Reflections Week Four: changes and choices

Well it’s now Week four… We’re starting to reflect and understand a little more about how we work in this situation. Maybe. Maybe for some, not so much for others.

Most of my current work is now focused on the future, looking at what we are doing now, looking at the impact and the ramifications. If it wasn’t for the terrible circumstances that have led to this work, I’d admit that it was enjoyable. And I am enjoying engaging with people on the subject, but, like many people out there, Covid19 is not an abstract to me now, and I have friends and family who are impacted.

Some of the things I have noticed this week include how people are planning for the next academic year, and they have already started thinking about what will happen when this crisis finally ends.

In Canada I am already seeing people like Dave Cormier helping people in his institution plan for delivering curricula online in the Autumn. He’s not the only one, several UK people have communicated with me and asked about planning for delivering at least semester one of the new academic year too.

In Australia, Peter Bryant is weeks ahead of us in the UK in terms of where he has had to respond, and I am struck by one of his earlier tweet threads.

“Now isn’t the future we wanted. Socially isolated learners, necessary privilege of asynchronous communication & absolute reliance on the services of vendors who change the way we teach to fit their platform is not the better path towards change. This is a response to a crisis…

… We need to make sure we have a pathway to transformation from the now to where we want to be, in an environment of severe and enduring economic austerity. So no vendors, this ain’t your profit margin!”

Peter Bryant, 24th March 2020

Socially Isolated Learners

Asynchronous learning


Peter, a senior manager in a business school and a futurist, is right. What comes next is austerity. But what does that mean? In his tweet he alludes to one aspect – will institutions be able to afford large scale expensive EdTech systems?

I am thinking too about what institutional responses will be after this crisis – things will not go on as before, why would they? There will be a new normal. I don’t mean that things will have changed, or that people won’t try to go back to what they were doing before. People, quite reasonably, might want to go back to the same practices they had, after all they feel it was working for them (whether it was actually working for them, or working for other people, might be a useful question to ask…).

What I mean by “new normal” is all of the things I have just said, overlain with the acceptance that this experience will have influenced us, shaped our thinking even if we try to go back to our previous practice. Covid19 happened, is happening, and the assumption is that experiencing the pandemic is changing things, it is changing thinking, it is changing practices and it is changing strategies. Some people in my network have been talking about how “not enough will change” once the pandemic recedes. Before this all kicked off we saw the defunding of some departments, emphasis on certain disciplines (especially STEM), universities and colleges under pressure, along with many other public sector, social good, institutions. As Peter pointed out, when we come out of this there will be austerity, there will probably be recession. And again, we will be asked to cut services, we will be asked to “do more with less”.  After Covid19 we should be aware that it is very possible that not enough will change, that there will be more acute manifestations of the problems we already had.

We need to pause and think about these things and move forward understanding the ramifications. Things will be different, even if they are the same, we cannot erase our experience.

As we go forward, we need to remember that change is not something that just happens to us, to other people. Change is a result of people making decisions, people implementing strategies and policy. We cannot influence these things at every level, but we can try. As we, as I, start planning new work at Jisc I am focused on listening in this moment.  We are planning how to gather the narratives, the moments, how to learn from what people are feeling. This will be part of how my team in Jisc starts to develop our future work, by basing our programme on evidence, listening to the voices at all levels in the academy, especially now. You can expect to see more in the coming weeks about that work, and how we are using similar approaches to the work we have done in “Listening to Teachers”. There’s a great deal at stake, in what comes next, and we aim to be able to provide the kind of information to help people make the choices that will help them, indeed to be able to make choices rather than have changes be done without their input.

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