Our Departmental Admissions Tutor and Outreach Officer, Mrs Jackie Baines, shares her experience on arranging and running Open Days during and after the pandemic. You can read below her account on the various events and innovative methods undertaken in such a challenging period.
When taking on the role of departmental Admissions Tutor in 2016, and more recently Outreach Officer, little did I know of the enormity of the challenges which lay ahead. We were about to be faced with the double blow of a fall in the number of 18-year-olds and then a global pandemic. Undergraduate numbers had remained relatively stable up to that point but now we were going to have to work much harder to recruit similar numbers of undergraduates in subsequent years.
The greatest of the challenges came with Covid-19. Having run most of the 2019/20 recruitment cycle in-person—except for one Visit Day—we were obliged to complete the whole of the 2020/21 cycle online. How, I wondered, were we to ‘sell’ our department and the Classics department student experience when nobody was in the building on campus. It focussed my attention on showing our very best attributes in the online environment, with a small numbers of colleagues, current students and alumni. At first, online presentations and using MS Teams were so very unfamiliar. MS Teams Live also increased the difficulties. We were not able to see our applicants, they were simply able to ask us questions in the chat function. We rose to the challenge, knowing that we needed to portray our own personalities, our desire to support our students, our variety of modules, the wide-ranging scope of our research, to give a platform to our articulate, knowledgeable students and to show off the Ure Museum and even handle objects when we were not in the building. We learnt to be ourselves in front of the camera and to cope in the online environment, even if sometimes sharing slides was a tricky hurdle. It worked. Our student numbers were good and we met our targets. Our new students arrived in Reading and coped with an online Welcome Week and very little face-to-face teaching during the year.
Gradually we have now returned to in-person admissions processes. We started with some very small-scale Open Days in July and then Open days with more visitors in October. Our Visit Days were in person, but one Virtual Visit Day has been retained, allowing those unable to get the campus to have the opportunity to ‘visit’. It has been wonderful to be back in person, to have the conversations which are impossible to replicate online.
Outreach too was thrust into the online world during worst of the pandemic. The return to welcoming schools back into the department was an emotional experience. I ran an alumni teachers’ event, linked to the Troy exhibition in the Ure Museum, in November. Three of our alumni, Niki Karapanagioti, Alex Winch and Jonny Herman, brought school groups. Not only was it so gratifying to see children back in the building learning about the ancient world, but it was also very heart-warming to see our alumni renew their bonds with the department. Future teacher alumni events are in the planning.
We also enjoyed a Classics for All day on May 19th. Classics for all is the UK based charity which promotes the teaching of classical subjects in state schools. We have been overwhelmed by the interest and the thirst for events such as these. Ninety Year 8 and 9 pupils signed up to come with their teachers and participate in a wide range of sessions, including learning about Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Roman maths and Ancient Greek language. This was a much larger scale event than on previous occasions. It was an event with wide ranging impact, involving sessions for the teachers where we could promote the teaching of classical civilisation and the ancient languages in schools, particularly for those whose schools are in areas of social deprivation. It gave some of our PGT and PGR students the opportunity to teach on the day and our current students the chance to act as student ambassadors. Above all we hope to have inspired the school pupils themselves and encouraged them to aspire to be our students, widening their horizons and giving them a glimpse of the delights of the ancient world.
Jackie Baines, Lecturer in Classics and Departmental Admissions Tutor and Outreach Officer