Start NOW – Perfect LATER – Moving into Digital Teaching and Learning by Jane Sjoberg

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The current Covid-19 crisis is quickly changing the way we perceive, use and rely on technology. Alternative approaches e.g. to assessment, research activity, teaching and learning and face-to-face meetings, are being worked through. Change is a constant feature as we all (staff and students) struggle to keep up with the latest decisions and situations. Professional champions (such as the HEFi Digital Team and College Learning Technologist leads) are busy supporting staff and students in making the best use of digital tools for online learning. Early adopters and enthusiasts are mentoring, guiding, training and reassuring. However, even when we have support, the need to get on board at warp speed can leave us feeling overwhelmed, de-motivated and ill-prepared. The doubts are many – will I master the technology? will the students engage? is this going to work? what do I do if it doesn’t work? What if… what when… What… aaargh!!!!???? Sound familiar? STOP! Take a breath. Acknowledge your fears. It’s normal to have these doubts and questions. And you are not alone. Even the most tech-savvy among us are feeling a great deal of trepidation. One thing that can help is to get involved in the digital conversation yourself as a participant and see what happens when things go pear-shaped. Because they will…inevitably things goes wrong. Just as the printer will always stop working when you’re about to print off your conference notes or the photocopier will be on the blink the day of an external inspection. Technology is not the enemy, even if it feels like that! No one would think about never using the printer again because it didn’t work on occasions. We wouldn’t forever banish the photocopier because we somehow managed to print off 300 copies when we only wanted 30! This morning I sat for 20 minutes as a team of digital learning experts struggled to get a live webinar up and running. What I really learnt from this webinar (which eventually did take place in a fairly haphazard way) was not how to do stuff online, but how even the experts are faced with technical hitches. Hitches will happen. They may well leave you feeling embarrassed and frustrated. But it’s what we do when they happen and afterwards that counts. SO…Take a breath. We’re all in this together. When doing something for the first time – be up-front about it with the students/other staff. Let them also help you! Factor in ‘tech-check time’ to your sessions. Ask for suggestions when things go awry. Have a back-up plan ready e.g. if you’re going to do a live BigBlueButton conference and it fails or students can’t access it, perhaps record it later using another channel like Panopto (downloadable onto your home computer). If no recording is possible, use a written text to accompany the PPT. If you can, make yourself available for brief 1-1 chats or set up an email Q&A. I can’t pretend it’s going to be easy. It’s not. This is going to take energy and effort. And we may not like the idea of appearing vulnerable. But as the webinar presenters were quick to point out as I watched them flounder: Failure is a part of Innovation & FAIL stands for ‘First Attempt at Learning’. We educators are moving into new (and for many – uncharted) territory, but we have a great opportunity to experience what we often ask students to do: move out of our comfort zones to think and learn. We have a chance to try out new learning teaching and methods and approaches. Let’s make it a chance to learn alongside each other. Whatever models we return to in the future can only benefit from these experiences. I, for one, am holding onto that. With thanks to Dustin Hosseini (Lancaster University Management School) for the inspirational quotes from the webinar ‘Moving to Digital Teaching and Learning (26 March 2020).

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