Not so easy, and not just on Sunday morning: easing out of lock down

As you’ll know, dear reader I have tried to document the lockdown with a series of weekly “lock down diary” posts.  After 16 weekly posts, I decided that it was time to move on from that series so I had a bit of break from blogging last week.  

Lock down restrictions are easing not quite daily, but at least weekly.  I suspect there will be more  lifting and res-instating of restrictions  over the coming months as we all are able to do more and more.

I’m finding this hinterland between lockdown and not quite “back to normal” more stressful that the lockdown itself.  I worry about a growing air of complacency, the loss of community caring and support so evident at the start of lock down, the increased lack of safe physical distancing by many, about travel, about the abuse of our countryside , about larger group socialising.  Yet I realise that we can’t live in lockdown forever, children need to get back to school, businesses need to be open.  Maybe I’m just too cautious, but I do worry about the blasé nature of some people I know, and some I don’t.  

That said I am slowly starting to do more myself. I went for a haircut last week, sort of normal but really not that normal at all. Temperature taken before I was properly let into the salon, wrapped up in semi-PPE,  wearing a mask, agreeing to personal data being stored for a short length of time before leaving.  But all worth it for a refreshed head of hair and a proper blow dry! 21st century, global north new normal indeed.  

I also worry about the lack of debate about wider issues in the world just now.  Covid 19 is the ultimate way for governments to shut down debate, to use “national unity in a crisis”  to provide distraction around what they are doing and not doing.

The recent debacle around the report into Russian interference in UK elections is a case in point. The current UK government has stifled,  and try to close down democratic processes and debate like no other I can remember.  It holds one unelected senior advisor  above the standards it expected its citizens to follow and seems to be living in a fantasy world around trade negotiations. Keeping the population obsessed about where they can and can’t go holiday is a very handy distraction.  The normal summer silly season for the media will not doubt be made up of “jolly” quips and pics of the UK Prime minster getting on his bike and jogging to loose his “fatty fifties” blubber

Am I just being paranoid? Maybe . . . maybe I just need to do more too. I am going away next week to visit my Mum. So a full day of travel by car and ferry  – again normal but not so normal with restrictions on ferry passenger numbers and wearing of face masks.  I also worry about work, will I still be able to survive in the coming months? but that’s for another post.

On a more positive note, I had a piece accepted for the current RGI’s first online exhibition, Thoughts are Free which is online until 10 August.  So I’ll leave you with that and I’ll go and try not to worry so much . . . for a bit anyway.

Covid canal 2 – mixed media on paper

The lockdown diaries week 16: the end of this phase

Another week of easing out of lock down and the death toll  in the UK as I write is 44,819. The death rate is slowly going down, but there were still over 800 deaths this week in the UK. Should I get some comfort that in Scotland there haven’t been any COVID 19 related deaths for 3 days and the rate has been in single figures for the past week or so? I am glad of the divergence in approach, particularly around wearing of masks in shops and enclosed areas, of the all the devolved governments. Though it would seem that is not so popular in Westminster.

Still the easing of lock down continues across the UK. The UK government seems to be taking an out of sight out of mind attitude to it now. Let’s move along to Brexit, nothing to see here anymore around COVID 19 . . .

I have been writing this series for the past 15 weeks, so 10, 774 words later I think this will be the last one, well in this phase anyway. When lockdown started I was, like everyone, anxious, confused, unclear about what it would actually mean. Would I ever work again? I have found writing the weekly posts cathartic and a really useful process for self care. They have helped me focus and balance the at times, hopelessness I have felt about the bigger picture of events around me with my smaller world of work.

Working for myself I don’t have any formal support mechanisms, so being able to reflect on what I have been doing (and thanks to everyone who has and is still giving me work or has asked me to speak at events over the past 4 months) has really helped my mental wellbeing and self care. Care has been so central to the whole lockdown – care for others, for ourselves, I hope that doesn’t get lost as we move forward. Caring for each other and ourselves is going to be so crucial moving forward. We need to make sure we continue to make time to care.

I’m not the best writer in the world, but over the years blogging has become a habitual process for me. I was worried at the start of lockdown that what was happening was so overwhelming it would put me in a state of writing paralysis. I worried about how could I possibly find any words when the world was changing so rapidly, and I would lose another part of my normality. Just taking an hour every Sunday afternoon to write a post provided a focus for writing and keep my blogging habit in tact.

