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Campus operations may be reduced, but the LANS community isn’t letting social distancing stop us from thriving!

Through the power of Zoom, students and staff have been creating opportunities for us to meet from our new spaces to discuss the uncertain future, plan ahead and compare lives in isolation. Seeing each other through screens doesn’t feel as distanced as one might suspect – in a way, when we turn on our webcams, it’s like inviting the LANS community onto your virtual desk.

Firstly though, the abrupt end to the academic year and the sudden impossibility of exams in a time of social distancing means an emergency progression framework has been devised, allowing all LANS students to progress towards their next year of study, or to graduation. We’ve made these decisions to ensure our students are advantaged despite the current uncertainty.

Our students will benefit from LANS’ unique degree-classification model. Students on LANS choose the strongest credits from half of all their taken second and third year modules to create a Stage 2 portfolio, which is usually added to their final year modules for their final degree classification. Concerned students (and parents) have been glad to know that the University’s no-detriment policy means that this cohort’s Stage 2 mark will only be averaged into their degree classification if it confirms or improves their degree classification. The University’s decision to prorate credit-bearing work from modules left incomplete this year means our students across all years will be able to use all their completed exams and coursework in selecting the strongest and most appropriate credit portfolio to feed into their awards, whether in summer 2020, or in the next couple of years.

For continuing students, intellectual sharpness is being maintained with coursework designed to support the next stage of study, and all students will benefit from keeping involved in LANS conversations over the summer months. The coursework is a critical analysis comparing books from differing academic disciplines for our first years and a research proposal that synthesises methods from two different disciplines for our second years. The current pandemic, and our shift to the virtual realm, provides, inevitably, a very different way of thinking and being an engaged learner or emerging from University into a career or further study.

Our LANS student society has been working hard to keep the community close. Sports representative Ellie Holden asked students to send photos and descriptions of their pets to be displayed on the society Facebook group and our student body did not disappoint. A new pet profile has been uploaded daily since 20 March, meaning our students have provided nearly two whole months of consecutive animal cuteness! It’s like having our own menagerie, complete with dozens of adorable dogs and cats, not to mention the more rogue pets like ferrets and horses. 

Yogi (left) and Lily (right), pets of second year Jessie Davies

Yogi (left) and Lily (right), pets of second year Jessie Davies.

LANS Soc have also been keeping the tradition of our weekly Monday tea and coffee gatherings, with the Hub swapped out for a large video-conference call where students can gather with tea and biscuits to talk about life in lockdown. It’s helped students to get to know a wider range of people too, as only a few people can talk at once over Zoom students can all participating in the same discussion rather than branching off into smaller groups. Using a service called Jackbox, students play games together through their phones, an event which second year Carlota Espin describes as “entertaining” because it provides “an opportunity for everyone to mix and share stuff.”[ds1] 

In other important LANS Society news, the annual elections have been held for a new committee to take over the reins for the 2020-21 academic year. The yearly AGM was held online this year, with nominees submitting videos answering questions and introducing themselves and their ideas to sway the student body. Videos of different styles and levels of seriousness were sent in, with one highlight being Eve Tanner’s video which was stuffed with bad jokes and good ideas (she ran for Social Secretary, which tracks). Many positions were hotly contested and it was tough to choose between this year’s high calibre of nominees – but the new committee have been revealed. Next year’s committee members are:

  • Ed Capps – President
  • Andrew Chapman – Treasurer
  • Germaine Conroy – Secretary
  • Eve Tanner – Social Secretary
  • Smilla Kristensen – Integration Representative
  • Daniela Mai – Sports Representative
The new Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences committee

From top right, moving clockwise: Ed Capps, Andrew Chapman, Germaine Conroy, Smilla Kristensen, Daniela Mai and Eve Tanner in one of their first committee meetings.

All that’s left to say is a massive thank you to the committee of 2019-20, who have hosted what feels like dozens of events which have shaped the student calendar. They’ve held games nights, trips into Birmingham City Centre, kept our football and netball teams going strong and organised this year’s spectacular LANS ball.

Katharine and I have been hosting Virtual Q&A sessions to provide opportunities for students to ask questions about decisions made by the University and department and how this will impact their future studies. Academics Professor Diana Spencer, Dr Lloyd Jenkins and Dr Mircea Scrob have kindly made themselves available and have offered some incredibly useful advice during this evolving situation.

Second years especially have been concerned about how the logistics for their Year Abroad will play out, so having this line of communication between the university groups responsible for organising this and our students has helped students keep up to speed. It’s also provided an opportunity for students to just generally catch up with academics as well – we were discussing bread recipes in yesterday’s Q&A session with Deputy Dean and wonderful baker Lloyd Jenkins, who shared a tasty-sounding recipe for a sweet potato flatbread.

In our weekly newsletters for students, staff have been suggesting podcasts, video series and webpages for our often-intrigued students to delve into. We thought we should share some of these links more widely, so here are some of our favourite links from the past weeks, recommended by Dean Diana Spencer:

  • The Research and Cultural Collections department next-door to LANS has uploaded a half hour talk called ‘Poetry and Hope in a Time of Crisis’ from Professor John Holmes, who argues that poetry can help focus our minds on what really matters during times of crisis, helping us to work through grief and find hope.
  • A Bit Lit is a YouTube series where academics discuss the importance of conversation, check it out here!
  • James Burke's Connections is a fascinating documentary series that rejects the linear view of progress, instead exploring the interplay of events that shape history and innovation. It’s very LANS. All 3 seasons can be watched for free here!

We round off our student newsletters with a sustainability tip, as we can all do a little more for the environment.

If you’re struggling to find basic household items during lockdown (ahem, toilet roll), why not try and use alternatives you probably would just throw away otherwise? If you run out of pan scrubbers, use orange skins instead. The skin becomes soft when you soak it and is really good at gently wiping away oils and stains from dishes without scratching them. Once finished, you can just discard of the skins like you would normally! Not only is this method totally plastic-free, but it also could save you a bit of money…

Thank you for reading!

Adam and Katharine
LANS Media and Communications Ambassadors