Our world is full of stories. The stories we tell, and how we tell them are really important. A story book is a wonderful thing. I was reminded of just how wonderful “a thing” a story book can be early this week at the final project meeting of the EDTL (Enhancing Digital Teaching & Learning across Irish Universities) project. Those of us lucky to be there in person got a physical book of stories about the project. You can read the stories (individual case studies) here.
The forward to the book by the Project Manager, Sharon Flynn, sums up beautifully why this book came about.
” . . .we wanted to tell the stories of all the projects and activities that happened across the 7 universities, over 3 year. At first we tried to tell them ourselves. But telling our own stories is challenging, we are too close, too familiar with the detail, our writing is to academic, and we don’t have the time anyway. So, we recruited a story teller . . .”
In academia we are good at writing, but as Sharon pointed out – at times our writing is too academic, it only makes ” a good story” if you can de-code and demystify the academese.
There are some very talented people who can do just that, and can communicate very complex ideas in ways that are easily understandable. But not everyone has the skills, or the time to do that. The story of the EDTL project is rich, complex and complicated. It’s been driven by human connections, of people overcoming the challenges of the mass dislocation brought about by lockdown and the subsequent colocation through digital technologies.
EDTL created shared pathways, and different ways of “doing” learning and teaching for staff and students. Its story is interwoven with students and staff working as partners. Students being given a voice, being respected and paid for their time, with true co-created outputs. A quick skim of the resources section of the website illustrates that. The voice of the storyteller brings all that complexity together in a seemingly simple way.
EDTL was a wonderful project. Its success in no small part down to Sharon Flynn’s masterful project management. It truly was a pleasure and a privilege to play a small part in it.
But now for the ranty bit . . . I know you have been expecting it, dear reader.
The assumed narratives that surround so much of all our working lives and contexts are powerful drivers for change – or in some cases to retain the status quo. During the panel discussion at the event the inevitable questions about “what next?” came up. I think stories need to be a key part of that.
This project has learnt so much from its student interns. It’s exemplified co-production and the power of students as change agents. The evaluation of their experiences (research conducted by one of the interns) is really worth a read. But there are so many more stories we need to be working with students to develop and share.
A key story (or stories) I think we need to be starting to develop, is the new story of what it means to “be” at university for students right now. It’s not the same as it was this time in 2019, in the pre pandemic, before times. But are we (and by we, I mean university structures) finding it easier to forget the stories, experiences and evidence of the pandemic, and just go back to what it used to be like? The stories we remember of how it used to be?
Remember when we all had a window into our “real lives” where the mess and the realities of family life spilled over into zoom/teams when we were all working from home. Those caring responsibilities haven’t gone away, but it does seem that some of the flexibility that help some people at that time is being slowly eroded.
Everyone has been through a really traumatic couple of years, and it’s not getting any easier. There is a war in mainland Europe, the rise of right wing politics is still on the rise, the cost of living seems to have no plans to stop increasing, the climate emergency is probably beyond fixing, but yet we are still obsessed with sustaining gas and oil. That’s quite a lot to deal with on top of being a student. So many previous certainties have changed.
You can’t guarantee that you will be able to find affordable accommodation once you finish 1st year and can’t get back into halls of residence. It might be in theory easier to get a part time job, but the flexibility that was supported, and students clearly appreciated during lockdown seems to be slowly shut down as the “on campus, in person” mantra (or the old familiar story of what a “proper” university experience should be) is demanded by politicians.
Whilst providing heat banks, ping spaces (with kettles and microwaves), free breakfasts is to be applauded. It does bring with it some questions around the how and what our physical campus spaces are being used.
What is the story of a 2nd year undergrad, who is sofa surfing, working part time and trying to keep up with uni work? What kinds of spaces, times and places for learning work for them. What are their real learning journeys?
I think these are the kinds stories we need to be recording and sharing right now. So as we plan and strategies at university and national levels, we really understand what changes we need to be making to provide the appropriate, flexible, accessible, inclusive learning environments for all our students and staff. We need more stories and story tellers.