The week when everything changed – Weeknote #55 – 20th March 2020

This was a week when everything changed…

Over the weekend I scared myself silly by watching Contagion again.

This was a film about a much more lethal virus with a shorter incubation period than coronavirus.

So in the interests of accuracy I checked the trivia and goofs sections of IMDB only to read this section in the goofs.

The disease in the film is highly lethal, affects a very large number of people and has a short incubation period. In reality an infectious disease must have a long incubation period and less lethality than in the film to facilitate a sustained transmission. The real case makes tracking much more difficult, which is a central part of the film, therefore the filmmakers had to bend the facts a bit.


Monday I was supposed to be off to London, but due the cancellation of the meeting I was attending, I decided not to go and in hindsight this was probably the right decision.

I spent some time following up the cancellation of Data Matters and what we would do and what needed to be done.

On Friday last week Jisc had cancelled all their face to face events until the end of May, as the weekend progressed and by Monday organisers of events such as ALT, UKSG, QAA, UCISA and others were either cancelling their events, or moving aspects of their event to an online format.

I had a meeting about advice we (as in Jisc) could give universities and colleges about the situation, I think at the time we thought things might get worse, but I don’t think we thought it would be as quick as it was….

I posted a Twitter thread on my experiences of running an online conference in the past which I think might have some insights for people who are considering doing the same in these difficult times.

Over the week I used this link to see what universities were doing in light of the coronavirus.

We started with one university, LSE, moving online.

Within one week, all universities were moving their teaching online.

Monday evening saw a dramatic announcement from the Government on new measures to crack down on the spread of the coronavirus as they asked people not to socialise together and for certain groups to self-isolate.

The result was on Tuesday morning, Jisc decided to close all their offices and everyone was to, where possible, work from home. We were also asked to stop all travel for work.

Just a week before we had been delivering our annual event, Digifest to hundreds of people, now we were being asked not to travel anywhere…

Tuesday I had intended to run my Senior TEL Group in London, I had already cancelled the meeting due to a large number of apologies and people who had already been told to avoid unnecessary travel.

I do a fair amount of remote working and location-independent working and am quite happy about doing this, I have working from home on a regular basis for about the last twenty years. Even so with the possibilities of forced home working to reduce the risk of transmission, this is going to be a different experience to what I am use to. For those who don’t do this often  or rarely, they may find it challenging. I wrote a blog post in which I  discussed and reflected on some of the challenges that working from home could entail, in a landscape where lots of people are working from home, schools are closed and there is restrictions on movement and transport

Some thoughts on working from home

I had posted a link earlier in the week about how broadband companies said they should be able to cope with the increased demand for bandwidth.

UK broadband companies say they can cope with increased demand as many more people stay at home during the coronavirus crisis. Internet service providers (ISPs) say they have contingency plans in place and that the network can deal with extra daytime demand. Video calls and other work applications should have little impact.

My comment on this back on Monday was:

The fact that they even have to say this, says something about the possibilities this could happen, can we rely on home broadband to deliver learning?

By Wednesday we saw ISPs reporting surges in internet use.

More people are working from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, putting more demand on all networks.

Vodafone has said it is experiencing a 30% rise in internet traffic across its UK fixed-line and mobile networks.

TalkTalk, another internet provider, said that its daytime network traffic had risen 20% since Monday.

I spent most of the day in an online meeting, which was useful and nice to be with people, but I did find that I needed a break afterwards  having been basically at a screen for over three hours (even with short breaks).

Wednesday evening saw the announcement from Government that schools were to close from Friday and GCSE and A Level Exams were to be cancelled.

My childrens’s school went immediately in partial closure due to the lack of some teaching staff. This meant that they were now at home.

Getting away from the coronavirus crisis (slightly) I read this article about AI education.

Squirrel AI, an education company that offers tutoring delivered in part by humans, but mostly by smart machines, which he says will transform education as we know it.

One comment from my tweet did make me smile

This AI device sounds ace but it’s never going to whip out a guitar unannounced in class & sing a song about the civil war like my old history teacher

Thursday saw myself and Lawrie run an online drop in café using a Google Hangout which was fun and rather relaxing. I aim to repeat this next week.

I published a revised version of an e-mail I had posted to Twitter as well as sending to the ALT list on running online conferences to my blog.

Social awkwardness

I also finished and published a blog post on thoughts about low tech, low bandwidth teaching solutions that we may need to think about as more and more people start to work from home, schools send most of their pupils home and will teach them online and those who are self-isolating make the most of services such as Netflix and iPlayer.

100 ways to use a VLE – #5 Having an online debate

Friday, I was up early to crack on with stuff, checking updates, news and also make sure my children had their (online) school work organised, which currently looks very passive, and virtually no interaction with their teacher or fellow students.

My morning was awash with meetings, which was intense. When I work from home, I am usually on my own, however eldest son was watching Netflix, other son is working on online resources from his school, whilst Facetiming with a friend… me I have a lot of Teams calls… Will my bandwidth cope?

I can’t imagine what I would do when we just had ADSL with a low 1Mb/s connection… I am sure next week when all the schools are closed (for most pupils) and more people work from home and self-isolate, it will be interesting to see if my connection holds out.

This is the list of key workers who can still send their children to school.

The list is much larger than first thought. This does mean that schools will be open, so creating challenges in supporting some children online and some in the classroom. The same situation also applies to FE Colleges as well.

I liked this blog post from Wikimedia UK on remote working.

I work for a few organisations, one of which is Wikimedia UK, and none of which involve office space in Scotland. Most of the time, I’m sat at a desk (dining room table pushed against a wall) in the bay window area of my attic flat in Glasgow which you can see above. The shelf of stuff in front of me has sometimes useful stuff. My partner is an artist, and when he’s not running workshops or at his studio, he’s using the computer set up in our spare room to do digital work. We are a household of home workers. Here’s what I’ve learned over the past few years:

My top tweet this week was this one.

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