This week I was delighted to join colleagues at the University of Worcester and give the opening keynote for the learning and teaching conference. My talk built on the themes I have been thinking about and talking about this year – mainly reflecting on what being and belonging at university (for students and staff) actually is and will be, the role of critical and public pedagogy within our curriculum. COVID 19 has impacted everyone and every discipline, we should harness that as well as our students lived experiences. We need to embrace uncertainty as we move forward. Whilst it is very tempting to wish for everything to go back to ye olde golde pre pandemic on campus day, our immediate future is still quite uncertain so flexibility is going to be key. After the year we have had, If now isn’t the time to radical change then I really don’t know when is. Remembering too that radical change can be comprised of relatively small pieces too.
Before I gave my talk yesterday, I spotted an article from the Irish Times reporting on a recent speech by the Irish President (Michael Higgins). He said:
“We have an opportunity in the wake of the Covid pandemic, with all its personal, social and economic consequences, to reclaim and re-energise academia for the pursuit of real knowledge; unbiased study that can yield insights that may be applied for the enrichment of society in its widest, in its most all-encompassing definition, and enabled to address our great challenges. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that should not be squandered.”
I wish politicians the UK were as eloquent about the role and purpose of academia in its broadest sense!
You can access my slides with feedback here, and the basic deck here ; and for the all important image to this post, I did want to reflect on how quickly language has evolved over the past 15 months. So, here is word cloud of words and phrases that are now part of the delegates everyday vocabulary. I’m sure more than a few will be familiar to you too!
This month marks my 2 year anniversary as and independent digital learning consultant. What with “everything” that has happened over the last year, I’m very glad that I am still here, in every sense, still managing to make a living, and still able to pursue my development as an artist.
I know everyone felt disconnected last year, but not working “in” an institution I did feel a different sense of disconnection from my peers. I felt relieved as I watch/read/listened to colleagues sharing their experiences, the additional workload, that I didn’t have those pressures to deal; as well as a huge sense of guilt about not being able to do more to help. I also had a worry that I wouldn’t have my “how I coped with the pivot” battle scars , so would maybe be seen as irrelevant, and no one would want to employ me post pandemic.
My term of office as Chair of ALT also ended last year, that was in a sense another loss for me. More a loss of structure as ALT provided me with a very regular set of meetings. After 3 years as Chair, it was time for me to go and I was more than happy to pass the baton on as they say.
Of course I had (and continue to have) a whole different set of pressures that any independent business has to deal with. My working life is always going to be precarious, but that’s my choice and I knew that when I gave up my job.
One small thing I was able to do was share some of my feelings via this blog and I was surprised and touched by the number of people who sent me messages thanking me for sharing how I was feeling and experiencing “stuff”. That helped to give me a continued sense of connection and empathy with my PLN, which when you work by yourself has an additional importance. I think we’ve all had feelings of being lost and alone over the past year but when you are “in” an institution it can be hard to talk publicly about what you are experiencing.
Overall though, I have been really lucky in being able to continue to get work that is both interesting and worthwhile. The beginning of the year was quiet, however maybe that’s just a cycle I have to get used to. I’ve also done a number of keynotes which is great, and I think being “on the outside” does provide additional ways to provoke thinking about “stuff”. Over the past year I’ve also been able to work with the wonderful Helen Beetham which has just been a joy.
So I just want to thank everyone who has invited me to speak at their conferences/events over the past year, and everyone who has and continues to employ me (new clients always welcome!), everyone who shares, comments and answers my questions here and on twitter. Your continued support is very much appreciated.
Earlier this week I once again joined a great set of speakers (Maha Balil, Leigh Graves-Wolf, Martin Weller, Mark Brown & Frank Rennie) to almost a year to the day, take part in Gastas Goes Global 2. The brain child of Tom Farrelly, Gasta sessions are basically a set of short (5 minute) presentations, with lots of audience participation counting speakers in and cutting them off if they exceed the time limit. You can read more here.
