Educators in lockdown: Skills skills skills!

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.

Head shot picture of Susan Smith

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

10.11.20

Educators in lockdown: living in the unknowing (but finding a better sense of our future and priorities)

This week, we have featured 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 final instalment, she reflects on how, while we are still in a state of ‘unknowing’, we are developing a better sense of our future and our new priorities. You can find Monday’s introductory blog hereTuesday’s instalment on lockdown working as a ‘messy business but getting tidier’ here, Wednesday’s blog about coping better here, and yesterday’s blog about finding new skills here.

Head shot picture of Susan Smith

Our future on campus is still unclear, and we must remain living in this state of unknowing. As I mentioned before, being in the psychotherapeutic state of “the unknowing” has become a valuable but tense reflective exercise and it is different for everyone. We blithely encourage students and colleagues into “reflective practice” on placement experiences, dire critical incidents, academic practice, failures. Now we are having to do it properly on ourselves. Some of the staff interviews I did as part of this research were deeply reflective. The pandemic has made us all dig deep, develop coping strategies to understand the present and make sense of the future.

The pandemic has profoundly changed the way we have worked- just as the Industrial Revolution shifted cottage industries to factories, moving from the country to large cities. The principle remained the same in the 1800s – you still left your home to go to work and returned in the evening. It’s not like that now. We are still primarily working at home. This current state of affairs is going to continue for at least the rest of this academic year and it’s unlikely that full face to face teaching, graduations and large campus meetings will resume any time soon.

Whereas our early days of sudden home working in March were marked by a sense of surrealism and shock, it does seem now, from the interview findings, that the future of our work is slightly clearer. We all would wish to retain this more flexible approach in the future with a mixed diet of home and office working to meet the requirements of the service.

Our interviews have shown how we had adapted and grown. We worry much less about the digital tools collapsing. We are now thinking constructively about approaches to support more robust and engaging blended learning, the future of the TEF & NSS, new ways to enhance continuation and emotional engagement, digital capability and pedagogy, ways to enhance inclusion and the hearing more staff and student voices, building higher level skills into the curriculum and exploring the real value of face to face teaching in a blended curriculum.  

Our priorities as a team, we all agreed, seem to be becoming clearer too.

As we now understand and recognise the importance of emotional engagement and collaboration for ourselves, so must we catalyse it in our staff so they then can model it for their students. As we have in our team stopped feeling overwhelmed by technology, we must now return to the core of our work – being led by the reasoned evidence, the “why? and the pedagogy and focussing much less on the overwhelming “how to…” of the digital tools.

It seems from our rich, qualitative data that we have also recognised we need offer colleagues responsive, pedagogically- led support and ideas tailored tightly to their practical needs. As they learn the new skills to emotionally engage their own students in online learning, we need, in parallel, to emotionally engage our staff colleagues by humanising ourselves, try to reduce social barriers through the screen and illuminate their contribution and discussion.

We press on into a much- changed future and have surprised ourselves by how well we have adapted.

Professor Susan Smith, Associate Director, Centre for Learning & Teaching, Leeds Beckett University

10.11.20

Educators in lockdown: We’re coping better

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 third instalment, she reflects on how, while some jobs lend themselves to lockdown working better than others, everyone is now finding ways to make things work, and has developed new skills. You can find Monday’s introductory blog here, and yesterday’s instalment on lockdown working as a ‘messy business but getting tidier’ here.

Head shot picture of Susan Smith

I wrote in my earlier blog about how initially our super, tech-savvy team members stressed less in the initial months about the digital tools. I think we can safely say now that we have all (including the overtly less technically adept) adapted to using the digital tools for teaching and meetings and are all more confident in their use. Unexpected, triumphant summer successes designing our online conference from scratch to an appreciative pan- University receptive audience boosted our confidence. It was timely, and it was exactly what colleagues needed.

Generally, we all are now sliding seamlessly between Skype and Microsoft Teams, engaging students and colleagues better, using Panopto and quiz tools and bite-sized chunking and working on building interaction with colleagues and students.

It is also clear we are also becoming more confident in making sure our colleagues remain focused on thinking about the pedagogy and letting that lead the way for digital tool choice instead of the other way around.

Professor Susan Smith, Associate Director, Centre for Learning & Teaching, Leeds Beckett University

10.11.20