Tag Archives: General

A time of equity and care?⤴

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On Friday Maha Bali included me in this tweet for an upcoming keynote she is giving. She asked “what is care without equity? what is equity without care?”

As ever Maha’s open practice drew out some very thoughtful responses, some of which she has selected added to her slidedeck .

During the covid pandemic, I have been heartened to see that issues and discussion around care and equity have increased, particularly in my professional network, but also in wider society too. After what seemed like a slow motion couple of days from Tuesday’s US election, the networks “called it” yesterday for the Biden/Harris Democratic ticket. For millions of people in the US and world wide there seems to be a palpable sense of hope, of care and equity.

I feel I have to write something today, but not being a US citizen I can’t comment with any authority on the political situation there. However, as a citizen of the world, and being firmly entrenched in the global north, what happens in the USA does have an impact. And so much of what has happened during the past week highlights many of the issues and tensions around care and equity.

I feel that at his victory speech , President Elect Biden gave threw out a blanket of care:

It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric. To lower the temperature. To see each other again. To listen to each other again, . . . this is the time to heal in America“.

However reassuring millions of Americans (and others) found this, there is (as I write) still a deafening silence from President Trump. His rhetoric of distrust around voting procedures and observers are all lacking any evidence, but are a huge signal of a type of care – self care. Denial is how he protects his ego and his actions when they don’t go as he had hoped.

There are many who have benefited from Trump’s version of care during his Presidency. He “cared” for the conservative right, and skewed the balance of the US Supreme Court. How equitable that will be remains to be seen, but will have consequences for decades to come.

I have no words to describe some the interviews I have watched where Trump supporters have parroted unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. These people care deeply about the election result, unfortunately President Trump doesn’t seem to care about them. His actions aren’t equitable, they are, and always have been focused on self care, and self preservation. He has got away with so much for so long, is this finally the time that his actions catch up with him?

Who knows, but I do hope that the narrative of his Presidency doesn’t follow this tradition and that his defeat is the start of a return or resurgence of more equitable approaches to government across many countries (the UK included), and and the beginning of the end of easy 3 word slogan, right wing rhetoric and a resurgence of debate, discussion, recognition of the need for comprise, of knowledge sharing, of care and equity.

Stack ’em up, zoom ’em down⤴

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Spoiler alert, this post is a mini rant! Don’t expect anything balanced, and because I didn’t get round to writing this last week it’s probably out of date.  
So last week I spotted this tweet from Vicki 

which was a reaction to this tweet from Lawrie 

about the new immersive scenes Zoom are adding to “allow the host to set a custom background theme for their meetings or create layouts where participant videos are embedded within a scene that everyone shares, like a classroom . . .” 

Why? Just why? If you are running a virtual classroom then you and your students are not all in the same room, so why pretend? Why create a false visual hierarchy?  What purpose does it serve except to extend and enhance a false sense of “normality” and control with students neatly staked in rows and the teacher at the “front”. Why try to re-create an old fashioned notion of a classroom and badge it as the “future now”.  

It does kind of remind me of when Second Life was all the rage and there was a trend for universities to build virtual campuses that replicated the physical campus including huge (mostly empty) offices for senior staff.  . .    

But back to Zoom. The newly enhanced creation “thingys” (my choice of technical term)  might be more useful.  They will apparently provide  “animated reactions to make nonverbal communication more noticeable and fun. These animations will also include an audio element (e.g. sound of clapping)”.   Sound of clapping might be nice, for a bit, particularly at online conferences – but I just wonder how long it will take for “noticeable and fun” to become ‘annoying and bland”?  

I just wish companies like Zoom would think out of box just now and not try to stuff us all back into them.  When we do all get back into rooms again, lets hope we don’t just go back to rows of desks . . . I’m now thinking even more about the need for asterisks not straight lines . . .

Teaching in Higher Ed podcast: Time, space and place⤴

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A couple of weeks ago I was delighted to spent a really lovely hour or so chatting with Bonni Stachowiak as part of her amazing Teaching in Higher Ed podcast.

We covered a myriad of “stuff” around some of big questions around time and space and how we are all “being” at university just now. I really enjoyed the conversation – I hope you do too.

