My week in video conferencing – week 1 of the lock down diaries

Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

Well we’ve not quite finished week 1 of lock down here in the UK, but it does feel like a lot longer.   Zoom is the ‘new normal’ and we are all getting into a routine of queueing to get into the supermarkets. I for one am quite liking the safe distances particularly at the checkouts. I always seemed to have people over eager to get their stuff on the conveyor belt before I had even finished packing never mind paying!

I made a bit of a mental leap last week by thinking about physical not social distancing which is really helping me keep sane about the wider situation.  As I commented in my last post, working for home is my normal status so there’s not been much change on that front, but what and how I am working is evolving. 

If I was wittier, or could sing I would perhaps create a version of the 12 days of Christmas which would go along the lines of  1 teams workshop, 2 google meets, 3 good old skypes, 4 face times, 5 zoo-oo-oooms . . .and a collaborate ultra in a pear tree. 

What has struck me this week is differences in how I am using (video) conferencing technologies, and how my preferences are developing. On Monday Helen Beetham and I ran a workshop with colleagues in Durham University through Microsoft teams. I still feel a bit of a novice with teams and there are some things, like switching been presenting and chatting that I haven’t quite mastered, and feel a bit awkward, but I’m getting there.  The level of engagement we got for participants was fantastic and we incorporated a number of shared google docs which worked well for activities.  In between Helen and I caught up a number of times via Skype which is normal for us, but our daily stories were a bit different as lock down became a reality.   I really enjoyed the ALT drop in session on Friday lunch time (using Collaborate Ultra) – it was a lovely pause from everything just to chat with others and share some experiences. I also had a couple of google meetings with Maren Deepwell about ALT business – but that really is our normal way of communicating.

What has been slightly different for me is the more social side of conferencing. I had a lovely catch up with Allison Littlejohn, Lorna Campbell and Sarah Currier on Wednesday night. I booked a virtual table in our favourite Glasgow hangout and we had a great catch up both despairing at the situation and setting the world to rights, and just sharing what is going on in all our lives right now.

On Thursday I played virtual beetle drive with my niece and sisters. In the middle of that there was the NHS applause event. My sister and niece live in the country so it was lovely to be able to take them “outside” so they could hear and experience the claps, whistles, cheers from my part of the city.  On Friday we all met in again the “virtual foyer” of the Royal Opera House for a drink before a showing of one of the Royal Ballet schools productions on Youtube.  We even got dressed up, so that really changed how we interacted and felt. It’s funny, I don’t really go “out” that much normally, but just following that normal convention of putting on a bit more make up and a smarter top really felt quite exciting and helped to delineate Friday night from the rest of the week.

Like most people I can go for quite a period between seeing friends and family, there is always some level of communication. On reflection, perhaps a bit too much passive interaction through likes and shares on Instagram and Facebook. Now, when it so uncertain when we will actually be able see our family and friends in person the role of video in communication for “seeing” people really is taking on a more heightened significance.

Another first for me this week was doing a virtual fitness class. I normally go to an outdoor class in a local park, but obviously that’s not happening! So they have moved online – with the ubiquitous Zoom. What Facebook is making/doing of my zoom data I dread to think! and I also don’t remember seeing any notification of them about that but of course I guess it’s all in the small print. I’ve been doing 7am sessions and that half an hour has been a great way to start the day.  Again, I’m surprised how quickly I’ve adapted to the format.  Of course there has been an explosion of online “stuff” from online fitness to  music and art lessons, Again all great to see – I wonder how many of these will continue? What will we be the key lessons that we will learn, what will change, what will we forget in our rush to get back to “normal” – or as Kate Bowles in her absolutely beautiful post put it -what will our stories be? Where and how will we share them?

Next week looks like it will be another busy one online with the OER20 online edition. I’m also joining in a panel in a QAA Scotland event. The upside of virtual conferences is that you can be in two locations at once!  

Of course OER20 won’t be on the same scale as the f2f conference but I’m sure there is going to be a flurry of synchronous and asynchronous activity. There is so much learning and sharing of practice  just now – a veritable an explosion of open educational practice –  that I am sure the spaces that the conference will provide will allow for many stories to be shared and created. On a related note, I also recorded a little video message for all our ALT members this week too. Being visible, and having that human face in communication, is so important right now for everyone and every organisation.  

Physical not social distancing: what a difference a word makes #covid19

Photo by Andrea Leopardi on Unsplash

I’ve now got quite a few half written blog posts from the last week trying to share what I am thinking/experiencing around the COVID 19 pandemic.  I keep getting to that point where I don’t really know where to go, so I just stop and don’t hit publish.