This year the online organisation and facilitation really moved up a notch (tho’ it was pretty impressive last year too). So many thanks to everyone involved in the set up, streaming and feedback of the event. Having a 5 minute time visible on screen was both useful and slightly panic inducing. Particularly when it got to a minute and you still had about another 5 minutes of “stuff” to say!
Another addition this year is an open book to accompany the event. All the speakers have been asked to submit an article based on their presentations. I’m glad of the opportunity to do that as I did have to cut out quite a bit of what I had planned to say. More of that in another post!
In Tom’s introduction he said that one year on, this was a chance to reflect, to review and most importantly share experiences of the past year. One point I wanted to make, but I don’t think I got over as well as I’d hoped is that although it felt like everything changed last year, it also feels like nothing actually changed either. . The oil tanker of education (particularly higher education) is still traveling on the same, well worn route. There hasn’t (as yet) been widespread changes to core curriculum, to our “scheduling” of teaching, to notions of what “being” a student is now. But maybe I just haven’t seen them yet. The disruption of lockdown hasn’t really invoked any radical changes to the overall structures of our education systems. But, again maybe that’s just my interpretation, so please contradict me and challenge me, dear reader.
One element I that I know I did rush through was the importance of community. That has been so important for everyone in and outwith education. The Gasta itself is/was/ such a fabulous example of community action, generosity of spirit, of expertise, of time, of kindness, of care, of good humour and most importantly sharing. For me it was another energising experience. From the focus of care from Maha, to the wonderful poetry to help soothe the soul from Leigh, to the unexpected analogies with Jaws from Martin, all the speakers brought a wealth of stimulating thoughts to the session.
At the start of my talk I said I was tired, but on reflection, I think weary is a more accurate word to use in my context. I’m weary of lockdown, of restrictions, of missing places and people. I’m also wary of what might actually be ahead. There is some hope, but we are not over “all this” yet.
So many thanks to Tom and all team for putting on such a great event.
Here’s a link to my slides, and yes they are the same ones I used last year, which I felt was appropriate, as I’m still wondering “so what now?”
Today, March 23rd marks one year since the UK went into lock-down. My memory of that day last year is a bit hazy, it was expected but still quite unbelievable. I remember walking incredulously past long queues of cars waiting to get free food from the well know fast food outlet nearby. I remember the slightly surreal feeling of locking the door and wondering who/when would be able to cross over it again. I hoped that it would indeed “all be over by Easter”, but part of me knew that it wouldn’t. I didn’t expect to still be in lock down this Easter.
So much has changed, but so little has too. The most shocking aspect to this whole year is the tragic number of deaths. Over 126,000 in the UK – and it’s still increasing. I remember the shock I felt about a year ago when some scientists were saying 50,00 would be a good outcome for the UK. In retrospect it would have.
Almost a year earlier I had already made the move to home working so I was lucky to have my working space all sorted, and work to do. Seeing and hearing colleagues and friends struggle with home working, home schooling, lock-down life has at times been heartbreaking, at times heart warming.
Today, tho, I am drawn back to this quote I spotted last year. Over the past year I have worried about our obsession with “getting back to normal” – particularly in education. So today I am really considering what part of “normal’ I want to get back to, and what I will be forced to!
Martin Weller is writing a book about metaphors and edtech. In his now customary way of book writing, Martin is blogging about the work as it progresses (such a great example of open practice). As I’m a bit of a Star Wars geek, a tweet last week “Death Star vs Storm Trooper investment ” caught my eye as I scrolled through my twitter feed. It’s a good analogy, particularly as it ends with the need for investment in people not just great big scary, planet destroying machines, filled with homogenous white suited soldiers with really bad aim.
I’m sure there is another one, or three, equally valid metaphors relating the Rebel Alliance, that would highlight the need for creativity, for “resilience” in times of adversity, for openness, for diversity for actually be able to hit something with your laser gun. But it’s been a long week and I don’t have the energy to write that.
Alan Levine has also been thinking about metaphor this week too with his Dead Professors Society post. Alan highlighted a bit of a sensationalised story about recordings of a deceased professor being used to “replace faculty”. Of course, the truth is a bit more nuanced – and it’s great that the comments explain more too.
