Universities and students in coping mode: challenges of eLearning

These are notes from our community call on Coping with Loss of work. If you were there, feel free to press Edit below and make additions or changes. We focus on the new people in the conversation, so special thanks to @seh_notts for joining and sharing today.

@seh_notts is based in Nothingham, joined Edgeryders in 2014 when the unMonastery Matera adventure was on (!)
@Noemi: facilitates the calls. Sees Edgeryders conversations over the years become more organic and more focused on wellbeing, not just project making.
@MariaEuler: in Stockholm, in the country where they’re not doing anything right now: ‘we just follow the news of what others are doing. Some people stay in, but we also had neighbors downstairs having a party.’
Olivier @oliiive: teaches French to people who are not native speakers: ‘It’s nice that on a weekly basis I have a contact with people.’

@seh_notts worked at a UK University for 20 years, largely in IT and now in a role supporting teachers to use technologies.

Our team had to decide how we were going to respond immediately. Each Faculty came up with a teaching continuity plan, how they would continue, which platforms would be supported. Zoom was not used much. Lots of universities in the UK are Microsoft customers so a decision was made to use Microsoft Teams, as access is restricted only to the campus users so it is more private than Zoom. This concern about using Zoom proved to be a good one, given recent news stories about privacy issues with the platform.

What worked well/ not so well with the e-learning shift, and working as an educator online?

One of our senior staff already teaches a Distance Learning course online, and other colleagues had already contributed to MOOCs. Other than that, not many people appeared to be interested in the Edgeryder themes locally. ’

At the start of this crisis teachers had been on strike in the UK nationwide for two weeks before. The crisis refocused everything, because many Higher Education Institutions have made recent financial announcements to lay people off (‘furlough’ them), if their roles were not considered essential at this time. Some disciplines (eg Arts and Humanities) feel more vulnerable in these circumstances. Furloughed staff are able to claim 80% of their wages from the Government but it is unclear how long this might be for or what the future might hold for all staff in the sector.

Challenges of eLearning and mental health

The main challenge with eLearning is going to be to enable students to continue to complete assessments. Many staff have experienced the mental impact of having to move to new and unfamiliar ways of working. When we asked about how students are doing, @seh_notts said:

I think the mental impact on students is huge and is not always fully appreciated by Higher Education Institutions. In the UK there is a real epidemic of anxiety and mental health issues among youngsters [in general]. Is this similar in other countries?

From around the Edgeryders network

In the past we have had students at UDK in Berlin speaking openly about mental health. But in that case, the connection was between creative focus and mental health, not so much the particularities of this age group.

@pauline wrote this heartfelt story:

In a discussion problematising other similar conversations, our ethnographer was analysing the stories and commenting on the co-occurence of issues like mental health, art, and trauma: I’ve been seeing an expansion of the discussion on mental health— not just focused on refugee issues, but also mental health issues across populations. Youth come up frequently, as do feelings of hopelessness in the face of the current labour market. There has been a repetitive feeling of disconnect between one’s own dreams and desires and the way cultural and social norms, as well as existing labour and $ structures, require one to live and attribute value to activities (source).

What is your experience with this issue? Is your teaching and learning life disrupted?

We are listening and will continue to mobilize the network across many countries for honest advice.
We are happy to meet you ‘live’ as well: next Tuesday for another one of these conversations.
Register here: http://bit.ly/coronawork <3

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Accounts of other learning environments and students can be offered by @Jirka_Kocian @amelia @hires ?

You are all teaching - in Prague, London and Barcelona. Would you tell us how it is for your own personal life and how you see your institutions coping?

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I am teaching at a private business school in Barcelona, in a course that is very untraditional for the institution - however, they trust the coordinator and the team of instructors, so we have a lot of freedom. I only teach a few days a month, so I’m not deep into what happens at the university itself - there’s been a bit of miscommunication around admin things, but nothing too disruptive. I get a fully licensed Zoom, with all features, which is enough for me as a teacher.