It’s been overwhelmingly positive to see the level of care and sharing around supporting staff and students across the education sector and an explosion of resource sharing. It’s really been open educational practice in action on a global scale. So many people have also shared tips on home working which can be a strange experience and lonely place. Of course, currently for many, there is a whole new set of juggling to be done with families all at home, trying to work, do school work, keep active (safely) and sane.

But, and of of course there is a but, in fact several of them! Whilst it’s been great to see so many people sharing their tips for home working,  as I home worker I feel a bit distanced from some of the conversations.  I don’t have/ or am part of a team – through choice! I do work with lots of different people but I took a decision to work on my own, partly so I could focus on other “stuff”.  I don’t really have anything to add to those conversations, it’s all be covered really well. So I’ve just watch/read. RT’d a bit but not been very involved – a bit distant you might say.

For almost a year now I have been self employed, working from home with my own social distancing measures in place. Of course, as they were really only known to me, they were of a totally different scale to what is happening now. I had agency and choice around that decision. Like other home workers, I’ve created my routines that include exercise, plenty of breaks and the realisation that I don’t have to reply to every email immediately.

One of the first things I noticed when I started working for myself was the immediate tail off in emails. It’s amazing how much easier your inbox is to manage when you are not part of a large organisation. That Monday morning, being out of the office for any length of time, email dread disappeared. I suspect that’s not happening for many colleagues who are now working from home. The level of comms/emails has probably just ramped up another notch or seven over the past weeks.

But it’s not just that. Like most people I guess, my emotions have been swaying from keeping calm and carrying on to screaming WTF moments. What if I never work again, how long can I keep paying the mortgage, what support will there be for self employed people, what if I get sick, what if my family get sick, will I ever see my Mum again . . .   

But this afternoon I had a small epiphany.  I was listening to  PM on radio 4 – an increasingly dangerous pass time – and there was an interview with an ex-pat Brit who is in Italy just now. He was explaining what lock down is actually like – no shortages when you go the supermarket, people being let in one at a time, getting permits to go anyway further that 50 meters from your home.  When asked about social distancing, which is all we seem to be hearing about just now, he said (sic) what you should be talking about is physical distancing, that’s what you need to do – keep your physical distance not social distance.  

Reader, it really was one of those light bulb moments.  I think my inner worries have actually been about social distancing and losing connections with people. What I should really be thinking about, and actually what the experts want us to to, is just make sure I’m 2 meters away from anyone when I’m outside.  A small but significant change, which has, for a couple of hours at least, made me feel a bit better about things.  Like Lorna said on twitter  what we need is physical distance and social connections.  


Thanks also to Evelyn who pointed out that the WHO use this terminology too.

Space, places and time(s) for care: some thougths on COVID19 and #OER20

Photo by Jonny Clow on Unsplash

My goodness we are indeed living through strange and “interesting” times. The past week has seemed like a whirlwind of change, closures, delays, bans, and sadly deaths.  COVID19 may not be the deadliest of virus to many, but its global impact is wreaking havoc, not least to education. School and college closures, the rush to the online pivot  . . .

In my self employed status I am not as directly impacted as some of my colleagues, but I am experiencing a knock on effect on the work I have planned over the coming months. More closer to home for me has been the decision around the OER20 conference.  It became clear early last week that running the face to face conference was not a viable option and so the decision was made to refund all delegate fees and to host an online “edition” of the conference.  

Frances has written an excellent post summarising her perspective of the conference and what the move to online could (and should entail). I whole heartedly agree that this online conference should not, and cannot replicate the face to face version. That would be impossible – even for the super hero team at ALT who, like so many in my PLN,  are working flat out at the moment. What I think it can and needs to do is to provide a space for re-focused interactions, sharing of practice, support and most importantly care.  

On Friday evening I participated in the online discussion organised by Mia Zamora and Maha Bali  around Continuity with Care – more info here. What struck me as the nearly 30 or so participants introduced themselves and their current situationwas the similarity of experiences: rapid developments of disaster management strategies and their implementation, the uncertainty of what has/is going to happen, the lack of time to “move online”, and the mutual support and relief to have a safe space to share concerns – particularly concerns around care, accessibility, sustainability and humanity.

The ever wise Kate Bowles highlighted the need for focus on care and importantly care not only for our students but also for our ourselves and our colleagues. There was a sense of this move online being done to students and not with them which of course is creating huge uncertainty. Particularly for those at crucial points in their undergraduate programmes (see Catherine’s post for a great example of this and some really useful resources). 

