This week, we will feature a series of blogs from Professor Susan Smith, Associate Director, Centre for Learning and Teaching, at Leeds Beckett University. Susan first shared her findings and reflections on educating in a lockdown back in May; in this fourth instalment, she reflects on how everyone has developed new skills – social as well as technical. You can find Monday’s introductory blog here, Tuesday’s instalment on lockdown working as a ‘messy business but getting tidier’ here, and Wednesday’s blog about coping better here.
Some members of our team light heartedly mentioned their rusting social skills as we lost opportunistic corridor chats, office friendships and missing the feel of being part of, for now, a whole- university campus.
We have, though, gained other new skills in spades though some felt that this did not compensate. When I reviewed the vocabulary used about the range of skills that colleagues said they’d learnt since the beginning of lockdown, it revealed that initial technical glitches and low confidence have now morphed into more active skill development. We have developed between us a range of nuanced skills- online collaboration, team and project management, time management, prioritisation and looking at new ways to be much more creative and engaging in teaching and in support roles. We have fostered brand new collaborative projects (which seemed lost for ever in the spring) and these are also now emerging from academic staff in the Schools as reinvigorated research and practice enhancement ideas.
We have redesigned our annual pedagogic project funding programme which is now going to focus entirely on ways to improve the online and blended learning environment.
We all want to get better at developing skills which emotionally engage colleagues and students online. We have all noticed (and have figures to support it) how student numbers are increasing in lectures and staff numbers are increasing at meetings and educational development workshops which were patchily attended in the past. It’s easier to fit in meeting or a lecture when you don’t have to travel, find a room and worry whether by it overrunning, you’ll get home in good time. We find attendance is strong with the new blended and online approach, but we still expressed concerns that we don’t really know how students and staff colleagues are really engaging when their cameras are off– does it matter? They are adults and they are consumers, the use of the camera is their choice …That said, we must get better at supporting our staff to help our students to engage with learning sessions as actively as possible, to build online project groups, contribute, and have fun. The same can be said of staff -only meetings- how can we encourage new voices to contribute beyond the conversation panel. Maybe these typed panel conversation comments are the new voices from shyer colleagues who disliked speaking up in large face to face events and meetings. We have learnt that it is important to take these typed comments seriously and diligently note and absorb them.
Professor Susan Smith, Associate Director, Centre for Learning & Teaching, Leeds Beckett University