The information received about COVID-19 has recently been reassuring. Although the fourth wave is at its peak and daily infection rates are at a high level, there are fewer and fewer serious cases. In the past, teaching situations have not led to many infections, but the Delta variant now prevailing is more infectious than the earlier ones. It is essential that the safety guidance given is followed on campuses.
I hope that we will also remember to act safely in leisure time and that the organisers of events will take COVID-19 safety seriously, following the instructions of the authorities. It is the only way to continue contact learning on campuses.
The effectiveness of the vaccines against a serious form of the disease is good regardless of whether the virus variant is Alpha or Delta. The restrictions will probably be lifted once the vaccination programme has reached a sufficient level, hopefully this fall. I encourage all members of the university community to take the vaccine. Efforts are also being made to get walk-in vaccination sites on the campus to help improve vaccination coverage.
The global epidemic has kept us in distance learning and remote working for a year and a half now. The experiences are varied. For some, distance learning has been a good fit, while others have suffered greatly. The experience is influenced by many factors. Your experience is individual and always justified. However, I dare to say that we are all waiting for a return to normal, even though we know that the new normal will be different from the old normal. Based on feedback, it can be said that students miss each other above all, but also high-quality interaction with teachers. Communality has suffered as a result of the narrowing down of shared activities.
The student community is largely built on things that happen outside of lectures. The fact that everyone is in the same situation and in the same place enables a community and puts the student community in the foreground. Peer learning and the creation of professional networks suffer if there is no student community. Many lifelong friendships are formed during studies. I dare to say that the student community is an important source of mental well-being for all students.
When moving to the new normal, everything possible must be done to ensure that inclusion in the learning community is not impaired compared to before, but improved. Deciding on the way each community works is certainly something that deserves to be given common time and thought right from the start. Change is always an opportunity! The University of Oulu and the Professor Pentti Kaitera Foundation have decided to support students in finding their way into the community. During the autumn, these plans will certainly become visible.
I have had a lot of discussions with different parties about what the learning practices will be like. It is not simple, because both students and teachers have different expectations of how they want to use the new freedom learned from remote working, independence from time and place. Teachers are very concerned about whether they will have the energy to run two channels, distance and contact learning, so that the quality remains high and improves.
It seems that hybrid learning, in which both present and remote students are in the same position as much as possible, will become mainstream. Of course, some studies can continue to be completed as self-study, while others require attendance. Hybrid learning aims at a simulated situation in which remote students are genuinely present from the point of view of the students and teacher who are in the classroom. Similarly, remote students can interact in the same way as the students present in the classroom. I believe that technical tools will help us a great deal and we will learn a new normal that everyone will be satisfied with. It will require practice, and efforts must be made to avoid dual channels where students are unequal in terms of interaction.
Now that we are facing a new normal, let us make it something wonderful that serves us well. I warmly welcome you all to the new academic year – and to the new normal of studying.
Rector of the University of Oulu
Last updated: 31.8.2021