Where do I start? This year has been memorable, for many of the wrong reasons. It feels almost impossible to write an upbeat review of what I have heard some people call the ‘year of the plague.’ We’ve all learnt a lot of new words and found new meaning for words that previously meant very little: COVID-19, Coronavirus, lockdown, social distancing, new normal, pandemic, tiers, I could go on. I won’t, I will be in tears and no one wants that on the last day of the year.
Because for me, despite all my attempts to stay positive there have been dark days and nights, fear, sadness, insomnia, isolation. It’s not just the cancelled events, cancelled keynotes, missing people and worrying about myself and other people being sick. I’ve had times when I am unable to concentrate, and get lost for hours in a tendency towards what is called ‘doom-scrolling’ on social media. I remember early on probably around March or April literally being scared of what I might see on twitter. I think it was around that time I started to sew again, determined to finish what I called my ‘lockdown quilt.’ In fact it was a quilt I had half made several years ago and then given up finishing. Patchwork requires precision and patience, neither are qualities I am known for, so I am proud I made anything remotely decent – it also taught me not to give up. I guess my year has been a bit like my patchwork, good in places, pretty messy in others, got there eventually, just don’t look too closely and maybe don’t look underneath!
This year has brought some moments of joy though: through rewarding meaningful work, a lot of running and yoga, a lot of home cooking, walking, cycling, sunshine, a new nephew, a new home and now new cats. I have made new friends, I have caught up with old friends, I have realised which friends really matter. And I have appreciated people, including my lovely mum, who has phoned me every day without fail, since March at least once, sometimes not when I am in a Teams meeting too! I have spent more time with some colleagues than ever before, such that we have our own little jokes, we know who sleeps late (me), who eats what for breakfast and have got to know their lives and some of their families. I have learnt to run webinars like a pro (well kind of) thanks partly to Martin Hawksey. And in the autumn I rediscovering my love of preserving, which has led to filling my cupboards with homemade jams (blackberry, damson) and chutney (green tomato) and sloe gin. There has been some music, laughter, many photos and videos (including a HG Wells virtual tour of Bromley and a fabulous Christmas one edited by Chris and involving me and others singing ‘Do they know its Christmas’.
I wrote just four posts on this blog this year, here, here, here and here this is number 5, my fewest ever in a year. But I am blogging, on copyrightliteracy.org where there have been 39 posts, 38,330 hits (the highest ever since the blog was launched) and now over 300 subscribers. The most popular page was the page set up to accompany the webinar series, launched by Chris and me on 18th March 2020. Dom and I shifted the blog writing group that I run at work, online and more people have attended than when we met in person! But writing this year has been something I’ve found really hard, although we did finally nail a chapter for an open access book which ended up being 13,000 words, so maybe I didn’t struggle as much as I thought.
Anyone who knows me, knows I love a conference and particularly one involving exciting travel to places like Uruguay, Kyrgyzstan or beautiful Scotland. I was due to present at several conferences, I was keynote at Creating Knowledge in Tromso Norway, which has been postponed to June 2021. My joint keynote with Chris at the Playful Learning conference was postponed to July 2021, and the Icepops conference we co-host was postponed to June 2021. Whether any of these things will happen in 2021 who knows. A joint keynote at the Forum for Interlending finally took place 6 month late, on Zoom. We spoke online in New Zealand, Switzerland, Jamaica, at the Westminster Media Forum. I spoke at several information literacy events in the UK and one in Holland and got involved in an exciting initiative to embed information literacy into the the school curriculum. Interest in copyright and online learning is probably the highest it’s ever been. Chris and I have even set up a new special interest group on the subject, hosted by the Association for Learning Technology and are massively grateful to Maren and Martin for all their support. We also started work on a new project to devise a code of fair practice for film studies teaching, which has turned out to be pretty timely. We’ve applied for AHRC funding to continue this work (still waiting to hear), and I was successful in receiving funding with colleagues at City from the Centre for Distance Education at the University of London for a project to evaluate online teaching in politics at City. So professionally it’s been a rich experience, if one mediated by technology and largely spent at the end of the day sat on my own, rather than chatting and sharing the experience with my colleagues and friends.
In February 2020 I was awarded Senior Fellowship of the HEA – for me it was a real achievement that came literally one month before the pandemic broke out. I felt I had made it as an academic developer for a moment. In March I went to my last real conference called Inted, a conference on technology and academic development, in Valencia in Spain, just as the pandemic was starting to really take hold. I presented on some recent research into technology, digital literacy and open practice I had recently completed. However, I returned pretty terrified that I’d been at a conference, in what was turning out to be a Covid hotspot. I didn’t return to work after the 15th March, my trainers remained under my desk until the summer when Susannah, my director, kindly posted them back to me after a one off visit to the campus. I suspect the office plants are dead. I suspect the chocolates in my drawer are well out of date. I don’t even remember what I left on my desk on that Friday when I headed home unaware that would be my last trip to London for months. I’ve been teaching online since then.
At the close of the year, a really hard year, when I have worked almost without a break, when I ran my module on technology enabled academic practice twice, where Chris and I ran 28 webinars, when the number of talks I did ramped up and I ended up with a looming deadline to finish writing a chapter, I was feeling exhausted and drained. And then came some news that really lifted me. I got a letter just literally two days before finishing work from the Vice Chancellor of the Open University. I’m being awarded an honorary doctorate. It says I was awarded it for my ‘outstanding efforts in … advancing the fields of information literacy and copyright education both of which are essential to educational opportunities and social justice.” Why am I writing about this? Because in the hardest and most difficult year of my life (and most people’s life) it is important to celebrate the good things that happen. The resilience which people have shown, but also their willingness to be more open and vulnerable. I’m genuinely humbled to receive this degree from a university that was founded on so many of the same values I hold dear. The OU believe that education should be open to all, because it has the power to transform people’s lives. I also know there are plenty of other people that deserve such accolades as well, but I am grateful they chose me this year.
So celebrate the good times you’ve had this year, those successes big or small. But also know that it’s ok to shed a few tears for all we have lost and that didn’t happen, for the sadness this year has brought with it, of the dreadful isolation, of the people who have lost their jobs and worse their lives. But the world will go on, the spring will return, bulbs are already popping up in my new garden. I’m putting one foot in front of the other – the vaccine is coming. I am not setting any great ambitions for 2021, it will be what it will be and I will be happy to put 2020 behind me and look towards a more hopeful future when I hope to see more of the people I love and who inspire me. And I hope in July I can receive that honorary degree at the OU with real people watching and celebrating with me. I hope your year will be better too.