So it’s September already and just a few weeks after finishing teaching my Technology Enabled Academic Practice module, I have started the module again with a new cohort of staff. There is a sense that these weeks are critical moments for higher education as learning has shifted online for the coming term and we still have a bit of time to plan well. It’s not surprising that people taking my module want technical help and support to prepare for the coming term. It’s a time for me to do what I can to be helpful and supportive to my colleagues and demonstrate I can make a difference. I’m returning to the blog post I wrote back in April and seeing what I have learnt since then. But boy does this feel like quite a lot of pressure!
As with the situation in March, there has been a reaction – it’s been impossible to do anything but react to unknown events, and as we move into Autumn and the new restrictions come into force, as the infection rate for COVID starts to rise again, it’s a scary time. Maybe not as scary as things were in March, as we know a bit more about what to expect. However, I got a sense that throughout the summer people were looking to find someone in charge to tell them what to do. This is happening in Higher Education and in the country more broadly. Sometimes the right people have the loudest voice, sometimes they don’t. I also wonder if people have also been looking for someone to blame a little because they are fearful of their own deficiencies but also of having the finger pointed at them. There is a lot of defensive behaviour, where people are wanting to be seen to be doing the right thing.
Those of us in educational support roles have been desperate to help and be seen as the lifeboat which has made us all produce lots of things and provide a surfeit of advice and guidance. I’m fairly sure what what we’re doing is helpful to some extent but also contributing to cognitive overload. Rather like my email inbox which now permanently has around 50 unread messages, I am learning to live with a bit of chaos. But we know in times of stress people can’t process large amounts of complex information, so messages need to be clear and concise and very focused. I try to think about this when dealing my new cohort and have committed to sending a weekly email with the information about what they need to do, and keeping this short and focused.
As we head into the Autumn and start of term I think there is now a need to shift to being proactive while ensuring we recognise this is about partnership and collaboration and community and pulling together, rather than assigning blame. Yet while we are all in this together, some people do have more agency or privilege or more knowledge and they need to use that to help others. Those of us who have worked in educational technology for some time, have a lot of really useful knowledge. However, those people (people like me) need to recognise they can’t do everything and they need to look after themselves. The oxygen mask on a plane scenario is relevant here, you can’t help others if you are not looking after yourself first.
I think in higher education we need a type of leadership that is strong and vulnerable at the same time. A leader who knows some of the answers but listens to others and recognises those who have expertise. I think we need leaders to curate content, sift through all the stuff that’s out there and point people to the key information they need to know. I’ve learnt a lot from running 20 (and counting!) copyright and online learning webinars since 20th March, hosted by ALT and delivered with Chris Morrison, my copyright literacy partner. But I think it might be time for me to re-read Brene Brown’s ‘Dare to Lead’ book. As we head closer to the start of the new academic year and with anxiety levels rising higher still, curation becomes increasingly important – so we share what is the most useful, not everything we have in our heads.
I wish everyone the very best for the forthcoming academic year, it’s going to be challenging and hectic. At times it is going to feel overwhelming and at times I know I will be overwhelmed and I might have to say no to people. But if you remember nothing from this blog post, remember that sometimes people need your help, but you need to be focused in the support you provide to others. Short emails that focus on the three things people need to know. Or make a quick call to clarify what would have taken a lengthy email to explain. Technology is a wonderful thing but sometimes a smile and a chat and a virtual hug convey a lot more. Good luck everyone, and don’t forget to breathe (through the mask)!
With thanks to Dom Pates for corralling me into re-starting our blog writing group virtually, so I could actually finish this post!