Teaching is like a river – you can’t step into the same one twice. The streams of online teaching and remote work which we paddled in before COVID have been swept away by the torrent of “emergency remote learning “; the banks are broken, and new channels gouged out. The flood has, hopefully, passed and we need to work out how to navigate the new landscape over the coming decade.
The context of teaching is now fundamentally different. Now, all of our students have experienced it, and many have done well. For their future, remote work will now be much more common, and ‘work-ready graduate’ now must include ‘remote work ready graduate’ This requires some re-thinking about what we do and how we do it, even in face to face class times.
It is now important that every student experience online learning which includes collaborative work. This has been a good idea for years, not only for work but also to understand how to function respectfully and effectively in an increasingly online world. Now it has become essential.
The easy solution is to have certain courses fully online – it’s simple and clean. Life, however is not like that. Even though some aspects of life and work can be neatly compartmentalised, before we get to that stage, there are questions to be explored.
While some companies and some universities have always been fully remote, most firms are now looking at a mix of remote and in person working. The problem with this is how exactly do you best use your in person time, and how do you best use remote time? If you bring staff into the office 2 days a week, what is the best way to use those days? Does everyone come in on the same days, or is it more useful to have certain teams in on certain days? What do you actually do in the office? Because if what people do on office days is the same as what they do on remote days, the office days are a waste of commuting time and leases.
For remote working what is the best way to organise a day – team meetings at 9 am? Or 9.30? Simple but this negates one of the main advantages of working from home: allowing people to organise their day around their best working times. For people who do best by working from 7am till noon, morning meetings are terrible. Here’s the bad news: the answers here will be dynamic and evolving, differing between teams and projects, within and across different sectors. Worse news is that it will never be possible to organise teams so that everyone is happy, but having spent decades marching everyone to a desk from 9 to 5, whatever we do will be better.
One key thing which will be important is that people have some grasp of how they work best. If people are to fit in the different groups and projects, they need to know themselves. I have some ideas about how next semester will run, but little is set in stone. This is because I only have vague ideas about how the last 18 months have changed the cohort of students I’ll be seeing shortly. So the first 2-3 weeks will follow my old pattern : online required readings, short video introduction, initial reactions posted in the forums, fuller discussion in class, with a follow up reflection on the forums leading to the next topic.
But after that there will be some negotiated co-creation of our schedule. We will not continue to have 2 hours in class each week, and I think we will come back fully into class for the final 2 weeks to gather our thoughts. But the middle weeks? Fully online? An hour in class and a synchronous hour online? And I hope we can use our wonderful Digital Humanities Lab to test the dreaded compromise of ‘hybrid’ with half the class in the room and half coming in remotely. I’ve done this with PhD seminars, so I know it’s hard work but now, with learners who have done a full year of remote learning, we can explore ways to capitalise on their experience and see how we make it work better.
In my experience, students will rise to a challenge, as long as it’s made clear to them that they’re going to get something worthwhile from it. What they will get, on top of the usual content, is some awareness of what works for them, and practice in thinking about how they might do their best work in the coming years.