We need to talk about “normal”⤴

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Six months after we went into full lockdown in the UK, Covid-19 infection rates are rising, we are under restrictions again, and there is a horrible sense of deja-vu in the air. It’s the same but different. The disease seems closer as halls of residence very close to me are shut and students are told to self isolate as hundreds test positive for the virus.  Questions are being raised as to why the halls of residence were allowed to open in the first place, why did universities open when as one student I have just heard on the radio said “we are just getting everything online”  

Meanwhile I’m still watching Battlestar Galactica. I knew there would be more analogies in it! In the opening mini-series, there are a couple of scenes where the new President of the Colonies meets the military leadership of the battleship. Both are hellbent on “getting back into the battle”.  Laura (the President) says ( a bit of paraphrase here)  I don’t know why I have to keep pointing this out to you, but we have lost the war. ( for those of you not familiar with BSG – all 12 planets of “the colonies” have just been well and truly  nuked by the Cylons, and less than 50,000 humans remain alive.  Bare with me there is a point to this!  

As I watch, read and listen to the news, many commentators are pointing out that COVID-19 and halls of residence were a match made in rapid community spread infection heaven so why did unis open them without testing? Why were they hell bent on getting back into battle or “normal” so to speak? I think it’s time to have some serious discussions about what normal actually is in (higher) education.  

I have had a quote above my desk since lock down start, it says “it the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to”.  After some conversations last week I think that perhaps we have rushed back to our formal curriculum (aka normal) without really considering the wider context in which universities are now operating.  

I can see why, the curriculum is a key focal point to getting teaching back on track. After rush of  the great online pivot, the harsh reality of the transitions is suddenly upon. Getting teaching back to as close to normal delivery of the curriculum as possible is an obvious goal, as is getting as many students as safely as possible back in halls and maybe on campus.

I can’t comment with any authority on the situation in halls of residences just now. I’m sure lots of people have worked really hard to make sure that they were as safe as possible for students. Of course universities wanted them to open again – for one thing they need the money as well as start to “get back to normal”. But things aren’t normal just now and they won’t be for quite a while yet. I suspect we will  have at least a year of various levels of lockdown. Even with a decent testing system in place, everyone is liable to be in and out of work/study for the foreseeable future.  

I don’t think our formal curriculum represented this “new normal”.   We need to start planning for now for no exams next year, making provision for alternative assessment method, taking online learning really seriously and exploiting the benefits and flexibility of synchronous and asynchronous learning.

In couple of keynotes over the lockdown period, I put forward the notion of rethinking the first year experience to allow students and staff to adapt to our new context. To have a focus on well being, developing digital research skills and capabilities and adjusting and sharing how we can adapt and “be” at university in  our new context, the ever changing “new normal”.  

The experience of university for staff and students is different now.   We need to recognise and develop ways to understand and support a whole new set of seemingly smaller (or micro) transitions we are all making now. For example, the transition from you laptop/phone/tablet on the kitchen table when you are “at uni”, followed the transition from your laptop to your laptop/phone/tablet for catching up with friends and family. Same space and device, completely different context.

Where are the spaces where people switch off, socialise. Where are the “leaky” space and places of the formal and informal curriculum? You know the places where you have those serendipitous discussions about one thing that lead you on a completely different direction for your study/teaching/work.  How open are/can we going to be about what we are doing, what we are learning, what we are really struggling with if we hide behind a drive to deliver the “normal ” formal curriculum.

I don’t have any answers to these questions, and obviously not working a university just now I fully acknowledge I am removed from the reality on the ground. But I do think that not being obsessed with getting things as close to possible as they were ( but just online!!) isn’t doing anyone any favours. We need to be creating the new narrative about what the university experience is now, not what it used to be.  

We need to be discussing the digital university in a different context now. And dear reader, with my colleagues Bill Johnson and Keith Smyth I am doing exactly that just now so look out for a new publication in the not too distant future

All this has happened before, all this will happen again – not quite back to the lockdown diaries⤴

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Well dear reader, it’s been a funny old week or weeks maybe. Here in Glasgow we went back into a partial lockdown last week meaning that we can’t have anyone visit our homes – but we can go out an meet people and go to restaurants etc.  I totally got my head around this as the levels of infection do seem to becoming from infections via home visits not through commercial venues. To me going to a restaurant is safer as it has all the safe measure in place, unlike most of our houses. Not saying there not clean or anything but you know, you do tend to relax and maybe not keep to strict physical distancing in your own living room.  

