“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”
Troilus and Cressida
co-authored with Peter Bryant
There’s been worry, anger, fear, snark, genuine excitement and lots of emotions in between and around those as responses to what educators need to do to interact with each other, and their students, now that we are well and truly in the throes of the global impact of COVID-19.
Conversations across education see-saw back and forth between “Here’s a list of tools you can use to put your class online” and “Here’s how I care for my students and I do when I teach online.”
What we learned while interviewing UK teachers in higher and further education about the choices they make around teaching, was that decisions about technology primarily emerged from teaching and pastoral care needs, rather than some abstracted notion of technology being “better” or “21st century.”
Let’s be clear from the outset: needing to move your interactions with your students to an online-only environment is not the same thing as “my campus needs to buy technology x” As we, and many others have said before, Digital is People – EdTech is not the solution you are looking for; spending millions of dollars on a system is a waste of money if you are not supporting a change in the culture that empowers people to change their practice.
We know that many campuses already have tools for things like videoconferencing, document sharing, online synchronous and asynchronous discussions etc. You will not be surprised to hear one of us (Lawrie) state the obvious – if you have Office365 you already have a lot of tools that will help you support and engage with others online!
Small groups can talk on conference calls, if videoconferencing is not an option. The specific tools are much less important than knowing that firstly something is possible and secondly you are not alone in trying that something.
People have been busy in the social networks reassuring folks who have never taken their practices online that it’s not only possible to do that, but also possible to do well, with the human needs of students and faculty and staff in mind.
The resources in “Teaching in the Context of COVID-19,” gathered together by the HASTAC group and Cathy Davidson are marvellous precisely because they are not just lists of tools. Here are collected ideas about setting expectations (yours and your students’), teaching remotely in a variety of situations (not just emergencies), accessibility (concerns for which have driven many areas of digital teaching and learning practices for some time), and communities that have been working around online and digital learning for decades.
Our personal social media timelines are full of people offering their expertise in teaching online–it’s easiest in this context to point to some from Twitter, but they have been seen in Facebook and also in the form of emails to various lists.
Laura Gibbs, for instance, has been writing reassuringly and with authority about online teaching and learning since long before this crisis, and has been on Twitter offering support and advice
There are plenty of examples we could share, but what is striking to us is seeing people spend as much if not more time talking about supporting students, establishing trust, cultivating engagement, and being interactive (synchronously and asynchronously) than they do about “this is a tool I use.”
Pointing to specific tools, in particular tools that institutions do not have access to yet but could purchase a contract for, is something particular vendors have been doing since January, and it does not speak well for those companies that they see this crisis as a revenue opportunity rather than a moment for help, collaboration and sharing.
So when we were talking about writing a blogpost thinking this through, and maybe writing up a collation of the kinds of pro-social behaviors we saw being advocated for, we were scooped by the work of Peter Bryant, who has been working on a COVID-19 response plan from his position in Australia since January. As Lawrie identified in a recent post, on how various Australian colleagues were beginning to establish a response to COVID-19, they were very aware of the potential impact of the virus on education; and so were the vendors who seemed to be circling Australian senior managers like great white sharks.
On the morning of March 10th, 2020, we (Lawrie and Donna) spent 90 minutes talking to Peter Bryant about what he was seeing from Australian universities responding to the crisis. Peter has developed a fantastic response, it is focused on the cultural change that needs to happen, but grounded in the short term needs of the staff and students, and pragmatic strategies that are in place to mitigate the impact of Covid19.
This public health crisis is also taking place against the backdrop of labor strikes; and a problem in the US and the UK with contingent labor, overwork, and too much placed on too few full time workers.
So yes, while this might indeed be an opportunity for online teaching and learning to shine, it should not be the opportunity that some of the powers-that-be were looking for to further exploit the labor of already exploited workers in HE and FE.
Calls for people to actually have time off, sick time where they are not expected to work, room to rest and recover mentally from the stresses of so much that is going on, these calls should be listened to and met with more than just good intentions and hand waving about “all the work we need to do.”
We are also hopeful in the resource sharing we already see–it’s so important to draw and expand on the work already happening within the network, because there are too few people available to work on this complicated problem of wrangling teaching and learning across myriad institutions, at a distance and on a scale not attempted before. Sharing on social media, on blogs, in emails, is how we can give each other more capacity for this work than we would otherwise have working in isolation. Digital places and tools mean that our staff, our students, and we ourselves do not have to be alone, even if some of us are in quarantine.