So as I start to do a bit more – haircut is next week – visit to my Mum the week after and a bit of a holiday, I’ll start moving to my phase 2 of lockdown writing. Until then, dear reader, stay safe, and I’ll leave you with a little work cloud of the past 16 weeks.

word cloud of my lockdown diaries

The lockdown diaries week 15: still not normal . . .

Another week of easing out of lock down and the death toll  in the UK as I write is 44,198.  There are still over 100 people dying everyday in the UK from COVID-19, this is not over. Lock down restrictions are lifting across the UK and different paces.  Non essential shops opened this week in Scotland. I found seeing shops open a heartening sign but to be honest it also made me feel a bit uneasy. From next Friday it will be mandatory to wear face coverings/masks in shops in Scotland.  Again, I am fine with that, but I do have worries about the invincibility behaviour some people seem to demonstrate when wearing masks – no need for physical distancing, no need for hand sanitizer, or washing hands.

The death rate in Scotland is now very low, and the impact in divergence of approach from the UK government is becoming more apparent. I just hope that the  rush to “get back to normal”, economic factors will be prioritised over health priorities.

As we get back to some sort of normal, I have become quite nostalgic for some of the elements of the early days of lockdown – little or no traffic, saying hello to people you passed as you were out for your daily walk on the canal, and people smiling and saying hello back with that knowing understanding and shared relief of being allowed to be outside for a bit.   Not being able to go anywhere, see anyone was easier in some ways easier than working out who and when you can see now . . .

Overall though, this has been quite a good week for me work wise.  I gave a keynote at the London Met Teaching and Learning Conference on Tuesday. It built on some of the ideas I presented earlier this year at the GMIT event, particularly around notions of “being and belonging” at university (both physically and digitally) for students and staff. This is going to be quite different as we move forward, and we really need to make sure we are giving our students and staff plenty of time to become confident and comfortable with the spaces and places they will be “be” at university from now on.

The first local lockdown in Leicester  this week also highlighted the need for flexibility. Staff and students could be off campus again at very short notice, so we need to be prepared for that and really seriously think about design and refocus on our current context, notions of care, inclusion, accessibility as we expand our notions of curriculum development and day to day delivery.

It’s always nice to get positive feedback from any speaking event, but I was thrilled to get almost instant positive feedback afterwards, and I’m looking forward to speaking with a smaller group of colleagues from there later in the month.

On Friday I was part of a panel in SEDA webinar about the challenges and opportunities facing educational development and learning technology just now.  Here’s what I hoped to say.  One of my fellow panelists, Teresa McKinnon wrote a really powerful reflection of her experience with a slight tech glitch, and the need for ensuring we care for our students when they are using technology, give them lots of opportunities to build up their confidence and get things wrong and cope with with in low stakes activities before getting them to do high stakes activities.  We need to keep reminding ourselves that whilst a lot of us have been having zoom-tactic times over the past few months, not everyone has, and using any kind of technology in an educational context changes everything.

What the future of our new normal will be in education is still up for grabs. I can recommend this paper by Eamon Costello and colleagues, a re-imagining of how things might turn out.  I was thrilled to see this published, and also to be given such a lovely acknowledgement – I am seriously considering changed my bio to “Thought-smith Sheila-who-sees-MacNeill

I feel that the lockdown context is changing too, so this might be the last in this series of posts. Maybe I’ll do a final reflection next week. Until then dear reader, stay safe. I’ll leave you with a song that might be one of my favourites over the past few months.

The straight lines or the asterix: some thoughts on time, space and place

On Friday 3 July I was delighted to be a part of the panel in the second of an occasional series of webinars hosted by SEDA. Theme of the webinar was educational technology and educational development:challenges and opportunities. More information and a recording of the session is available here. Many thanks to SEDA for hosting the session, to all my fellow presenters and everyone who attended and engaged so readily and thoughfully with all of my fellow speakers.

Speakers were given 5 minutes to share their views, which is not very long. I perhaps rather foolishly said that I would look at some of the broader issues I feel that everyone, not just educational developers and learning learning technologists, need to be giving really serious consideration to right now – time, space and place. It’s hard to to do justice to those themes in 5 hours let alone 5 minutes, so below is what I hoped to say – some of it I had to cut due to time. It should take less than 5 minutes to read.

