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Department of Sociology

 

This FAQ has been written for undergraduate students taking Sociology papers in 2020-21, to provide information on what to expect about teaching and learning in the year ahead.

As we look towards Michaelmas term, the safety of our students and staff comes first, followed closely by our ability to create a nurturing and effective teaching and learning context and to support our pedagogical community.  The choices our Department has made and will make prioritise these considerations, taking into account University and UK guidance, while also looking ahead to what the pandemic situation may be in Michaelmas and beyond. 

Following guidance from the University, our lectures will be delivered remotely.  For the time being, you should assume that small group teaching and supervisions will also be delivered remotely, though this may change over the summer as the University works out ways to create and allocate socially-distanced teaching spaces.  In any case, for supervisions and small group teaching to proceed in person, all participants for a particular session – both staff and students – must be comfortable with this.  Your supervisor will communicate with you about this.

We will continuously review these policies throughout the academic year and will incorporate as much in-person teaching as possible as soon as it becomes safe and participants feel safe.  At the same time, to allow staff and students to plan, we have established a set of policies, outlined below.

In all cases, the Department is very focused on delivering a rich programme of teaching and learning in 2020-21, one that matches a ‘normal’ academic year in terms of quality and that, by harnessing new opportunities and being open to creativity, develops new ways of enhancing that quality.

Last updated 23/07/2020

How will remote lectures work?

Generally, remote lectures will follow the format of an approximately one-hour pre-recorded lecture that will be available ahead of time and that you can watch in the first hour of the timetabled lecture slot.  The second hour of the lecture slot will be synchronous and interactive. 

For larger papers, such as SOC 1 and SOC 3, this interactive session will usually be a Q&A conducted over Teams.  Students can write their questions in the chat, and the lecturers will answer them live.  These sessions will be recorded and available on the new Moodle sites for each paper.

For smaller papers, this interactive session will usually be a seminar conducted over Zoom with small group activities facilitated by breakout rooms.  Because of high levels of student participation, these will not be video-recorded, but other mechanisms to maintain a record of these seminars will be engaged, such as worksheets or appointed scribes who take and circulate notes. 

These formats are a baseline, and, particularly with the smaller papers, there is room to move towards more creative formats, incorporating student ideas and feedback, as the academic year progresses.

Your course organisers will be in touch nearer the start of the academic year with more information.

What about small group teaching and supervisions?

For the time being, you should assume that small group teaching and supervisions will be delivered remotely.  Small group teaching and supervisions will generally be on Teams, as this is easy to schedule and operate via group chats.

This policy may change over the summer as the University works out ways to create and allocate socially-distanced teaching spaces.  We will update this FAQ as more information becomes available.

In any case, for supervisions and small group teaching to proceed in person, all participants for a particular session – both staff and students – must be comfortable with this.  Your supervisor will communicate with you about this.

What technologies will be used for remote teaching?

A number of factors are being taken into consideration with respect to choices of teaching technologies, including: an element of standardization for simplicity, balanced with room for creativity and tailoring to the needs of particular papers; cost and availability (i.e. the University has contracts with particular technologies that allow staff and students to use them at no cost to themselves); and the ownership and control of these technologies, including their data collection and use policies. 

Each paper will have a dedicated Moodle site, which will be organized with a folder for each topic, which can contain lecture slides, lecture recordings (made via Panopto) and a topic-specific forum.  This forum will be for discussion among students and questions on the topic; lecturers will check it regularly. 

Papers with an interactive element consisting of a Q&A will generally run these on Teams, as these can easily be recorded there.  Papers with an interactive element consisting of a seminar will generally run these on Zoom or another video chat platform that allows for break-out rooms.

Small group teaching and supervisions will generally be on Teams, as this is easy to schedule and operate via group chats.

In all cases, your course organisers will communicate the technologies specific to your papers with you.  This will be an open dialogue, so please feel free to make suggestions and feedback on these choices, as well as to consider these technologies critically.

What are the policies around the recording of teaching?

The ability to record our teaching has been very helpful while we are separated by time and space.  Yet, it also introduces new risks to the classroom, such as silencing risks for all participants arising from worries about being remediated and intellectual property risks for lecturers. 

As a result, the University has developed a policy on the ‘use of recordings for remote teaching and learning' [link]. According to this policy, the copyright of this video belongs to its lecturer.  This video is only to be used by the cohort of students enrolled in this course and only for the current academic year; in other words, it may not be shared more widely.

Because we are concerned about the silencing risk, particularly for students, we also will not be video recording any online teaching with significant student participation, such as interactive seminars.  We will implement other ways to create a record of these sessions, such as with worksheets and note-taking.

How will dissertation research be impacted?

For those of you who wish to do a dissertation in 2020-21, you may be wondering if you will be able to do in person research (such as participant observation) or face-to-face research (such as interviews).  Given the uncertainties of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the Sociology Research Ethics and Risk Committee as well as the Department’s Covid-19 Management Committee have agreed that it would be prudent to consider these methods too risky to undertake for the sake of research.  As a result, dissertation ethics applications based on in person or face-to-face research will not be approved.  The Department has a modified ethics application form [link] to reflect the circumstances of research conducted during the coronavirus pandemic, and it is available on Moodle.

We are sorry to have to restrict research in this way, and you should know it is a policy we are applying to all research in the Department at the moment for our safety and the safety of our informants – whether this research is undertaken by academic staff, undergraduates or graduate students.

That said, a wide variety of options exists for conducting online and remote research, from conducting interviews over video chat apps, to pursuing online ethnographies, to analysing existing datasets.  You can also write a theoretical dissertation based on a critical literature review.

Please discuss these methodological options with your supervisor, who no doubt is also thinking about this with respect to their own research.  The Department is increasing its focus on digital sociology in the next year – so it is a good time to be using these methods.  A growing amount of literature also exists to support you in your research design using remote methods.

Where should I direct further questions?

Once term has started, questions about papers should be directed to the corresponding Moodle forums or asked in the interactive sessions or in supervision (rather than via email, unless it is a personal matter).  This helps us keep track of this correspondence and allows your fellow students to hear answers to questions that are often pertinent to them as well.

Questions not addressed by this FAQ or by the University’s information page [link] can be emailed to your Director of Undergraduate Education, Dr Ella McPherson.  We will update this FAQ when we have new information, so if the answer is not here, we may not yet know it!