The 2020-2021 academic year will open on Sunday, October 18, 2020. In this letter, I wish to share with you our plans for the upcoming first semester.
We are also closely following the struggle against the coronavirus pandemic. Hebrew University researchers are making a supreme effort to understand the virus’s mechanism of action, in order to create a vaccine against the virus and to find a cure to the illness that it causes. Our research activity continues as usual, but exams are mostly held online.
Our plans for the 2020-2021 academic year are based on two basic assumptions: First, the scenario that seems most likely at present is that we will be able to teach on campus but under restrictions as to the maximum number of persons who may be present in a given study hall. Second, while remote synchronous instruction (via Zoom) is better than shutting down learning at the University entirely, and it is better than recorded lessons (asynchronous instruction), it is not a good enough substitute for teaching in a physical on-campus classroom. Therefore, we must strive to conduct as many classes on campus as possible. This consideration is particularly important for students who have not yet experienced learning at the university level, and who have not yet met their fellow students.
Accordingly, the principle plan that we have formulated, whose implementation depends, of course, on the prevailing health situation in early October 2020 in Israel, is as follows:
1. A substantial portion of the first-year undergraduate courses will be held on campus. If necessary, we will divide large lecture classes into study groups (of up to 50 students per group). These study groups will be led in combination by lecturers and teaching assistants. As a general rule, as long as the health risk exists, the classes will be broadcast to those who are not able to participate in person.
2. In addition, we aim to teach on campus courses that cannot be taught remotely (including laboratory courses, practical experience, and the like). We will also strive to conduct courses designed for undergraduate students in their second-year and upwards, and master’s degree courses with up to 50 students, on campus. However, given the relevant constraints, it is possible that at the beginning of the academic year some of these courses will be conducted remotely and only later in the semester will they begin to take place on campus.
3. Most likely, the other courses, such as courses designed for second-year undergraduate students and onwards, and courses for master’s degree students, in which more than 50 students are expected to enroll, will be taught remotely, online, using synchronous and asynchronous teaching, at least in the first weeks of the first semester. The same is true of courses in international programs. At the same time, there is a high probability that in the second semester of the 2020-2021 academic year, study at the HUJI will return to normal, and courses will take place on campus.
4. The university dormitories are available to students. We recommend that students live in a dormitory or in a private rental in Jerusalem or Rehovot, because even if some of the classes are conducted online, there is great benefit in joint study and social gatherings. Campus activities will continue to be carried out in strict adherence to Ministry of Health guidelines, including the requirement to submit a health declaration at the entrance to campus (via an app), and adherence with the requirement to wear a mask while on campus (enforced by Security Department staff who are authorized to impose fines), and restrictions on the number of people participating in gatherings.
5. In preparation of the implementation of this plan, we are already taking two main steps: First, on the infrastructure front, we are installing designated systems in additional classrooms, to enable the transmission of lessons to those who will not be able to participate in the classes on campus. Additionally, we are improving the internet infrastructure on the various campuses. Second, in the field of pedagogy, the University’s Teaching and Learning Unit has developed a special workshop to help improve distance teaching. In the coming weeks, all HUJI instructors will participate in this workshop.
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The second semester of the 2019-2020 academic year is full of challenges, which are reaching their peak during the exam period. We are working to the best of our ability to ensure the health of all members of the Hebrew University community and to conduct learning at the best academic level in Israel, and at a level similar to that at the leading institutions of higher education worldwide. We will continue to make these efforts in the 2020-2021 academic year. Both in our private lives and in our public activities, we must not ignore the complexity of the situation. We must be aware of the unique health risks facing us all during this period; at the same time, we should act rationally in our risk management.
The department secretaries, academic advisors and the student dean's staff are at your disposal for any questions or requests for help that you may have, and to hear your suggestions. You are also invited to call our help desk, at 02-5882888 or WhatsApp 054-8820830. I would also be glad to receive your suggestions and comments.
We are happy that you chose to be a part of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem community, and we hope that we will succeed in meeting your high expectations. See you soon!
Barak Medina, Rector