Professor Cindy Becker, School of Literature and Languages
One of the most difficult aspects of lockdown has been the sense of disrupted conversations: the students you wanted to remind about how to plan an essay, the query you heard in a seminar discussion that you want to answer now that you have thought about it. For me, this was more troublesome than the empty corridors as students started to leave.
As lecturers, our whole lives are run to the rhythm of academic terms, and so to have ‘term’ still happening when I was stuck at home seemed like a daily set of missed opportunities, which led, inevitably, to increased anxiety about how my students were doing and how they could prepare well for the challenges ahead. Of course, I was not alone in this; we all felt it and found different ways to resolve that niggling feeling of unfinished business.
What was needed?
I realised that I needed to find a way to stay in touch with students, not just those who I would meet online as part of online teaching and formal meetings, but also those who might be worried but who would not know quite where to turn. Perhaps more important than that, I wanted to reassure students that we are still here, we still want to teach them, and we are as keen to stay in touch as they are.
From a teaching perspective, I also saw this as an opportunity to help students with some of wider aspects of learning and of assessment, rather than focusing just on subject specific material.
How I responded
I set up a YouTube channel, called Still Learning Together, and then, over the course of a month, I uploaded short screencasts to the channel three times a week. I thought it important that we stayed in touch when there were no scheduled activities, so I ran this project over the Spring vacation.
The screencasts covered a range of areas:
Engaging with students
Because I could not know which of our students might be feeling isolated or anxious at any point, I wanted to reach the widest range of students for each screencast. I used BB announcements, with email, for each year of each programme in our School. I also asked students to let me know if they would like me to make any screencasts especially for them, so some of those listed above were produced on request.
Students engaged with the resource, with more than 870 views of the channel since I created it, which I found pleasing. I am keeping my ears open for any requests for guidance from students that might be answered through future screencasts.
Our Outreach Officer, Dr Neil Cocks, sent links to the channel to some local schools with which we have relationships and received a positive response (especially to the grammar help!). We have also added them to our Literature Launchpad YouTube channel.
I am planning to develop the channel later in the summer with our Foundation Degree students in mind, so that we can put links to the channel on their central BB sites. I am also trying to think of other ways in which we might develop and use the material. We might, perhaps, include links to the screencasts as quickmarks on turnitin, or perhaps have the links as a central resource on our BB sites…
I would also like to continue to involve students, and to help them remember that we really do want to stay close to them and to keep developing their learning skills with them. I am considering how to do this, including asking students for more suggestions and boosting usage of the YouTube channel over the summer and just before the Autumn Term.
I am enjoying mulling this over from time to time, and happy to hear any suggestions from colleagues about how I might develop the channel. As with everything to do with Teaching and Learning, as soon as you think a project is finished you find a little thread leading you on to the next part of the path…one of the joys of our profession, even in lockdown.
It occurred to me that, if students have to self-isolate in the coming months, they could be left feeling a bit lost, especially if they had assumed that they would be on campus throughout the year. With this in mind, I created the following document which shows students where they can go for some instant help and support. I produced three clips and put them on the Still Learning Together YouTube channel and, although they are not the final word on online learning, they might reassure our students that we are ready to help.
If you become aware that one of your students is having to self-isolate at any point this year, you might like to send them this document.