It’s the people who are key

I’ve been a little quiet on here recently, in part, as this year has been very much of a groundhog one. It feels that I’m doing the same thing, over and over – not always getting very far. [Though stepping back, we’ve come a long way]
Several of the posts I’ve read in the last few weeks, and discussions at work, have focussed on the importance of people. We might be scattered for now, but we’re still very much of a community. There are some key points I’ll make, though I rather suspect others reading this will be of a very similar mindset: 

Everyone one is vulnerable

Paul Prinsloo made the point strongly in a presentation for TeachOnlineCa’s webinar series that we need to really understand our students’ vulnerabilities, and thus the risks they’re taking when studying. During this, I, and a colleague reflected that before that, staff need to understand their own vulnerabilities. We’re all facing a multitude of issues, recognising them is key to enabling us, as staff, to support each other, so we can then support the students. 

Simone Buitendjk (VC at the University of Leeds) focussed on the huge stresses we’ve been put under in a powerful post, recognising that it’s OK not to be able to fix everything, while Marie Kendall-Waters recognises the need to take time for ourselves. That’s something that Dundee is encouraging both staff and students to do, as part of OPD’s “Well together week”.

Communication

Critical to all of this is communication; one of the frequent comments I see from students is that they don’t like to put on their cameras for online sessions. As with other institutions, our recommendation is generally that staff should be sensitive towards students, as they may have any number of reasons for not wanting to share their cameras. One of the issues is the very real reluctance to let the others see personal spaces. We use Collaborate for most teaching – which, unlike Zoom/teams, doesn’t have backgrounds/blur built in – though Matt Deeprose from Southampton has a potential solution. Often, this reluctance is part of the vulnerabilities that I’ve already mentioned. Staff, on the other hand, find it’s very difficult communicating with a void. The phrase “can you hear me” is likely to be one of the phrases of 2020, for, while we don’t like to be interrupted, it’s just as unnerving to have no feedback at all. Is seeing your students just the need to have some feedback, or does it move towards monitoring, or even surveillance (Engageli looks like a really promising approach for teaching, but that’s for another post!)

The new workplace

One aspect of getting students used to cameras is that in the workplace it’s increasingly expected. As teams are using cameras for effective communication in the workplace – particularly when working remotely (rather than their employers using them to monitor activity), should we be supporting students to learn how to effectively use cameras for online conferencing, just as we support them to write reports (as well as academic essays) or to give presentations?

This all, however, revolves ultimately around people. People, whether staff or students, are all individuals. We all have our own preferences, we all have our own issues that others don’t know about. Working remotely means that we all have to try harder than before to understand each other, to recognise the immense pressures we’re all under during times of such rapid change and uncertainty. 

Put people first – but don’t forget yourself. 

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