The University of the South Pacific (USP) resumed its classes remotely on April 20 due to COVID-19 Pandemic. From the time of remote teaching, USP has taken a number of effective actions to deliver students their education successfully. Nearly 95% of all USP’s Semester 1 courses are now being delivered remotely via the online Moodle learning and teaching platform.

Critical Actions taken by USP

Prior to the first case of COVID-19 announced in Fiji
on 19 March, USP took precautions and released its COVID-19 Pandemic Management Plan 2020 on 12 March 2020. The same day
WHO officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. The plan outlines the
various response measures of the University based on prevailing conditions at
the campuses and outlines the roles of those involved in implementing key
response activities.

The University had to also take a decision to cancel the Medal and Prizes Ceremony as
well as the March Graduation at Laucala campuses.  While these two important events were
cancelled students were given the certificates, diplomas and degree, with the
option that they can formally take part in September 2020 graduation.

The Mid Semester
break was extended till April 20 due to lockdown and student were allowed to go
back to their country. For the safety of the USP students, all recreational
facilities including the gym, swimming pool and playgrounds at Laucala Campus
are closed until further notice. All meetings for USP, comprising of more than
twenty people is being conducted via Zoom. The security guards have been
checking all incoming visitors at the end points in the campus with the
Thermometer Guns.

Challenges for USP

A major challenge
has been to ensure that the courses which are designed to be taught
face-to-face are converted appropriately so that these can be delivered
remotely.  Fortunately, with USP’s time-tested experience in flexible
learning and teaching since 1970, the University was able to convert, within a
short period, 253 face-to-face courses, to online modes, whilst meeting the
required minimal standard of online learning and teaching delivery.

USP has had a very
long history in flexible learning and teaching, which include delivering purely
online courses. The University’s Centre for Flexible Learning (CFL) is fully
devoted to the professional development of online courses. CFL was even more
engaged in supporting interactions between the teaching staff and the students
and is monitoring daily student participation levels. Virtual tutorials and lab sessions are replacing face-to-face
discussions including mentoring sessions and lab activities.

Actions undertaken for students’ education

All faculties and
Pacific TAFE have been disseminating key information regarding courses through
social media, webpage, Tukutuku mail, and media outlets. The Vice Chancellor
and President has also been disseminating important information to the students
through his monthly and special vlogs. Course Coordinators are devoting
additional time to answer students’ queries, whether by live chat, phone, or
email. CFL ran a series of online workshops to give guidance to students on how
to achieve highly in online learning and other sections of the University (such
as the library, the Disability Resource Centre and the Counselling Centre)
continued to offer their services.

Under the
guidance  of the Acting DVC Education,
Professor Jito Vanualailai, the Learning and Teaching (L&T) Continuity
Team  monitors and reports on weekly
online participation of students and staff, and intervene as needed. The team
also worked towards students’ education engagement and the quality of USP’s
studies transmitted remotely. The team has been working with the Course
Coordinators whose courses were yet to reach 80% readiness; Re-installed the
SMS capability in Moodle, so that the University can immediately have access to
all the students via Moodle SMS. The team developed a short questionnaire on
whether students have sufficient resources to access the online materials.

The University
introduced a Call-free number, 1568 for all Fiji carriers from any Digicel,
Vodafone or Telecom Fiji phone from 15 May, 2020. The students were made aware
that they could re-join classes via Moodle, and were being provided help by our
Call Centre team on the spot. The Call-free service has been solely developed
for students to easily access information, including enquiries regarding
Semester 2. The USP Call Centre is operational on Monday-Friday from 8am-8pm
and on Saturday from 11am-4pm. Negotiations are
ongoing to have the same initiative operational in other member countries.

