Tag Archives: coronavirus

Omicron on our doorstep, time to prepare for another lockdown

discarded mask
Image by Roksana Helscher from Pixabay

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I wrote about the possibilities of in-person teaching now that 90% of university students had had at least one Covid jab.

One thing we do need to recognise though, is that the pandemic is far from over. We may not go into another lockdown situation, but are universities prepared to pivot again to online delivery and teaching? Hopefully we will start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we do need to be prepared, as that light may be further away than we think it is.

I also wrote

Also new variants can reduce the efficacy of the vaccines, as well as the fact that the efficacy of the vaccine declines over time.

On Saturday morning I was reading the news about the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

I posted this tweet.

By the afternoon the government announced that mask wearing in shops and on public transport would become mandatory again on Tuesday the 30th November.

The government also announced that face masks would be compulsory in educational institutions.

The measure, which applies from Monday, covers all education establishments including universities, as well as childcare settings such as early years care.

That light at the end of the tunnel now seems a litter further away than it did back at the beginning of November.

Zoom
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

I also wrote in that earlier blog post:

We may not go into another lockdown situation, but are universities prepared to pivot again to online delivery and teaching?

What we do know about the Omicron variant is that it is highly transmissible and with some of the population deciding to refuse to wear masks, I think it will only be a matter of time before we see rising infection rates and the possibility of another lockdown.

So I ask again are universities prepared to pivot again to online delivery and teaching?

Are we in a better position than we were before?

Well much of those early teething issues will have been resolved, and people will have a better idea of what to do. However I still think we will see just more translation, or lift and shift of existing in-person practice to remote delivery. What we won’t see is the transformation to what is possible, taking full advantage of the affordances of online and digital delivery. With a lift and shift approach it shouldn’t be a surprise that we will see complaints from students, zoom fatigue and so on…

Hopefully the vaccination rollout and mask wearing will reduce the chance of lockdown, but I would still be preparing for the possibilities of another lockdown regardless.

Phasing in and out – Weeknote #142 – 19th November 2021

So this was my first full week back at work. Well I say that, but due to having to use a fair amount of leave  carried over from last year, I only worked three days this week. Still recovering from Covid this was actually a blessing as it meant I didn’t need to exhaust myself out.

I am spending time catching up with what’s been happening while I was off sick.

I went to the office on Monday, it was quite quiet. I am still phasing back into work (not quite a phased return, but certainly a slow return).

I worked from home on Tuesday and spent much of the day reading and writing.

I also headed to Bristol on Wednesday. I went in later and then met an old colleagues for drink after work, which was nice.

I wrote a few thought pieces this week.

I put down a few thoughts about transformation.

Success in digital teaching and learning is much about understanding about what is required for transformation to take advantage of the affordances and opportunities that digital can offer and not about taking what works in-person and making digital copies of existing practices.

I have written quite a bit about transformation and translation, but this post was more about the reasons why we more often just copy rather than transform.

The first Polish language dictionary (published 1746) included definitions such as: “Horse: Everyone knows what a horse is.”

One thing I have noticed working in further and higher education, is the assumption that everyone assumes that everyone knows what terms mean. The reality is that often there isn’t a shared understanding of key terms such as, digital transformation, digital university, online learning, blended learning, hybrid learning and so on…

I wrote another post about this shared understanding and working towards a clear (and shared) understanding.

The definition doesn’t need to be definitive, but the relevant stakeholders need to have clarity and a shared understanding of that definition.

At the beginning of the week I wrote some thoughts about student cameras.

During the pandemic there was a widespread culture of “cameras off” by students. As part of research we did,  in interviews, this was commented on by both staff and students. Staff felt that often they were talking to a blank screen as all the students had their cameras off and unlike in an in-person session they couldn’t see and read the students’ reaction to their lecture.