I have the pleasure of being first to speak this afternoon, so please bear with me, and indulge me as I go backwards to think about how we go forward in relation to what I feel are our most pressing challenges – time, space and place.

Now the past few months have indeed been strange times – in all aspects of our life, not just in educational development. With lockdown everyone has forced to work at home – with the rest of our families.  Our traditional spaces, places and times of work were taken away from us as quite short notice, and it’s still unclear when and how we will get back to them. In the short to medium term if, and when we do, it will be in quite different contexts and times.

Time is always an issue in educational development – there’s just never enough time to try something new, to find out how to do that thing in the VLE,  to integrate more active learning, peer assessment, whatever . . . But over the past 3 months people have had to find the time to do all sorts of things, particularly with technology that they previously never had the time for before. That has meant moving into new and not so new spaces and places that many had previously never been too.

One of the ways I have been spending my time during lockdown is listening to more radio, podcasts and radio theatre, and one of the best things I have experienced is a play called Adventures with the Painted People (by David Greig) part of a series of works called Culture in Quarantine, from the BBC.

It’s set at the time of the Roman invasion/incursion in Scotland,  and it’s set in the village of Kenmore. It is a basically a two hander between Eithne, the village witch, and a Roman official and wannabe poet,  Lucius. who Eithne has got some local lads to capture.  Eithne wants to find more about the Romans and much of the play is centred around the differences between their two cultures.

One of the things that strikes Eithne about the Romans is their apparent obsession with straight lines, she says quite early on in the play

“ the world’s not straight, it wiggles”  When I heard that, I thought that is so true – how wiggly has our world been of late?

Lucius tries to explain history to Eithne, a concept that is quite alien to her.  To explain he draws a line, a time line, marking events. In response she draws her version of time and says  “time looks like this”, to which Lucius says, equally baffled  “that’s an asterix”  and then Eithne replies

 “everything that has ever been leads inevitably to one place – here and now”

Now this little exchange really resonated with me and has stayed in my mind since I heard it. Over the lockdown my notions of time have really changed – and I know I’m not alone. March seems, not like a couple of months ago but at times like years ago. I feel like I flit from one thing to another – and the connections between space, place and time have become far more fluid.

So as we go forward we really need to give far more serious consideration to notions of time and move away from our “straight lines’’  – of the default 1 hour allocated time slots, the dominant line from 9-5. 

Now if we were Pictish witches like Eithne, we would be able to free our minds and swim through rivers or fly over mountains to do that, but as we’re not we do need to look to technology help us do that. To help us find and understand the intersections between time, space and place, but most importantly to help us focus on people on connecting and sustaining our emerging hybrid communities of learning.  

I think we don’t  want to get obsessed with tech but I think moving forward, taking some time to reflect on how, where and when our staff and students are using and moving between spaces and places, both physical and digital, is going to be really important to help us rearticulate what the student experience (and ergo the teaching experience) is evolving into.

Maybe we should start to think about how to allow for digital desire trails or elephant paths to emerge. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, (and I always think of the wonderful Kate Bowles when I talk about them as she introduced their actual name to me)  desire paths or elephant trails, are those not hand- made but foot or boot- made paths you see that cut across the formal pavements or paths around green spaces on campus or actually around any building complex with green space -even parks. Are their digital equivalents?

But the straight lines can’t be kept at bay for long. The edtech companies, the bigger powers that surround us, that fund us, they want the straight lines – they can’t cope with the wiggles. The want to give us neat, ordered straight lines – to create new narratives, to help us fix and bring about our new normal. But going back to Eithne, she says history is our stories, our songs, it is all around us, constantly evolving.

We need to be sharing our stories, singing our songs more than ever and I know that many people are researching experiences of staff  and students during lockdown we need to be sharing the data from these projects as openly as possible so we can learn together, and evolve our practice.

So let’s look to the asterix not the straight line, and find ways to share our stories, explore new desire paths that allow us and our students to move in and around  spaces and places at times that work for all of us. Let’s  focus on our communities, and finding the ways  that lead us all  to our here and now, wherever and whenever that may be.