USP has opened all
the Campuses, region-wide, from 8am to at 8pm, Monday to Friday and 8am to 5pm
on Saturday. Important facilities are open to facilitate online learning and
teaching. These include the computer labs and the libraries.  These
facilities have incorporated appropriate COVID-19 restrictions such as social
distancing and other requirements of member Governments.

 computer spaces are
adapted to observe social distancing provisions. Computer labs that used to
have forty computers were halved to observe COVID-19 protocols and to ensure
students have adequate space to study and access their courses. All computer
labs are dedicated to students and some include sitting space to accommodate students
using Wi-Fi hotspots. Five (5) computer labs (ITS3, ITS4, ITS5, ITS8 and 9) are
open until 8pm to cater for working students. Sixty computers (60) have been
relocated to the USP gym due to available space and proximity of handwashing
stations. These spaces and facilities are being widely used by students.

USP also took the
initiative to make available 700 tablets to its students who do not have access
to learning tools from home. From the initial set of data
USP received, about 89% of the students have some electronic equipment or
gadget such as Laptop/PC, Tablet, or Smart Phone. Approximately half of the tablets were distributed among the Fiji
campuses (Laucala, Lautoka and Labasa). The distribution is managed by the USP
Library at these campuses. The distribution ensures everyone has a fair chance
to education and equal learning experience.

important USP internet sites and Moodle are free for students in Fiji, Samoa,
Cook Islands, Niue and Vanuatu on either Digicel and/ or Vodafone network.
 USP is pursuing this initiative with internet providers in other member
countries as well.

If students cannot
submit assessment materials online, then they can submit hardcopies at their
respective Campus or at a central repository if students cannot access their
Campus. Lecturers and tutors have been flexible with due dates
of assignments.  The University has also
extended the deadline for payment of fee to the end of the semester.

Number of Students Withdrawal due to challenges faced
through Remote Teaching

Due to the current
circumstances, as of Sunday 31st May 2020, 861 students have withdrawn from
1,332 courses. This is equivalent to 3.2% of Semester 1 students withdrew from
1.84% of course. There are also students who have not logged in Moodle from the
time COVID-19 started due to various reasons. 
These number are still being finalised. The University is making every
effort to encourage students to connect remotely. The course coordinators have
reached out to these students as well.

Change of Grading System

Whilst the
University is confident that our staff and students will be able to adapt to
fully remote teaching, it is cognizant that some students will find such
learning challenging. If a student fails a course in Semester 1 2020, neither
the course nor the grade will appear on the student’s transcript, nor will the
grade affect their GPA. To pass a course, students will need to demonstrate,
via their performance, that they have met the learning outcomes of the course.
This will differ for each course and students are requested to check with their
respective Course Coordinators.  A Fail grade means that you have not
successfully completed a course. The failed course however:

  • Will not appear on student’s 
    Official Academic Transcript;
  • Will not be used in any GPA calculations; and
  • Will not prevent students enrolling in any further courses this
    year for which the failed course is a prerequisite.

It should be noted
that if a student fails a compulsory or prerequisite course in Semester 1 2020,
the student will still be required to re-take the course in subsequent
semesters. The 75% progression rule will not apply to progress to Semester 2,
2020. This change in grading system will apply only to students who registered
in Semester 1 2020.

Courses with labs, fieldwork, practicums,
projects, internships, attachments

Where the above
elements are required for the successful completion of a course, and cannot be
accommodated with alternative arrangements, those elements will be deferred to
a later date. The Course Coordinators will provide further information when
Campuses re-open as normal.  Until these elements are completed the course
will be recorded as an IP (In Progress) or I (Incomplete).

Revised Academic Calendar Year

The following should be noted for 2020 academic year

Semester 1, 2020

  • 20 April – 05 June:  Rest of Semester 1, 2020, dedicated to
    teaching & learning activities
  • 08 June – 12 June: Study/Assessment Week
  • 15 June – 26 June:  Examination/ Assessment Weeks
  • 29 June – 17 July:  Grades submitted

Break: 26 June – 02 August

Semester 2, 2020:  commences 03 August

USP is hopeful to
begin face-face classes from Semester 2. However, the University is all geared up
for online teaching if the situation remains.  

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