So whilst I am as much of a fan of metaphor as the next person, and I am looking forward to reading Martin’s book, I am struggling with them just now. I’ve found this last week in January particularly hard going. The combination of the confirmation of the UK “winning” at COVID as we sail past the 100,000 death toll, dark nights, continued lockdown, and well, you know January – least we forget January is always a bit of a depressing month – have all got to me.
However, I know I am very fortunate, and I am quite good at giving myself a bit of slack then a good talking to, to get me back on track. There’s a metaphor for that I’m sure too . . .
Trouble is, when I try to think of metaphors for what is going on just now I can’t. Well, I can but they are usually linked to dystopian nightmare narratives. “This” is not like anything else I’ve ever experienced. And I am one of the very lucky ones. I’m healthy, have a home, a dedicated workspace, internet connection, food, enough work to pay for that, family and friends. I even have the added luxury (or conceit?) of being able to ramble on about “stuff” and publish it.
As ever I’m not quite sure what I am trying to say in this post, but I think it’s something about maybe not looking for metaphors for what is going on just now, but spending some time working out just what is actually happening and how it is actually affecting people – particularly with regards to education.
A theme (perhaps provocation) of a number of keynotes I gave last year was around understanding our new ways of “being” – being at school, at work, at home, being in lockdown. What that actually meant, how we were or weren’t coping/adapting to and with those significant changes.
In her recently published paper “ There is no ‘virtual learning’: the materiality of digital education, Lesley Gourlay presents a powerful argument and narrative for the need to broaden our conceptions of digital education that are grounded in what is actually happening just now. Lesley presents the need examine the “entanglements” of our digital and physical experiences.
I think that’s what I need right now. Because it’s only by understanding “all this” that any of use will be able have an useful metaphors. In the meantime, for a bit of this Saturday afternoon I might just escape to a galaxy far, far, away . . .
Thanks to the Timehop app I was reminded today that a year ago I gave not 1, but 2 keynotes at Heriot Watt University. One was online, quite early in the morning for their Malaysia and Dubai campuses, the other a bit later in the day on the Edinburgh campus. Yes, dear reader, I was in a room with actual people in it who weren’t physically distanced!
The theme of new year resolutions was chosen to help promote and raise awareness of a digital learning initiative that the Learning and Teaching Academy were launching. How little we knew then about how much, and how fast things would change.
In my talk I talked about how to balance the at times seemingly “big” challenges strategy documents bring with the reality of doing seemingly small things, which can often make quite “big” differences in how you teach and how your students engage.
Obviously, a year ago I had no idea that we were actually on the cusp of a global pandemic. COVID 19 still seemed quite distant, mainly affecting China and some cruise ships. I had no idea how rapidly attitudes to digital learning would have to evolve. The LTA Team did an outstanding job last year of providing support with and for their teaching colleagues and students, particularly with their awarding winning project Supporting Student Learning Online . A fantastic set of openly available resources.
As Martha highlighted in her tweet, a huge amount was done in a very short time. There wasn’t really the luxury to focus on just one or two things, everyone had to get up to speed and online. Phil made a good point about big changes and small ideas.
Looking back at the slides and my notes, I think the overall sense of it is still ok, particularly the focus on humanity first. The importance of human contact and care has really been brought to the fore during 2020. Though, I still think we haven’t quite got there. I know of far too many friends and colleagues in HE whose default working day seems to have extended too long – both in terms of daily hours, and in terms of the length of time “all this” has lasted. A 15 hour day isn’t normal, isn’t sustainable and shouldn’t be expected. Neither should days filled with back to back online meetings. I also don’t think I explicitly mentioned equity in the talk, and I would definitely do that now.
I hope there is some time this year for reflection on what happened last year. I hope that there is an acceptance that “normal” is a very long way away, that there are some serious discussions about how to adapt now old curriculum to the current realities of our working/learning/teaching/living spaces and places.
So maybe instead of resolutions this year we all should be making sure we have time for some reflections about what we really should be taking forward this year.