Though as the pandemic recedes (I know), maybe this becomes less of an issue for universities, but certainly going forward if universities are going to take advantage of the affordances of online and blended learning, the issue of cameras does need to be addressed.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Ground rules – student cameras

webcam
Photo by Emiliano Cicero on Unsplash

During the pandemic there was a widespread culture of “cameras off” by students. As part of research we did, in interviews, this was commented on by both staff and students. Staff felt that often they were talking to a blank screen as all the students had their cameras off and unlike in an in-person session they couldn’t see and read the students’ reaction to their lecture.

This is perhaps most starkly and consistently illustrated by the delivery of lectures through video and the use of cameras by students. Lecturers have generally, with a few exceptions, been praised for their delivery. However, while most students clearly have access to the required equipment they have been very reluctant to use their own cameras. The result has been that lecturers have often been left with little visual feedback of the type available in a lecture theatre, indeed they even wonder if the audience is engaging at all.

“I like to have my camera on when it’s just me and the lecturer with the camera on. And no one else,…”

Staff were often unaware why the students were reluctant to turn their cameras on.

“They’ve been very, very reluctant to have cameras on. I don’t know why that is.”

It certainly had an impact and some staff attempted to rectify and change the culture.

“I’m sat here, lecturing away for two hours to a blank screen, which is disconcerting. And if you read through the literature out there, lots of academics have started to say, “look, guys, I’m actually quite lonely. Can you please be cameras on?” That seems to work.”

The reasons for this reticence from students was explored during the interview process. It is clear that for many students there is a fear of being judged by their peers. In a traditional lecture theatre attention is focused upon the lecturer while in a virtual lecture it is easy to browse across the audience. In some cases, of course, it may be that students have logged in to give the appearance of attendance but not continued to view the lecture or that they may be viewing while in bed!

In some cases students wanted to turn on their camera but felt that the precedent had been set at the start of the course, not to use a camera and it would now be difficult to go against the “no camera” culture.

Zoom
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

One potential solution is to think about setting ground rules. In order to inhibit this “no camera” culture lecturers could make it clear that use of a camera was expected from the start of the course. This needs to happen before the course starts. This will allow students to reflect on where they might attend the online session and ensure they are prepared to be in front of the camera.

The university may also want to consider ensuring space is available on campus for students to participation in online sessions.

It should also be planned on which sessions cameras are required, encouraged, optional, or not needed. Cameras should only be on when it adds to the session. Lecturers should consider why they are asking for cameras on for that session and what is adds to the learning experience.

Where lectures don’t require interaction from students, lecturers may want to consider is it necessary to deliver the session live, and a pre-recorded session may be an option.

What happens now?

tunnel
Image by Peter H from Pixabay

So the Guardian is reporting that nine in ten university students in England have had at least one Covid jab. This does have implications for in-person teaching at universities across England.

Far from being irresponsible Covid spreaders, the vast majority of students at English universities have been vaccinated at least once and would request a test if they had symptoms, according to a survey.

This is a different scenario to last autumn when there wasn’t a vaccine and students were being accused of being super spreaders.

With more of the student population vaccinated then this should result in lower infection rates. We still need to consider those who may still be at risk from Covid despite being vaccinated as I found out recently it can still be quite nasty.

We know that there has been something of a backlash against online learning as a result of the experiences during the pandemic. We know that what was an emergency response, was in no way what would be described as online learning. How could staff deliver effective and engaging online learning, with no time for preparation, lack of skills and knowledge and remember they were also living through the pandemic.

Moving forward with demand from students and staff to have more in-person teaching, I don’t really want to say, going back to what they had, but we know how much students and staff missed in-person teaching. There is a pent up demand to return to in-person teaching. In some of the research we have been doing at Jisc, the students were very clear that when they said they missed in-person teaching that it wasn’t just the in-person learning experience it was also all the resulting interactions that happen before, during and after such in-person sessions.

This doesn’t mean that universities should stop doing stuff online, more that they need to think about what their students are saying, what their students are wanting, as well as working out the best way to deliver that, whether that be in-person or online.

Our discussions with students also showed that some things worked better online, they levelled things up between staff and students and were less intimidating than the face to face equivalents.