So far so good, but now we are faced with “the rule of six”. Meaning from Monday, only up to six people from 2 households can meet anywhere.  So, we aren’t quite in total lock down, but social restrictions are definitely ramping up. Meanwhile the UK government  continue to use the cover of Coronavirus to deflect attention from their outrageous behaviour around flagrantly breaking international law around the Brexit agreement.  I have a feeling all this will not “all be over by Christmas.”  

All this will give me  (and anyone else with access to the BBCiplayer) the perfect excuse to re-watch one of my most favourite TV shows of all time – Battlestar Galactica (not the original one but the more recent 21st century TV show). Fellow BSG fans will probably have spotted a reference in the title to this post. 

BSG was one of the most interesting (sci-fi) dramas of its time. It was one of the few, if not only US tv series to directly comment on the American invasion of Iraq. It drew really powerful analogies around the concepts of: insurgency, the role and place of invading forces, collusion and related moral/immoral justifications.  I watched much of it via DVD on long train journeys back in the days when I spent a lot of my time traveling between Glasgow and Birmingham in particular!

As we often say context is key, and this time around I will be watching in a completely different context. For one thing I won’t be on a train!  I know “the plot” but this time around the battle to save c.50,000 humans left in the universe will have a completely different context. Will I see the Cylon threat more as the the threat from Coronavirus (not just COVID-19 but all its past and future strains)?  How will I perceive the human refugees in light of our current refugee crisis? 13,000 people  were made homeless again in Greece this year when the camp there were living in was destroyed by fire. Yet I feel too numb to fully comprehend this tragedy as my main media messages are full of “the rule of six”  and “Brexit”, and our UK governments seemingly unstoppable corruption under the guise of “making Britain great again”

What about climate change? PPE, masks, disposable plastic is back with a vengeance under the guise of protection and personal safety – despite them adding our increasingly out of control pollution problem.   Where is our humanity now? what are our shared values?  In our rush to get back to “normal” it seems that closing borders are more important that opening up and sharing. That first rush of compassion and care that the pandemic engendered seems to be evaporating.

BSG has a fair bit of its own mythology and mysticism in it too, including an arc about finding Earth , the fabled 13th colony, that some rogue ancestors founded. The phrase “all this has happened before, all this will happen again”, is quoted in the series. I think it’s from one of “the scriptures”. It’s a line that has stayed with me, and as we move in and out of stages of lock down, it seems apt to our current context.  When and how we will get out of the lockdown cycle I don’t know, but at least I have something to watch and think about for a few weeks, and maybe a new stream of posts . . .

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Care (and some anger) as an energy – a few thoughts from the ALT-C Summer Summit #altc #altcSummit⤴

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In another change to the normal this year, the annual coming together of the UK learning technology community at the ALT (f2f) conference, was postponed and instead last week saw the ALT Summer Summit. ALT is really evolving its online conference capabilities and ways of keep the community engaged and sharing practice. The winter online conference has been growing steadily over the past few years, this years OER event, was an amazing success given the circumstances and incredibly fast turn around from a full blown face to face conference to an online edition.

Of course participation in online conferences is slightly different.  Due to other commitments, I only managed to join the keynotes and final panel discussion live. However, that was more than enough to feel connected with the community, engaged in key issues facing everyone in education (and wider society) just now.  It was just the coming to the end of summer energy boost I needed. 

The theme of the conference, learning technology in a time of crisis, care and complexity was of course perfectly pitched.  Like many during lockdown I found the emphasis on care, for each other, for our families, our communities, our societies, was an unexpected positive aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic. At various times it gave me, hope, a sense of connection and community, and a focus on the really important parts of learning and teaching – human interactions.

Care can manifest itself in many ways, from a simple checking in on people by saying “hello, I’m here if you need me”, to designing learning experiences that take account of changing contextual circumstances.  One example of this was the decision to move to open book exams that many universities took early on in the crisis. The stress caused to students by online exam proctoring was, imho, the antithesis of care  Technology can mediate care but there are complex issues in its use.  The keynote from Bonnie Stewart and Dave Cormier foregrounded care for both students and staff. 

