When this newspaper reported on Friday that Trinity is considering moving large lectures online until January, the response was predictably fevered.
Six weeks into a stifling lockdown, the idea that student life may not return to normality by the autumn is a hard pill to swallow. Current students returning to Trinity in September will potentially have two semesters – a significant chunk of their university experience – severely compromised by the pandemic.
And while they’re often overlooked by disgruntled students, academic staff also stand to lose out heavily in the process, with workloads swollen by the demands of online teaching and changed pedagogical realities.
There are far more questions than answers at this point, which isn’t Trinity’s fault, and ultimately decisions on online teaching will be dictated not by College but by national and international guidelines.
Social distancing rules may still be in place come September, and crowded lecture halls might be banned.
But the College’s lack of agency in medical scenarios is in many ways by the by: if it goes down the route of online teaching, Trinity has to get it right. Online teaching for a second semester represents a major change to Trinity’s academic offering. It needs all hands – and brains – to the pump.
Trinity, though, hasn’t always covered itself in glory in recent years when it’s come down to implementing big changes to its educational package.
On the Trinity Education Project, a top-heavy administration frequently jarred with schools and departments that felt they knew the best ways to tailor their teaching. For many students, it marred a change for the better in how Trinity teaches – and it wasn’t anywhere close to as experience-defining as the changes currently being discussed.
In circumstances like the present ones, avoiding these inconsistencies is both more difficult and more important than ever. And it’s not like College doesn’t have other problems: academic developments will take place in a financial context that’s likely to redefine what we thought of as challenging.
But for a university, first principles dictate that teaching and learning must come first. Ahead of a period that will see more people lose out than benefit, College must be guided by this idea.