Barcelona went into a strict lockdown, closing schools and universities, and the sudden shift has been a challenge of course - especially because I teach communication and public speaking in this class. It’s different on Zoom, but then there’s also similarities - a good pitch is a good pitch, whatever the “medium”.

However, I think the biggest impact isn’t just moving online, it’s that we’re doing all of this in a crisis. I have death and grief in my family and close friends’ families - and we can’t even go to any funerals. We are helping students deal with events that we have never lived through ourselves, and I have been asked a few times now on my opinion on quite personal issues. Normally, I would try not to stick to my area of expertise, but I think these times call for human approaches, so I tried to provide a viewpoint or lens that might clarify the situation and choices they faced.

So tl;dr: Moving online is easy compared to helping others deal with a crisis.

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Thank you @hires - I did read your post, as I didn’t think it was too long ;).
Yes, we are all in such a strange situation and I am concerned that we don’t lose sight of the potential impact this can have on our students and teachers. Many have found themselves in places and situations in which they never expected to be at this time in their career (eg having to go back home to live with families, shared resources etc). This affects some more than others and we must not assume that carrying on studying and teaching is possible in all circumstances. Most Higher Education institutions in the UK have responded by introducing exceptional regulations for assessment and the subsequent progression and degree classification results which arise from this.

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From my experience, this is very true. We have also moved all of our university classes online. What the students are missing more than anything is the social atmosphere of the university – I hear them saying they miss their cohort (these are Masters students), working on class projects and papers together (even just being in the same space, not even collaborating), taking breaks from study together. So much of learning is in the in-between, when formal lectures aren’t happening. That stuff is hard to replicate online.

And it’s interesting that you bring up mental health, @noemi, because I think what we found more than anything in Open Care is that having a strong sense of community massively helps with mental health issues. I just read the book Happy City, and the author finds the same thing — ambient community feeling keeps us happy – the people we chat to when we go get our morning coffee and all the people we recognise as we go about our daily lives. These points of contact are really important for the students as well – it’s not the formal learning that they’re missing the most, it’s all the ambient touchpoints that they no longer have.

Space makes a huge difference – being at the university brings a sense of scholarly-ness that makes diving into writing easier. These ambient effects are hard to replicate digitally. But people are trying! With things like digital study groups (we call them “Shut Up and Write” sessions, where you leave the webcam on and quietly study with others) and sites that create ambient sounds of coffeeshops and libraries.

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This is very interesting! Have you attended one, does it work?
I can only imagine - especially for those living alone - how much of a difference it makes to be connected to anything resembling social life. As students, I remember some of us could only study in the atmosphere you mention - which was to be found in the library: it was just enough quiet and just enough buzzy to make you committed to a certain focus and not procrastinate or feel lost.

cc the tip above might be interesting for @chiara.certoma and @irene_1!

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I think it’ll be interesting to see what this means for the institutions. How soon do we think universities will open again, and what about those about to graduate high school? And if they do open before there’s a vaccine, how will the “daily routines” need to change? I think me may see a need for a lot of exceptional regulations, and who knows, it may lead to some rethinking of the university institution?

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I have! One of my friends and I do this all the time – she has a Jitsi feed open at set intervals, and you can just ‘drop in’ whenever you want to hang out and work together. Quick chat and hello, then down to work. It helps to keep you accountable for a while and get those co-study vibes.

Exactly – this is what is sorely missing. There’s also no moving somewhere else for a change of pace, a different kind of inspiration, to find another angle. I have always strongly felt that space shapes the way we can think and feel (it’s partially what my dissertation is on) so it’s hard to be stuck in the same place. It means we have to find imaginative ways of being elsewhere, changing the scene!

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Hey everyone, here in Prague it seems Universities will be under lockdown until summer, but at least since recently, members of the faculty can meet in the offices now, in limited numbers. The Czech government decided for quite a strict regime, which funnily enough, has been ruled to be implemented in an illegal manner just today by a court decision (on occasions, the rules were changing multiple times a day):

https://www.radio.cz/en/section/news/prague-court-cancels-anti-coronavirus-restrictions-on-free-movement-retail-sales

However, changing the scene, as Amelia mentions, is something I sorely miss. I was blessed (in the social dimension of it definitely) with bouncing each week between two workplaces I have at the University, which makes my usual rhythm relatively dynamic. I personally consider the high number of colleagues I meet to be the actual win.

