old painting of a working dog

Zoom and Room: hidden labour

I got married in 2006. It was great, we’d decided to get married on a ski slope in Canada. We flew out with a group of friends, skied around for a week or so, got married on a slope, had drinks and food, skied some more and came home. Piece of cake! Or at least that’s what I said when someone said to me “that must have been hard to sort out?” My response: “just turn up, ski, get married – it was awesome”

It wasn’t the first time (or the last)  that my wife had given me an evil look, but it was probably the most deserved. The best events are the ones that feel like they just happened. But when it feels like that it usually means that there was a lot of hidden labour in the background–or, if I am honest, that someone wasn’t paying enough attention…

Early in March 2022, I turned up to a session in Munster Technological University (a seat of learning in Ireland for 1200 years). We did a range of visits looking at different technologies and pedagogies across the institution and we also did an in person panel about Teaching, Learning, Technology and the Pandemic. It was called #DxMTU – Digital Transformation in Munster Technological University. It was a Room and Zoom – what some people call a hybrid or hyflex event. People in the room with us and people simultaneously participating on Zoom from a range of places in Ireland and around the globe.

“Just turn up, sit down and speak into the mic – it was easy”

Which is sometimes what we hear from senior managers who are talking about taking on this approach with lectures for students – “just do the lecture as normal, there’ll be students in the room and some watching online – sure it’ll be fine” 

We were a panel in the room and we turned up, sat down and started our discussion; questions from the floor, questions from the people watching online – there was even a big screen with the Zoom room on it that we could look at, and see the names (and occasionally faces) of people participating that way. 

It was easy! Right? 

Except the day before we’d turned up for a practice session and a bit of rehearsing of arguments, and we were told,  “Don’t come in here!!! We’re still working on it!” 

  • Microphones
  • Induction loops
  • Cameras 
  • Monitors
  • Trying to line up the screencasting and monitors and the panellists view
  • Making sure there is not too much echo and removing the feedback

The MTU team were setting up and testing most of the day before we got there. When we got there on the day they were still making tweaks. 

And as we got underway, well to be honest, they were still responding to small glitches. 

During the session, to ensure that we included everyone, there were staff online admitting people into the zoom session, monitoring the chat and feeding us comments and questions, and making sure things were running smoothly. And then when it was over the TEL team had to dismantle the equipment. And then process the videos and integrate them with the slides – and ensure the captions were available! 

Even in lecture theatres where equipment is set up and automated, it can not be assumed that this work is simple. There is a hidden labour– or at least hidden to those of us not paying attention. Systems need checking, testing. The recordings need to be checked, and the captions need proofreading. 

We need to recognise the labour involved in these emerging practices; existing teams are great at making things happen, making it feel possible, and making it as simple as they can for those of us who are experiencing it as users. But if the practices are to be embedded and widespread, that extra labour needs to be recognized and accounted for. People often can’t just turn up and flip a switch.  And those who are told it’s just that easy are being sold something. 

In some institutions I am seeing a lot of recruitment in learning design and technology enhanced learning roles.   In some I am seeing restructures with no overall increase in numbers.  Of course, some are either not changing or even reducing their numbers. 

 

A group of people discussing things

For me, I just turned up, sat down, and spoke when I needed to. Then a few days later the event recording turned up and I just needed to watch it to remind myself of things I said, and tweet it out. But engaging with the MTU TEL team during my stay in Cork left me in no doubt about the amount of hard work that is going on, and will need to carry on behind the scenes if hybrid or hyflex, or as the MTU team called it “Zoom and Room” is to become a regular feature of higher education practices. 

Thanks for inviting me @MTU_TEL_Team

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