The zoomification of all aspects of professional and personal lives is “the” example of how technology can bring people together. Its ease of use and I guess really being in the “right” online place and price point (40 mins for free – yes, dear reader, I took that!)  at a terrible time negated the security issues that many were highlighting, particularly in March/April.  

Our need to communicate seemed a fair trade off to access to data about where, how, when and with who we were communicating with. What could anyone do with that data anyway? Even the UK government were having Cabinet meetings via Zoom – what more of a seal of approval could you need. They would have checked out all the security issues, all the implications wouldn’t they?  

Our focus on technology during the crisis has also highlighted the many, and sadly growing inequalities in our society around access to data and technology. We may all be in the COVID ocean, but we are not all in the same boats, or even in a boat at all. 

The Q&A session with Angela Saini (btw loved that format) raised many questions and discussions around race, the history and context of scientific and wider history and accountability. There was also discussion around how the current UK government seem to be in thrall of technology, without actually always fully understanding the consequences. The recent exams fiasco in both Scotland and the rest of the UK has highlighted what many in the ALT community and beyond have been saying for a long time around the bias of algorithms.

Algorithms are not neutral, they are the constructs of the many biases of the people who develop and build them.  Diversity is crucial not only in the development of algorithms but in the decision making process around how /when they are used, the interpretation and use of the results.  We need to constantly question the need for, and the use of algorithms and any form of AI.  

Charlotte Webb’s keynote addressed issues of structural inequality in relation to COVID-19 head on as well as illustrating some alternative, feminist based approaches she has been involved in developing such as redeveloping Alexa from a feminist perspective. Both sessions are really worth catch up on if didn’t get the chance to see them live. 

The final panel session  Learning Technology beyond the crisis: Policies for a sustainable future excellently chaired by Keith Smyth, was more focused on the day to day realties for many of the ALT community are facing around policy and, more importantly its implementation, or as Anne-Marie Scott said how can we start to develop policies as “permissive tools”?  Again really worth catching the session if you. 

If you are like me then your emotions will have been all over the place over the past 5 months. I sway from mild panic to almost despair around the apparent rush to get back “to normal”, despite the virus still being in circulation, despite seeing that alternative approaches can work, that “traditional” exams really are high stakes and too often don’t have a back up plan that doesn’t involve chaos, that care is slipping further down the agenda as money and profit assert themselves as the real priorities. However, from events like the summer summit,  I do also get rushes of joy, of care, of a sense that there are better ways for us to live, learn and work together and not go back to the “old normal”.    

I’m also quite angry at times. We all should be angry at lots of things just now and that was brought up in the final panel session too. We need to hold on to that anger too and use it as focus. And as Keith quoted in the session “anger is an energy”  – and angry energy can be a form of care too. 

The upside down and in-between: the uncertainity of where I am right now⤴

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Image: https://strangerthings.fandom.com/wiki/The_Upside_Down?file=Upside-Down-S2.png

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I have been finding the last few weeks as we have moved out of lockdown very unsettling.  Whilst lockdown wasn’t easy, it seemed simpler, with just a few big messages and guidelines to follow. A walk a day, no mixing with other people, just going to the supermarket, moving the majority of personal and professional interactinos online, a rhythm of weekly blog posts.

That has almost all gone. Now, we can go more places, see more people. There is a veneer of “normality”, but it is very fragile.  Whilst others around me seem to embrace this, I am finding it hard. Life isn’t what it was pre lockdown, and it hasn’t yet formed into whatever the “new normal” will be. We are in this strange in-between place, where some things seem almost normal but aren’t. 

For example I went to the supermarket this morning, it was quiet, it was fully stocked, they were clearing out small bags of flour for 15p a packet – no-one was filling a trolley full of that.  Apart from wearing a mask, hand sanitiser and disinfectant spray at the entrance, screens and physical distancing at the check outs, it felt the most “normal” since early March.  I went out for lunch last week, which entailed going into the city centre for the first time in 5 months. Again it was almost normal, bar the face masks on the waiting staff, the hand sanitiser spray at the entrance,  and the physical distancing in the restaurant.

