Pivot 6: Human after all

This week I continued recording my lectures and asynchronous lab videos. As I’ve already said on Twitter, I largely refuse to do any editing - there were a couple of moments where the cat made a noise in the background, the door bell went off, or I stumbled over words and there’s no way I am spending my time editing them out. Our face-to-face lectures weren’t perfect, we made errors, had tech issues, had students walk in late, or building work noise in the background. I’m not saying that there’s not a minimum level of polish we should be aiming for, but I know that a lot of people worry that recordings need to have high production values and I don’t think we can say it enough enough that that isn’t the case.

Above anything else, I hope that this whole mess has shown us what the value of education is and why people come to university. It isn’t the content, if they wanted content the internet is full of it. They want connection, engagement, community. They want advice and guidance and understanding. That’s what is going to make or break 2020-2021, not whether you forgot what you were saying for 10 seconds in a lecture. I know there’s been some ridiculous articles floating around Twitter about making sure your Zoom background is professional and videos are up to spec and I won’t give them further airtime by linking to them but honestly. It’s an entirely positive thing for our students to realise that we are human after all. Higher education isn’t going to be made any worse for an extra shot of empathy. Whilst ensuring high educational standards, I want them to see me fluff my words occasionally so that they know when they do a presentation it’s ok not to be perfect, I want the cat to interrupt when they’re in a meeting with me so that they understand that if the reverse happens and their child/partner/pet barges in, I’m not going to care. Yes it’s all relative and this is by no means me arguing for a hash job - I am working incredibly hard to make sure everything is in place and has been thought through - but why anyone would seek to strip online teaching of its humanity is beyond me.

There are of course some exceptions. As I write this, I’ve just discovered that in the Course Overview video I recorded earlier in the week, I’ve got the topics of the lectures the wrong way round, I’ve said mental health is on Tuesday and developmental is on Wednesday and it’s the other way. In the grand scheme of things this is a tiny mistake, and one I could maybe rectify by adding a note. But, I also know from many years of experience that new 1st year students pick up on any inconsistency and panic about it. So, given that it’s the very first video I’m going to ask them to watch, I’m going to re-record it. It will take me half an hour, but first impressions matter.

This week I also had an information session with the new 1st year students and it was so great to meet them all. What was reassuring for me was that their questions and concerns were the same as they’ve always been - what optional courses should they take, what’s the difference between BSc and MA psychology, should they do any pre-reading. I can’t imagine that they’re not worried about learning online or what university in a pandemic is going to be like, but they’re certainly taking it in their stride at the moment. Also, for anyone who is working at an institution where f2f teaching is required, we’ve had absolutely no blowback about our plans that all core teaching will be online.

In other musings, I am trying to keep the number of tech platforms we use to a minimum (Moodle, Zoom, Teams) but I have started playing around with Gather Town to facilitate social interaction without overloading on huge Zoom rooms. I may attempt to do something for the induction lecture whereby we do 15 minutes on Zoom where I present information etc. and then invite everyone to go to Gather Town so that they can chat to people in small groups. It’s very easy to use and it doesn’t require them to create an account etc., which always helps.

At this point in the pivot, my main advice is to have a weekly team meeting. We set up a 30-minute Zoom with the level 1 teaching team a month or so back and it’s proved incredibly helpful. As course lead it gives me a nice way of checking where we’re all at which is calming for my anxiety but it’s also good just to talk through what we’ve been doing. There’s been a few things that people have said off the cuff that have resulted in a larger conversation, a better solution, or realising we need some extra training. I am what I would charitably describe as a control enthusiast and I do think that when you’re facing something that is as complex as pivoting first year online, there’s a benefit to having one person tying everything together so that it’s cohesivee. However, it’s also very helpful and reassuring to have my ideas and decisions questioned and examined at every turn by the people they are going to affect, and to have a set time and place for them to think about that stuff because they’re all juggling multiple other roles.

My goal was to have the first 5 weeks of content sorted by the end of August so that I could take a few days of annual leave before diving back in. I think I’m on track? Honestly I’m not sure, it feels like a mirage at times, like I can only see what September is going to be like out the corner of my eye and if I look directly at it, it disappears. Is it wine o’clock yet?

Emily Nordmann
Emily Nordmann
Senior Lecturer in Psychology

I am a teaching-focused Senior lecturer and conduct research into the relationship between learning, student engagement, and technology.