Another week of lock down and the death toll in the UK as I write is 40,465. Whilst the UK keeps near the top of the world COVID death charts, chatter around holidays, and air bridges filled the airwaves this week. Why any country would allow people from the UK into their countries right now is beyond me. Why anyone from the UK would want to go on holiday to another country and risk taking COVID-19 there is also beyond me. Meanwhile the slow easing of lockdown continues. MacDonald’s drive throughs opened, many traffic jams ensued. Is this really our new normal?
Of course this week has been dominated by #blacklivesmatter and the growing protests around the murder of George Floyd. The global pandemic has done much to highlight existing inequalities in society. We can’t carry on like this. Like so many I am haunted by the words “I can’t breathe”. Though I didn’t think it was possible, I have been even more shocked by President Trumps reaction to the groundswell of rage and (largely peaceful on the side of the protestors) protests.
I hadn’t heard the term “elite panic” before but goodness me it made so much sense to me this week. Of course what is happening in the USA has resonated here in the UK. The history of black oppression in both countries is intrinsically linked. The “power and glory” of many white men rested on the oppression and death of millions of slaves. Glasgow, the city where I live, was built on the profits of the slave trade. Many of the main streets in the city centre are named after men who made their fortunes from the slave trade.
One part of the current protests has been highlight an ongoing campaign to rename them. Would that make a difference? Just highlighting the connection is a start. I know the renaming of a Glasgow city centre square from St George’s Place to Nelson Mandela Place in the 1980s raised awareness of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Like so many things, education is key to changing society.
People need to understand history and how the current context is intertwined through our shared past. And how history is written and shared – mainly through the lens of the victors. As a white middle class woman I know I need to examine my privilege, the everyday things I take for granted, that others still have to struggle for. We all need to rally against the elite panic, that tries to stop protest under the seemingly logical guise of public health.
However there have been some other things that have attracted my attention this week. I really enjoyed the QAA Scotland Enhancement Themes conference. Some great keynotes and sessions and the recordings are available from the website. Sally Kift’s keynote amongst other things introduced me to “panic-ogy” to describe what has actually happened in HE over the past couple of months. I really enjoyed her call for education to be leading the discussion around what happens in our sector. Her call for universities to be resetting their social contract with their communities really resonated with much of my work and thinking.
One of the highlights of the conference was the day 2 student panel on “student engagement in a time of crisis”. It was really heartening to hear how much they felt they had, and are, involved in the move to remote teaching and the plans for the coming academic year. It was also interesting to hear what they felt had worked well in the move to online delivery.
Flexibility was a common theme, as was the importance communication and the need for multiple spaces for community building. It was also highlighted that many students have had a really positive experience of open book exams (which kind of resonated with this piece on the University of Edinburgh’s teaching matters blog later in the week). There was also agreement that students were “tired of lectures” and really wanted more active learning experiences – both on campus and online.
But how do you teach in physical distanced spaces? Nic Whitton (Durham University) has set up a google doc to crowd source some ideas around this. How we teach, how we think about the use of spaces (both physical and digital), how can we develop timetables to reflect more active learning in multiple physical and digital spaces, are all key issues now.
I found this week hard on many levels, from the big societal issues to the personal, mundane ones. But, as much society and some people dismay me, others give me hope. So thank you to everyone who I spoke to this week who helped to cheer me up and to those who are raising the big questions. In the meantime, dear reader, stay safe.