Teaching is something you do, not somewhere you go…
Okay so teach and work aren’t as interchangeable as I would like to think, and I recently wrote a couple of pieces on the nature of work and working in this uncertain landscape. The first was a reflective piece on where I have worked and also how I worked, whilst the second was much more about the future of work and workplaces, as in work is still something you do, not somewhere you go.
Whilst writing both posts it got me thinking about how that, just as with the nature of work changing, teaching is also changing. Once this change has happened, people may not necessarily will want to return to how they use to teach.
When I was a teacher, I would often use the phrase I am going to teach which meant for much of my working life as teacher not only was I going to teach, but I was going to go to a specific space to teach as well. I use to remark (or was that joke) that I could teach anywhere, well I thought I could, but in reality I didn’t. I never took the students onto the field to teach, we never met up in a coffee shop. Okay I did field trips to the Bristol Docks, but that for me was more about learning than teaching.
I generally left the students to learn about urban regeneration in the docks by themselves, having taught them about what they needed to learn in the classroom the week before.
My career moved away from me teaching, to me supporting staff to teach, supported by the use of technology. I still considered myself a teacher and teaching, though most would have called it staff development. Most of that was still about going to a space and teaching. I did do other things that would be still called teaching, but didn’t require me to go to a specific space to teach. Some of this I did at home.
Back in 2008 I did a series of online webinars for the MoLeNET using a tool called instantpresenter.
I remember starting the software and staring at my computer screen. This wasn’t like the Teams or Zoom software of today. There was usually only one video feed, mine, partly down to bandwidth limitations, but also down to the fact that you would need a separate webcam for most computers of that era. I was lucky there was an iSight camera built into my iMac.
As I looked into the camera I realised that this was no classroom, this was me and a screen. There was going to be no visual or verbal cues from the people watching I felt I was literally on my own. I knew that as a teacher, someone who delivered training sessions and conference presentations, that I would be very responsive to the audience reaction. Knowing that I wouldn’t be getting that I knew I might get a little bit flat, so I decided to turn up my enthusiasm to eleven. I think I went a little too far and it all became Alan Partridge.
Going back ten years earlier in 1998, I was using a learning platform called First Class, where there was no video, it was all asynchronous text chat. Having participated in UseNet groups on the internet (remember those) I was quite familiar with and liked asynchronous text chat. However what I did find, was that many of my students on the First Class platform were not and didn’t quite get it. This was something that I also experienced in the early days of the Jisc e-learning conferences, which took place on an asynchronous platform. The presentations were not delivered, more they were uploaded. We would then discuss them using asynchronous text chat. The depth of discussion was always deeper than in a live physical conference, however as with my early experiences with First Class, not everyone got it, so didn’t get involved. When those Jisc e-learning conferences moved to a platform that enabled live online presentations, I think though we gained in one way, we lost an awful lot and much of the potential of asynchronous text chat was never achieved.
Just because you provide an asynchronous text chat platform, never assume people know how to use it effectively for teaching and learning, even if they know how to use iMessage and WhatsApp. As with any kind of technology, just because people use it for one thing, that doesn’t mean they know how to make the best use of it for learning and teaching. This is something I still refer to and think about when it comes to technology enabled learning.
Where I am trying to get to initially is to note that as we enter a new academic year which will require many staff to no longer go somewhere to teach, but they are still going to teach. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are able and comfortable to teach in these new online environments even with their recent direct experiences. We know that over the last six months we’ve been responding to the crisis by switching to remote teaching and I also think we are still in a crisis, but remote teaching doesn’t have to be a direct translation of physical teaching.
We also need to recognise that whereas before staff were teaching from home, in a landscape where students will be attending some face to face sessions and some online sessions, staff may need to deliver their online sessions from their desk. This is fine and dandy if they have their own office or dedicated quiet space, but less appropriate if they share an office, work in an open plan environment or even hotdesk! That is going to take some kind of logistical thinking and planning.
Overall there is more to online learning then learning the technical mechanics of online learning. That equally applies to students as well as academics. Don’t assume people can do online learning, there are skills, techniques and possibilities that need to be thought about and taken onboard. As well as the mechanics of using the system, there is the how of online learning, the process of learning that also needs to be considered. Really it should be considered first and then deliver the technical training.
So how are you approaching the subject of online learning with your academics? What works? What challenges have you come across and how did you overcome them? What about the logistical requirements, how are you managing that?
So the next question is what happens next? Not this year, maybe not even next year? As we are starting to see a shift in work and workplaces, will something similar happen when (or even if) we manage to move through to the ending of the pandemic, in higher education? Will we want to return to the daily commute to the campus, or could we see more flexible working or teaching in the future?