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.   

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