One thing we do need to recognise though, is that the pandemic is far from over. Infection rates which rose dramatically recently have started to drop, but winter is coming, and this means that it could rise again, combine with the other challenges that winter brings. Also new variants can reduce the efficacy of the vaccines, as well as the fact that the efficacy of the vaccine declines over time. Boosters are been given for a reason.

We may not go into another lockdown situation, but are universities prepared to pivot again to online delivery and teaching?

Hopefully we will start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we do need to be prepared, as that light may be further away than we think it is.

Making the time – Weeknote #134 – 24th September 2021

Like last week, most of the week was spent reading, analysing and writing.

I keep having conversations about hybrid teaching and in some cases hybrid working. Having partaken in hybrid meetings (a lot) before the pandemic, my overall opinion is to avoid them. Just have everyone in the room, or have everyone online. Avoid going hybrid with a mix if you can.

With the BBC reporting that new staff are to gain day one right to request flexible working many universities I am talking to are talking about flexible hybrid working.

Hybrid flexible working sounds all right in practice, but unless challenged and planned, what you may find is that all your staff want to work from home on Mondays and Fridays and come onto campus for the middle three days. As a result your campus is dead quiet at the ends of the week, with loads of room and free spaces, whilst it becomes more cramped and busy in the middle three days. Combine that with possible thinking, well as staff are only in 60% of the week we can sell off 40% of our office space and you start to realise that flexible, doesn’t necessarily mean a free for all.

Finished and published this week was the report from a workshop I worked on with the University of Cumbria and Advance HE.

Supporting Student Transitions into HE was an excellent event in which many generously shared viewpoints and challenges and having such a variety of institutions and roles added to the richness of the content. A little later than expected, we have published a resource pack we have created as an output from the event. We hope you find is useful in drawing up plans for the new start of term in September and/or January.

The pandemic forced a swift move to online learning in March 2020 which for many was the first experience of teaching and/or learning in the virtual environment. The sector news focussed in the educational aspect of the move in that initial phase reporting on concerns of quality, parity and applauding the pace of change with the digital skills agenda. The announcement of further lockdowns meant the initial, emergency, move now needed to be re-shaped into a more considered response that would potentially lead to sustained change across the sector.

watch
Image by Yogendra Singh from Pixabay

Wrote a blog post about time and online delivery.

When it comes to designing an online module or an in-person module with online elements, we can design the online aspects without the physical, geographical and chronological constraints of an in-person session.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Supporting student transition to HE in a covid context

Published this week was the report from a workshop I worked on with the University of Cumbria and Advance HE.

The pandemic forced a swift move to online learning in March 2020 which for many was the first experience of teaching and/or learning in the virtual environment. The sector news focussed in the educational aspect of the move in that initial phase reporting on concerns of quality, parity and applauding the pace of change with the digital skills agenda. The announcement of further lockdowns meant the initial, emergency, move now needed to be re-shaped into a more considered response that would potentially lead to sustained change across the sector.

Supporting Student Transitions into HE was an excellent event in which many generously shared viewpoints and challenges and having such a variety of institutions and roles added to the richness of the content. A little later than expected, we have published a resource pack we have created as an output from the event. We hope you find is useful in drawing up plans for the new start of term in September and/or January.

Staff conference time – Weeknote #133 – 17th September 2021

Brean Down

I spent much of the week working from home.

Most of the week was spent reading, analysing and writing.

Guardian published this article: Awaiting a ‘tsunami of Covid’: UK lecturers fear students’ return.

Dr Stephanie Coen, assistant professor in health geography at Nottingham University, is eager to get back to teaching in person. But she fears that with students not required to wear masks when classes start in a few weeks, squeezing them like “sardines” into her tiny room for seminars will be unsafe.

I don’t think anyone will be surprised if we see a repeat of what we saw last September when students returned to university. Though the numbers initially back then weren’t high they did start to rise as term continued. What will happen now, we don’t really know.

This tweet from Alejandro Armellini resonated with me.

It was a thread of tweets about the importance of being pedagogically critical of new ways of delivery such as hybrid. Ale has actually done hybrid and brings that experience and perspective to his views.

Lawrie posted a really good blog post this week: We need to stop designing curricula with “white able males” as the default setting, based on a presentation he gave about the research he has been doing.