But it’s not normal, and I am finding it all unsettling. I keep thinking of “the upside down” from the TV series Stranger Things. That parallel dimension where all the spooky things live, where something very, very bad wants to destroy “our world”. You really don’t want to get dragged into the upside down

The emphasis on care that was so tangible during lockdown seems to be slipping too.  In our efforts to protect ourselves we are using more disposal plastic than ever, encouraged not to use public transport but our cars. Disposal face masks and gloves are not bio degradable but some people seem to think that they are, just dropping them wherever and whenever they have served their temporary purpose. I have found an outlet to express some of my reactions to this here. But once again it is all very unsettling. The consequences of not looking after our environment are even more dangerous for us than covid, but I feel that  climate change seems to have disappeared into the upside down.

Is the explicit emphasis on care for our students, colleagues, courses going to be just as prominent in the new academic term as it was during lock down? I hope so, but I don’t know.  Will the emphasis on staff support and development in online delivery be sustained or have we “all done the VLE training” now? Will the level of sharing of resources continue or will the drive to survive promote a culture of closed resources? I hope not, but I don’t know. 

I’ve been very fortunate that during lockdown I have had a steady amount of work (that you to all who have employed me over the last few months!)  I’ve had some great speaking opportunities that seem to have resonated and have got good feedback.  At the same time, I have had conflicting emotions of guilt because I’ve not been working 15 hour days, having days full of online meetings, that I’m not doing more or as much as many of my peers seem to be doing coupled with relief that I don’t have to do 15 hour days and have days full of online meetings, etc, etc.

Now I just have a gnawing worry that I might not get any work again as university budget cuts start to hit home.  Am I too far away from the reality of contemporary university life to be of any use?Am I slowing being sucked into the upside down? I can feel myself withdrawing from networks, not contributing. It seems to take more of an effort some days than others to go on twitter, to write a blog post, to voice my opinion. But in order to eat I need to be doing that to let people know that I am here, that I have experience to offer, that I am not an imposter, that I am not going to be trapped in the upside down. 

I’m not quite sure where I am right now, like everyone else I’m just figuring it all out. I hope that in trying to explain and share my feelings might help not just help me, but someone else too. And of course if you think I can help you, please do get in touch and maybe we can save ourselves from the upside down as we navigate our way into whatever our new normal might be.  

Supporting an open covid pledge for education⤴

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One of the positive aspects of the whole covid-19, lockdown experience has been the refocus on care – care for ourselves, our families,our community, our learners, our colleagues. This manifestation of what I would describe as open educational practice is exemplified in the ALT community resources page which is an ever growing, international resource bank of practice sharing.

Today I am delighted to see the launch of a new initiative ( the brain child of Helen Beetham) to try and ensure that this open sharing of practice, research and data continues. This is what this initiative is all about, and I can’t really put it better than this from today’s ALT announcement.

we need more than shared content: we also need credible evidence on which to base day-to-day decisions in practice and policy. We need urgent research into the experiences of teachers and learners. We need shared know-how, especially from experienced online and distance educators and learning technology specialists. (This summer has seen a generous flowering of blog posts, webinars, infographics and how-to courses – but more will be needed as the ‘new normal’ takes root.) Education globally faces many challenges, not only for the people who work and learn in the sector but for whole organisations and modes of learning. Societies depend on education to improve lives, widen economic participation, and support civic life. Education will be critical to the long-term response to the pandemic crisis.”

So please, if you, your colleagues, your institution is/has/is planning to conduct any relevant research, do join the many individual and organisations who have already signed up, and sign the pledge and help everyone in the education sector and beyond focus on cooperation, not competition so we can all really build a better, research informed, future.

You can find out more and sign the pledge here.

Not so easy, and not just on Sunday morning: easing out of lock down⤴

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As you’ll know, dear reader I have tried to document the lockdown with a series of weekly “lock down diary” posts.  After 16 weekly posts, I decided that it was time to move on from that series so I had a bit of break from blogging last week.  

Lock down restrictions are easing not quite daily, but at least weekly.  I suspect there will be more  lifting and res-instating of restrictions  over the coming months as we all are able to do more and more.