I don’t need to tell you, dear reader, that this has been a funny old year. Over the festive break I have really managed to switch off, stop worrying all the time and have a bit of a rest. Of course in any year, we all need a bit of a break at mid winter, but this year I think we’ve all needed it more. The rituals of the holidays, despite the constraints of travel and numbers of people allowed to mix, can still provide some comfort.
One of my rituals, for the past 5 or so years is to re-read one of my favourite books from my childhood – The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper. In fact I tend to read all 5 in the series. I know I’m not alone in this, there even is a #thedarkisreading for other who do the same.
Like any classic, every time I read it (and the others) I find something new to reflect on, and I am comforted by the power of the writing. The Dark is Rising is set around Christmas, so is of course very seasonal. At its heart is the eternal battle between the forces of The Light and the The Dark. The latter wanting to cause chaos and destroy mankind, the former to protect it.
Over the last couple of years, there have been a number of contemporary analogies to be drawn with the forces of The Light and The Dark. And of course this year, it’s hard not to see the hand of the Dark Lords in the COVID-19 virus and the chaos and death it has, and continues to wreak.
In the book, The Dark creates a huge snow storm that traps people in their houses, the menace of the storm never ending, whirling around, trapping everyone. Most humans are unaware of this battle between Light and Dark – apart from the band of children who feature in the books – but the forces of both The Light and The Dark are represented, at times amplified in human behaviour. The Dark feeding off and encouraging hate, selfishness and greed, the Light bringing care and hope.
When I see news reports of panic food buying, of the ever increasing wealth of tech billionaires, and the increasing divides in our society, I can’t help but think of the forces of The Dark. The Light fights back, but it is an uphill battle.
The books were mainly written in the 1970’s, another time of struggle for many, and this year I was struck, particularly in the last book of the series, Silver on the Tree, with a section explicitly on racism. The language of ignorance and fear it highlights is sadly just as prevalent today as when it was written, however I do hope that BLM is part of The Light’s challenge against this and language and understanding is shifting.I also discovered a fantastic Blacklisted podcast discussing the book which is really worth taking an hour to listen to too.
Now you might be wondering what is the point of this post, but it relates to one theme I that is always with us, but this year has been particularly prescient, and that is time.
This year time has really shifted. The time we spent at our screens, the times we could or could not meet with others, the time where work, family, play, everything, seem to merge into one. The Dark is Rising Sequence also has its fair share of time travel. One of the powers of the Lords of both the Dark and the Lights have is the ability to freeze people in time whilst they, for want of a better word, do and talk about “stuff”. No harm is done to those who are frozen in time, they don’t even realise what has happened and can carry on as normal.
“Normal” – now there’s word for this year! As I’ve taken some proper time out over the past week, I can’t help wishing I had the power to freeze time. I would love to give everyone particularly in education a bit more time and space to stop, breathe and think. To stop trying to carry on “as normal” when normal is still a long way off. To give a bit of time to think how to really change things to reflect our current context. To disentangle ourselves from the deeply entrenched, but now perhaps misguided rituals, for example, exams.
Some business had to shut down during the first lock down and were able to take time to figure out how to operate in a very different environment. Education hasn’t been given that opportunity – it’s had to soldier on. I’m not sure how long it can without a radical re-think. Technology can help but we have to be wary. The forces of The Dark and The Light are fighting a battle there too for equity, for freedom, for care, for access to data.
Anyway, I hope, dear reader, that you have managed to get some time to rest this festive season and have found some comfort too. I wish you a very safe New Year and let’s hope that the forces of The Light start to talk hold in 2020.
NB The first of book of the Dark is Rising Sequence I read was Greenwitch, It had a profound effect on my 10 year self So much so that many years later, I did feel a resonance of The Light when this little landscape formed in my head and onto canvas.
The education system is notorious for its ‘new initiatives’. Understandably, we repeatedly aim to raise attainment by motivating the less than enthusiastic learner, but instead produce short-term solutions that rarely fulfil this expectation. Each decade or so we find that success in engaging the disengaged continues to elude us. Many documents are written, many person … Continue reading "Is IDL just another Educational initiative?"