So we just decided this Tuesday to meet up in three people in our study room/lab and make plans for the rest of the semester/quarantine, taking advantage of the relaxed measures. As the room is big enough, we could keep some safe distance, have a coffee and talk in person. And no one seemed eager to be the first to leave, we actually stood by the door for additional 15 mins.

Generally, we do not know when the Universities will allow students or public back in, but I hope we will keep these weekly mental revival sessions. Nevertheless, it is a privilege to have basically private premises which can serve such a purpose. The other institute I am teaching at holds weekly meetings of 30-60 people online to make up for the lack of verbal contact, but no one has come up with a “Shut Up and Write” online sessions yet, though the institute operates a “silent room” under normal circumstances. I am just not sure if the simple joy of talking would not override the first principle of the above-mentioned concept:)

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’mental revival sessions’, well said! There is talking, and there is hanging out. And no virtual room will replace the hanging out unless you probably have years of accommodating. But definitely less so if that’s the only place you work or meet people. I think it’s because you cannot meet others in real life that the virtual shows its limitations.

Friends of mine are reaching out because they are swamped with too many calls and the medium is much more tiring for them than real life. Others are hosting Bdays virtually (@mrchrisadams and other friends!). So lucky you that you can meet your colleagues!

PS In Belgium schools are due to reopen - in some format - on 18th of May…

Good point, not that long ago I had a single week in which I reached some 22 hours of work-oriented online meetings. But it seems that people began to realize that such an overuse is undermining the actual substance of interaction which is happening through virtual media and eased up a bit.

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Love that “shut up and write” angle. Did you know in the established remote community there are already some sites/apps that help to foster that concentration and encourage virtual work mates (keeping each other to their goals) such as https://www.focusmate.com/

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A co-working app! Wow, the tone of that site is very capitalist though…
‘reach a flow state on-demand’, as if flow is something you can buy your way into :slight_smile:

Have you tried any similar online cowork practices @rowenahen?

reminds me a bit of that focus app @bilal mentioned a while back during that workshop in Beirut. Keifelhal ya habib? :slight_smile:

Ping @atelli: the lovely academia workers above could be directly interested in your upcoming session for the online summit!

thanks @noemi:) yes, we are definitely interested in challenges of learning in general, critical learning and when adapted to corona times, coping with e-learning! Im working on a draft call for a session on precarity and dissent in higher education and the challenges of endangered knowledge workers. I think there are many intersecting points. Dissent also means critical thought, undoing the system and learning and there lies the challenges you so well mention in your thread here. Lets continue the conversation here as well as the session prep page [DRAFT] session on refugee researchers and precarity in higher education

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Perfect, give me a headsup when the first version of the session is ready and I will reach out to a few edgeryders who could benefit from attending!

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could maybe be a good idea have a look at this and see how you might like to contribute to/build on that conversation? https://www.artez.nl/en/webinar-crisis-education-critical-education

I know Nishant who is organising that series so if there is some nice way you can think of to collaborate, Id be happy to get in touch with him about it.

thanks @nadia:) I have the same link added on our session proposal here: Session on endangered researchers and precarity in higher education . I think we have a lot of intersections with this group, so let`s work together on the challenges!

Hello all,
Last week I participated in one of the most interesting sessions about Academia and the hidden problems that honestly if you are not part of it, you don’t ever find out. I think some of you could even have a point to make, so feel free to do it. We talked about things like the impermanence of positions, the danger in France and other countries to follow the liberal model and therefore making less and less space for novel, different academic voices. We also asked ourselves what is there for young people today who wish to join the Academia? And finally, there were also mentions of sexual harassment being problematic in the academic environment.

This is where we continue the conversation:

Who and What is the University of the 21st Century for? Breaking Through Neoliberal Agendas

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