One of the most common hazards for Scottish hillwalkers at any time of year is mist. One minute you can be enjoying views that stretch for miles; the next you can hardly see your feet, never mind the path.
Often it arrives suddenly and unexpectedly. When it does the hillwalker’s progress and safety rely entirely on their compass, their map and their fellow walkers.

That was the image that came to mind as I looked back on our experience, as a University, over 2020. In January a small cloud had appeared on the horizon, far away and of no pressing concern. By March we were walking through thick mist – Covid19. Countries had gone into lockdown, campuses were closed and we were raking around in our rucksacks to pull out compass and map to help us get moving again and to make sure we got everyone safely off the hill.

And if you will permit me, for another paragraph, to over-work the image; the fact that we did succeed in completing academic year 2019/20 and in starting academic year 2020/21 according to our published academic calendar was due in no small part to the fact that, as a University, we had these essential items. A compass – our University values. A map – our strategy. Fellow walkers – our University community of staff and students supporting one another, as we have walked across the incredibly challenging terrain.

A Different 2021

So, as we move towards 2021 and the prospect of a vaccine becomes a reality what path will we be taking and what map will we be using?
For learning and teaching, the answer is clear. We will continue to follow the path set out in our Learning and Teaching Strategy, as we have done since 2018.

Our Responsive Blended Learning (RBL) approach has enabled us not just to continue to deliver the Strategy, but to accelerate its realisation. RBL has proved resilient and flexible, ensuring through collaboration, partnership working and innovation we have continued to inspire learning by students and staff in new ways across our global University community. An achievement recognised by the Quality Assurance Agency’s ELIR review team in their November 2020 visit.

We now need to reflect together on what has worked and what has not; what we wish to retain of the new approaches we have developed, and what we wish to jettison.

A 2021 Conversation and Agenda for Action

The University Committee for Learning and Teaching will begin that conversation in January by looking back on the progress made; with the intention that this conversation be shared and continued at programme, School and Senate level, as we work through Semester 2, and look ahead to the next academic year.

Our University’s values, strategy and commitment to partnership working with its student body have proved valuable throughout the pandemic. With these, we can step into 2021 with confidence.

Professor John W. Sawkins
Deputy Principal (Education and Student Life)