Moving teaching online did seem to be being equated with “just moving lectures to zoom”.  Which, as many of us know is not really the answer.  Again what came out clearly through the conversation was the care and understanding of the reality of this situation for students. If they are not on campus, we cannot assume that all our students will or can be online at the same time as scheduled classes. They may now have other caring responsibilities, have to change their part time working hours, to support themselves, and may not have reliable access to the internet. The Jisc student insight survey highlighted that one of the most important services HE/FE institutions provide is free (at point of access), stable wifi access.  

Synchronous lectures are therefore not really the answer. More focus on asynchronous activities should really be the focus,  or as Alan pointed out in his recent post  “What we are really faced with is coming up with some quick alternative modes for students to complete course work without showing up on campus.”   That might allow a (re)focus on caring aspects, including self care for staff around actually time spent online. That does take time to work with staff to develop their confidence in doing just that. In terms of sustainability, a focus on broader curriculum/learning design would have longer term impact and be far more sustainable.  

In the rush to get “everything online” are we taking time to build in some evaluation of what is happening? What lessons can be learnt and built on once, hopefully some normality is restored.  Is anyone really counting the time that is actually being spent in this rush to move everything online? What is it actually costing? (Another great tip from Kate was https://clockify.me/ – for this very thing). 

So back to OER 20.  Perhaps we need to be looking at some more asynchronous opportunities there too, to allow delegates to interact at times that work better for their circumstances.  ALTs core values as highlighted in our recently launched strategy include community and participation. I really hope that the online edition of OER20 can provide space(s) and places for colleagues to come together as a community,  to participate, to share with, and about, care. What was clear from the conversation of Friday night is that people need spaces to come together.

I feel confident that building on the success of the ALTs established winter online conference, this online edition of OER20 can and will, provide an exemplar of what an online conference can be and how open-ness in all its forms can help us all during these times.   

Open leadership – reflecting on my role as Chair of ALT (5): Strategy Development

In this, the 5th post in my in my series reflecting on my role as Chair of ALT, I am going to focus on strategy development.  

ALTs new strategy launched last week.  It has been the culmination of nearly 9 months of work, led by our CEO Maren Deepwell, al the ALT staff, the Board and most importantly our members.  Maren has written an excellent overview of the process and the CEO perspective but I want to take a couple of minutes to reflect on it from Chair’s point of view.

Strategy can often feel quite removed from the reality of an organisation. I believe that any strategy has to be a relevant, useful, living document. Our last strategy was developed at the point where ALT transitioned into an independent, distributed organisation.  At that time the Board were committed to ensuring that the strategy document would reflect the values of our new structure and most importantly the values of our members.   

Over the 4 years, it has been a constant touch point for not only the developing work of the organisation but also as a means to evaluate and measure the work and progress that has been made. So when it came round to thinking about the next strategy I didn’t have sleepless nights about the need to change our values or overall direction of our strategic aims.  These have proved meaningful and relevant as our Impact Report illustrates. Being able to publish an impact report alongside a new strategy document is another tangible way that ALT is now able to show value and progress to our members and wider community.

As Chair I was relieved that the strategy development was not bound up with major direction changes and the inevitable “politics” that would have involved. Rather, this time we are building and extending from the secure foundation provided by our existing values of open-ness, independence, collaboration and participation. This ensures a continuity of development and progress.

Ensuring strategic continuity and consensus is, I believe, a major part of successful leadership and a key part of my role as Chair to ensure and lead the Board to consensus. But when you have shared, realistic and meaningful values, that task is much easier. 

I am particularly pleased that there will be a focus on developing an ethical framework for professional practice in Learning Technology across all sectors. In our current context of increased datafication of education it is vital that the ALT community can take a leading role in the development of ethical practice around the use of data. We need to continue to provide spaces for rich discussion, debate, research and practice, to critique and question the role of data, increased surveillance on students (and staff), and challenge the bias that is inherent in so many systems.

Again, it was heartening to hear from the community that the many webinars and connection opportunities that ALT provide are really valued and what they want to see continue and develop.  I have already written about how pleasing it was to see how open-ness has permeated all the work of ALT.  

Building from the success of the last document, we have kept our strategy document short, and have used the services of Bryan Mather’s Visual Thinkery to provide a set of open licensed images. These images encapsulate the essence of the strategy and provide a shared visual language for all our members.

The strategy document itself I believe is the embodiment of our values, and was only made possible by a huge amount of open collaboration and participation.  Given what was achieved over the last strategic life cycle, I can’ wait to see how much progress the association is going to make over the next five years.  Of course I won’t be Chair after September but I do believe that this strategy will provide the new Chair with the continuity that they will need to take the Association to even more success and growth.