Monday 22 March 2021

Pandemic pedagogy: in praise of collaboration and compassion

This post, written by Samantha Ahern from UCL, was first published on the ALT blog, 

In responding to the pandemic and how it has impacted higher education, now more than ever there has been a need for and move toward collaboration and partnerships within our institutions.

The academic mission has only been made possible by these collaborations. Educational developers working with digital education and faculty teams, supported by underpinning Professional Services. Certainly, my role as a faculty learning technology lead would not be possible without it.

It has been a tough year for everyone. I am saddened by some recent articles criticising faculty for not embracing new technologies or not seeing them as creators of learning content and materials. Because in my experience this is just not true.

Yes, there are always some colleagues who take more of a tortoise approach to developing their digital pedagogy. And there are also those that are hares, always trying something new, pushing boundaries.

But the most important thing is that is that whatever approach they take, it’s considered. It’s pedagogy rather than technology driven. It is accessible in both senses of the term for all students so that they have an equitable learning experience, and it is ethical.

Yes, there are some amazing technologies that are becoming available to us, and some have great promise. But are they the right thing, at the right time for the right reason.

It’s too easy to see many modern learning technologies and digital platforms as mere tools, instruments for our use. But they are more than that. They are human made, constructed into them are their creators ideas of what education should be, how it should be moulded, what is important and crucially all our biases conscious and sub-conscious. I am never in a rush to adopt the latest shiny new thing.

Don’t get me wrong. There are platforms, equity considerations and approaches to designing blended and online learning that I would like faculty colleagues to engage with. But much like our students I know that they are in a different place in their learning and development. I choose what to champion and when, based on my knowledge of them and their needs. I identify what is the one thing I would like them to focus on. There are many things I could ask them to adjust, tweak, and change. But in know that it’s not always appropriate. I hope my interactions, support and interventions are compassionate and empowering.

I have been heartened by the efforts of all colleagues. Particularly by the ownership of online learning spaces and the desire to create good learning experiences for students. Those who teach and support teaching activities have always been both content creators and curators. For many this year, the types of content they have created and the considerations that requires have been completely new. Not only has a new way of thinking been required, but also a new way of doing and in very short space of time.

I really hope that these collaborations, experimentations and pedagogic re-evaluations / considerations will continue post pandemic.

So yes, maybe, things have not been approached in the way they would have been by a learning design expert or specialist content creator? But, so what. Instead of criticising colleagues for what they aren’t doing, why not celebrate them for what they have done and support them in continuing to do so.

Samantha Ahern @2standandstare

Samantha’s approach to learning design is shared in this blog post and she clearly believes in the importance of putting people before processes. She also writes this about digital wellbeing and shares practical advice about coping during Covid.
Samantha Ahern (FHEA, ACMALT) @2standandstare
Faculty Learning Technology Lead (Bartlett),
Digital Education, Information Services Division, University College London

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