Another week of lock down and the death toll in the UK is now over 31,000. This weekend we marked 75 years since VE day and the start of the end of the second world war. Over the 5 years of that war, around 60,000 civilians died in the UK. We are over half way towards that number in 3 months.
The reality of our current situation seems to be in a slow state of flux. I see more people outside, in bigger groups, not always physically distancing. The wearing of a mask seems to give some the feeling of invincibility and the right to cut in front of others in the supermarket. But as I keep reminding myself I am one of the lucky ones. I am still working, I am still getting paid.
This week was taken up with the new normal of online conferences. Along with my good friend and inspirational colleague Sue Beckingham I gave a keynote for one of a series of webinars GMIT are hosting to replace their traditional learning and teaching week.
The platform we used was MS Teams, and wouldn’t you know it, despite testing just before the session started, both Sue and I had problems getting our presentations to load. I had hoped to ad a bit of interactivity but had to drop presenting live via mentimeter as I could access my browser from teams. My internet connection also dropped out so I had to quickly switch to using my mobile phone hotspot. The copy of the slides I had emailed got stuck in my outbox because my connection went down, but I did eventually manage to upload them. The reality of the new normal in action. . . When telling my niece about my tech traumas she just replied in the world-weary, we’re using Teams for school just now, average 13 year old tone “yeah, that happens all the time with Teams” . . .
Despite the gremlins the talk seemed to go down well. I really wanted to move away from taking about “online” and the glib ”online pivot” to start thinking more about participation and what that is, and is going to be for our students and staff in the coming year. You can read more here. One of the things I’ve been highlighting in the last couple of talks I’ve given is the need for recognition of what our staff have already done, and that they there needs to be a lot more thought about the practicalities of delivery design for the new academic year.
Again, I am lucky I have a home office, I have a well set “background” for my online interactions. I’ve been having lots of video calls with colleagues who are working from home and the mix of backgrounds (bedrooms, garages, kitchens ) is totally normal and helps to give me an idea of what their current context is. Cats, small children, not so small children all part and parcel of that.
This type of approach is not helpful and really doesn’t make any allowances for the circumstances that we are all living and working in. Where is the sense of care and understanding in this type of “help”? Surely given the stresses of lockdown for everyone, allowing your students to see that you are human and you are working in the same kind of circumstances as them (at home, with others around) is more important than ever.
Playing with various backgrounds in systems such as zoom and teams can provide a bit of light relief. Well, it has for me, and yes, dear reader I did laugh out loud at the balloons background in teams! My laptop is too old to be able to add virtual backgrounds in zoom. We all know when something is fake. Right now, the last thing that any educational interaction can be is fake. We have to acknowledge the reality of our current context.
Until institutions provided staff with the equipment and space to work at home with their approved background, I don’t see how they can even think about tell people what background they should be presenting. What we need to foreground right now is care. Care around the development and recognition the professional skills in designing and delivering appropriate activities and interactions with and for our students. Care for our exhausted workforce who have gone above and beyond in the past few months. Care for the a future where we acknowledge the current societal context we are living in and don’t try to present a fake veneer of some skewed notion of what “professional” education should be.
As ever, I hope you and yours stay safe and well.