The pandemic has also shown us that we do not have to do anything special for the people for whom institutions and systems have been built. Our white male able students are going to be fine, they are the default category of person higher education is already built for..  It is ok–I would argue it is necessary– to start saying to ourselves “my starting point for designing this curriculum, this system, this process, will be to serve those students who are disadvantaged, who are disabled by our institutions.

Clifford's Tower in York
Clifford’s Tower in York by James Clay CC BY-NC 2.0

I went to York so this story was interesting for me: University of York offers students accommodation – in Hull.

The University of York is offering students housing an hour’s drive away in Hull due to a shortage of accommodation. The crisis has been sparked by an over-subscription on the university’s courses which has created a surge in demand for student housing.

This kind of situation is one reason why universities might want to consider a more flexible curriculum which takes advantages of the affordances of online and digital so that students don’t have to spent two to three hours commuting to campus five days a week. Though I imagine that students might actually want to go to campus (and the city) as they applied to York not Hull. I went to York as much for the city as for the course.

Thinking that this mobile telephony would never catch on….

Michael Rodd makes a call with an experimental cordless mobile phone.  It’s 1979 and time for the telephone to go mobile. In this report from a longer programme, Michael Rodd examines a British prototype for a cordless telephone that allows the user to make calls from anywhere. Also included at the end of this item is a rather nice out-take as Rodd also experiences the first mobile wrong number.

I do recall watching this when it was broadcast.

Of course we don’t really use our phones as phones these days, the mini computer we have in our pockets is now used for way more than just making calls.

Thursday I was off to Birmingham for our all staff conference.

This was my second in-person event in a week. I drove to Birmingham, parked my car. I parked at Five Ways. In the past when I parked there I would generally have to park on the roof, this time I could have parked on level 1, though as there was more room I parked on level 2. I walked to the ICC and showed my covid pass and I was into the event. There were nearly 500 Jisc staff in the event.

This was the final day for Paul Feldman as CEO and the first day for Heidi Fraser-Krauss our new CEO.

The day mainly consisted of talks with Q&A. There was some group work, but overall probably about 30 minutes worth, a missed opportunity I think, but it’s always challenging to design a programme such as this for 500 people. What was nice was the time to connect with people, though we obviously talk a lot through Teams and Zoom, there is something different about meeting in-person.

Friday I had a chat with some consultants about some possible work, and we also discussed the Intelligent Campus concept as well.

My top tweet this week was this one.

You will need a tray…

The Death Star
Image by Alex_K_83 from Pixabay

So sometimes you have to backtrack and change your mind.

I have been working on a variety of blog posts about transformation over translation. When discussing the lecture and video I did say:

If you have watched a 60 minute TV programme, you will realise few if any have a talking head for 60 minutes. Few of us have the time or the skills to create a 60 minute documentary style programme to replace the lecture, and where would you go to film it? So if you change the monologue to a conversation then you can create something which is more engaging for the viewer (the student) and hopefully a better learning experience.

In a recent meeting with staff from a university I was discussing this issue and their response was, what about comedy stand-up? That’s a monologue.

I had to concede that they were indeed right, the comedic monologue is something that people to watch and is usually a talking head.

I will defend that I did say “few if any” and not none.

However I don’t think we can class the lecture in the same vein as a comedic monologue, well not all the time. Is a lecture as entertaining as Eddie Izzard discussing the canteen on the Death Star, probably not.

If you are transforming all your lectures into video recordings, some (or a few) will work well as monologues, however some will probably work better as shorter recordings, or as conversations or discussions.

You’re Mr. Stevens?

No, but you will still need a tray.

It didn’t pitch! – Weeknote #101 – 5th February 2021

We had snow at the weekend, but it didn’t pitch.

I had a week of meetings which was exhausting and quite tiring. Spent a lot of the week working on Jisc’s HE Teaching and Learning Strategy. I had meetings with key stakeholders within Jisc, as well as digging though university needs and ambitions.

lens
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I wrote a blog post for Advance HE on digital leadership, which will be published in a couple of weeks. It was based around the concept of the digital lens.

