Online events

It's the new normal!

We’re getting into the stride of this now. The digital space has proved to be brilliant for drawing together experience, views and understanding from across the globe – quickly, openly and with reduced disruption to our working calendars.  Certainly, I miss the visits – the little trips to pockets of thcountry I don’t normally see, maybe a stay in a hotel and few hours on the train to “work remotely” (read: read!). But what we’ve seen in the last few weeks is that running and engaging with these things online doesn’t hurt nearly as much as we thought – in fact, it increases the value, impact and opportunity.  

Being brave 

I’ve seen it from both sides of the fence – in the first 3 weeks of lockdown, colleagues at Sheffield Hallam in the Early Years Education Department hosted a sector-wide symposium – onlineThey’d never done it before, and expressed really low confidence about doing so – we might attract 10, but we might get 100 people? We don’t know what we’re doing but we have to try, because our sector needs this insight (I paraphrase). They took a deep breath, held their noses and jumped in. I was on the sidelines of supporting the event – it ran a single week later, 3 hours, multiple speakers, 400 delegates – and it was brilliant! The overwhelming response from the attendees was firstly, Thank you for being brave enough to do this, and secondly When are we doing it again? Thus, a dynamic community was enabled.  The keys to success included good support (not a huge amount was needed), a clear plan for delivery and good communication. Bingo. 

Trip hazzards 

So, from the other sidelast week I attended the Advance HE Online Curriculum Symposium. We’re perhaps more used to online sharing in the ed-tech field, but paying to attend an online event (not just dropping in on the free, pop-up ones) is a first for me. naturally fell victim to the meetings clash – yes of course I can attend a keynote and make notes while being integral to a client meeting at 10amwhich put me off kilter for a couple of hours. I also got the rooms mixed up – the physical experience of opening a door, deciding if I want to stay and then wandering round to find the sessions feels more comfortable, the digital version was like being in a completely dark room fumbling for the light switch. But apart from that, it was well worth it. Experiences and approaches to online curriculum were shared from around the world and it was really valuable 

“It’s not a black art” 

I took away a few things from the event 

Mary Jacob of Aberystwyth’s reminder that for effective planning of a digital curriculum, a community of practice approach can be incredibly powerful. I’ve passed this insight on to one of our clients who are running a two-week proof of concept for Webex Teams and Meetings, and it’s being shaped up as I write.  

There was an excellent inclusivity track which produced these valuable points: 

  • We need to remember to look at our students as individuals, not as a group. We should listen to them to see how they are coping – negotiations, dialogue and transparency are important.  
  • Investing time in building relationships with students is never regretted – lectures and seminars are valuable of course, but it’s having the conversations and getting to know students on an individual level that makes the difference. Consider how we create that sense of belonging in the online spaces. 
  • Technology is an amplifier of issues that already exist, and there is much we can learn about inclusion from this experience.  

There’s been lots said recently about this being the time that Learning Technology comes into its own (much celebrated in Digital Learning teams across the land), but a there was useful reflection of where we’re at on the digital capability front:  

  • In March, reluctant colleagues were unceremoniously thrown into blended online space. When they return in semester 1, most will do so in physical AND digital environments. With experience under their belts they will be more open to taking new learning on board, particularly around digital learning. They’ve seen it’s not a black art, there are resources and support there. 

Lastly, the facilitation of the symposium was excellent – personalities really shine through when you’ve got a consistent and confident compere through the dayI think the best facilitation pays attention to the engagement clues available “I see you’ve switched your mic on, would you like to ask something? – it is warm and human – of course there may be mistakes and bloops, but we can all learn to style it out.  

There’s many of these kinds of opportunities to join live, or review recordings after – UCL had great series of IOE Coffee breaks – short open events on current education topics; and early on I saw the OU ed-techie Martin Weller in conversation with Anne-Marie Scott, Deputy Provost of Athabasca University, about his timely publication 25 Years of Ed Tech – really great pieces of insight wouldn’t have been able to engage with before.  

So, let’s make the most of them, use to inform ourselves and our practice, to build rewarding networks and establish routes to expertise fast.  And let’s celebrate that that kind of activity is accessible and available, and that fingers crossed, it’s here to stay.  



Published by Helen Rodger
July 21, 2020

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