenging situation. We are also grateful for the patience of students who have let us know about problems experienced as we all transition in large numbers to online teaching and learning.”

Prof Kupe added, “We are aware that some students have yet to receive their laptops or have yet to respond to our offer of laptops. Every effort will be made to deliver them. Students who are yet to respond to our offer should do so as soon as possible so that they can access the online study materials available to them. Students are requested to email their name, surname, student number as well as their telephone number to [email protected].”

Prof Kupe said the University is aware of the plight of students who do not have electricity and internet connectivity and is working on alternative methods to provide study materials to students who don’t have access to the internet. The Vice-Chancellor added that international students who are struggling with connectivity problems should contact the Head of Department (HOD) of their academic programme. “We're aware of the challenges that some international students are facing, especially if you’re currently residing outside South Africa. Please note that you can only access UP content through the UP Connect portal without incurring data cost through one of the local telecommunication providers: Vodacom, MTN, Cell C or Telkom. Please contact your HOD to make alternative arrangements should internet access be a problem in the country you are currently in,” he said.

- Author Masego Panyane

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