A strategic digital lens allows universities to better understand how digital and technology can enable them to achieve their core strategic priorities. It can help inform staff how they will use digital in their work to meet the institutional priorities.

I blogged a few years ago on the evolution of this concept within my work in Jisc.

magnifying glass
Image by Angelo Giordano from Pixabay

Lawrie published a blog post, Stop normalising pandemic practices! There are some out there who think that what we are doing is what we want to do when the pandemic ends. However Lawrie reflected “I do want people to remember that pandemic technology practices don’t have to be everyday practices when we are out of this.”

What we are doing now is not normal and I don’t think we will be going back to what we had before.

We are reviewing the concept of the Technical Career Pathway within Jisc, I worked on the Learning Technologist pathway, but we’ve had little take up, but I think one key factor has been we don’t really employ dedicated learning technologists. I had a meeting this week to review on what we might need to do in the future.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

We have been reviewing Data Matters 2021, which was a charged for online event. Some individuals  have been challenging the concept of charging for online events, but would be happy to pay for an in-person event. Despite being online there are costs in organising and running online events. Having said that do we need to have events, could we achieve the same impact via different channels or medium? There are other online channels that could be used instead of an online event using a dedicated platform. An online event which is mainly about the transmission of content, probably shouldn’t exist, just use a YouTube channel! My experiences of the Jisc e-Learning Conferences back in the late 2000s was that these events could be (and were) highly engaging and interactive. There was conversations and discussions, as well as presentations. These events were value for money and people, though questioned the fee, did feel they were value for money. People don’t always value free events.

Had a fair few meetings with universities this week talking about blended learning, digital strategy and embedding digital practice across an organisation.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Done a ton of these now… – Weeknote #100 – 29th January 2021

Pile of papers
Image by athree23 from Pixabay

So I have made it to a hundred weeknotes. Wasn’t sure if I could keep it up and some are better and more informative than others. The lockdown has resulted in them being less of a travelogue. Sometimes when writing them I would realise that what I was writing would be better as a blog post. They certainly are for me, the stats on them are quite low and there are many more popular posts on the blog.

iPad
Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

Tuesday and Wednesday was Data Matters 2021, an online version of a conference which I did actually start planning back in 2019. The Data Matters event was going to be held in May 2020 in central London. However, no surprise that we decided to cancel the event. We did consider running it online, however due to the timing, the pressure that our prospective audience was under and translating an in-person conference to an online event quickly, we decided that we would reschedule the event to January 2021. We did think by July that we might even be able to hold the event in-person, but the realities of the world hit back. So the decision was made to still hold the conference in January 2021, but build it as a holding event and run it online. The existing theme was very much about putting in the (data) foundations to deliver the vision of Education 4.0 that Jisc was promoting. We could have run with that theme again, but the landscape had changed so much that we created a new more general theme on the uncertain future. I attended a lot of the sessions and did the final closing statement as well. It was well attended and as a paid for event was the first in modern Jisc as a paid virtual conference.

laptop and notebook
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Did some planning as well this week, haven’t planned a project for a while, but it was quite easy to get back onto the Confluence Jira bandwagon for this. I have to say I use these tools for my individual work planning, but this was the first time in ages that I was doing this for a team.

Even though all my meetings these days are online meetings I found this article by Atlassian on better meetings useful and interesting.

Running effective meetings isn’t simply a matter of doing the obvious things like sharing the agenda and starting on time. While those things are important, they’re just table stakes. The real key to running a great meeting is organizing and running them with a human touch – not like some corporate management automaton.

I posted some thoughts on meetings on my tech blog.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Though this article in The Guardian was published at the beginning of January I only saw it this week.

Fears over the impact of coronavirus are fuelling a longer-term trend towards studying nearer home.

More final-year pupils than ever before are applying to local universities so that they can study closer to home, amid concerns that the impact of the pandemic may extend into the next academic year.

This echoes one of the future visions on the hyperlocal university I wrote for Learning & Teaching Reimagined.

My top tweet this week was this one.