I’m finding this hinterland between lockdown and not quite “back to normal” more stressful that the lockdown itself.  I worry about a growing air of complacency, the loss of community caring and support so evident at the start of lock down, the increased lack of safe physical distancing by many, about travel, about the abuse of our countryside , about larger group socialising.  Yet I realise that we can’t live in lockdown forever, children need to get back to school, businesses need to be open.  Maybe I’m just too cautious, but I do worry about the blasé nature of some people I know, and some I don’t.  

That said I am slowly starting to do more myself. I went for a haircut last week, sort of normal but really not that normal at all. Temperature taken before I was properly let into the salon, wrapped up in semi-PPE,  wearing a mask, agreeing to personal data being stored for a short length of time before leaving.  But all worth it for a refreshed head of hair and a proper blow dry! 21st century, global north new normal indeed.  

I also worry about the lack of debate about wider issues in the world just now.  Covid 19 is the ultimate way for governments to shut down debate, to use “national unity in a crisis”  to provide distraction around what they are doing and not doing.

The recent debacle around the report into Russian interference in UK elections is a case in point. The current UK government has stifled,  and try to close down democratic processes and debate like no other I can remember.  It holds one unelected senior advisor  above the standards it expected its citizens to follow and seems to be living in a fantasy world around trade negotiations. Keeping the population obsessed about where they can and can’t go holiday is a very handy distraction.  The normal summer silly season for the media will not doubt be made up of “jolly” quips and pics of the UK Prime minster getting on his bike and jogging to loose his “fatty fifties” blubber

Am I just being paranoid? Maybe . . . maybe I just need to do more too. I am going away next week to visit my Mum. So a full day of travel by car and ferry  – again normal but not so normal with restrictions on ferry passenger numbers and wearing of face masks.  I also worry about work, will I still be able to survive in the coming months? but that’s for another post.

On a more positive note, I had a piece accepted for the current RGI’s first online exhibition, Thoughts are Free which is online until 10 August.  So I’ll leave you with that and I’ll go and try not to worry so much . . . for a bit anyway.

Covid canal 2 – mixed media on paper

The lockdown diaries week 16: the end of this phase⤴

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Another week of easing out of lock down and the death toll  in the UK as I write is 44,819. The death rate is slowly going down, but there were still over 800 deaths this week in the UK. Should I get some comfort that in Scotland there haven’t been any COVID 19 related deaths for 3 days and the rate has been in single figures for the past week or so? I am glad of the divergence in approach, particularly around wearing of masks in shops and enclosed areas, of the all the devolved governments. Though it would seem that is not so popular in Westminster.

Still the easing of lock down continues across the UK. The UK government seems to be taking an out of sight out of mind attitude to it now. Let’s move along to Brexit, nothing to see here anymore around COVID 19 . . .

I have been writing this series for the past 15 weeks, so 10, 774 words later I think this will be the last one, well in this phase anyway. When lockdown started I was, like everyone, anxious, confused, unclear about what it would actually mean. Would I ever work again? I have found writing the weekly posts cathartic and a really useful process for self care. They have helped me focus and balance the at times, hopelessness I have felt about the bigger picture of events around me with my smaller world of work.

Working for myself I don’t have any formal support mechanisms, so being able to reflect on what I have been doing (and thanks to everyone who has and is still giving me work or has asked me to speak at events over the past 4 months) has really helped my mental wellbeing and self care. Care has been so central to the whole lockdown – care for others, for ourselves, I hope that doesn’t get lost as we move forward. Caring for each other and ourselves is going to be so crucial moving forward. We need to make sure we continue to make time to care.

I’m not the best writer in the world, but over the years blogging has become a habitual process for me. I was worried at the start of lockdown that what was happening was so overwhelming it would put me in a state of writing paralysis. I worried about how could I possibly find any words when the world was changing so rapidly, and I would lose another part of my normality. Just taking an hour every Sunday afternoon to write a post provided a focus for writing and keep my blogging habit in tact.

So as I start to do a bit more – haircut is next week – visit to my Mum the week after and a bit of a holiday, I’ll start moving to my phase 2 of lockdown writing. Until then, dear reader, stay safe, and I’ll leave you with a little work cloud of the past 16 weeks.

word cloud of my lockdown diaries