When I last wrote, we were just 72 hours in to our new ‘normal’ working arrangements. We’re now into the summer term and we’ve had some time to further adjust and reflect on how things have been progressing since then.
I think it’s fair to say that the last few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind for the TEL team. Whilst adjusting to new working arrangements, we’ve been offering the best support we can to staff across the university with their rapid transition to online teaching and remote administrative support. In response to the fast-changing situation, we developed a new ‘Teaching & Learning Online’ webinar which, to date, we’ve delivered 11 times with 222 attendees, We also adapted our ‘Getting Started with Webinars (using the Blackboard Collaborate tool)’ to present entirely online, delivering 12 sessions reaching 282 staff. Over the last four weeks, we’ve been developing our support for staff and students with administering and completing ‘Take Home Exams’ during the summer term and preparing and delivering an introductory webinar to support staff using Blackboard tests. A webinar about personal capture (screen-casting) is currently also in development.
Things are still going well for us as we work and collaborate remotely; we seem to have made the transition quite successfully. Regular briefings and meetings have helped each of us keep up-to-date, and touching base on Teams chat when we arrive at our desks in the morning and signing off as we leave in the afternoon, has helped each of us feel connected. We’ve retained our team briefing and meeting structure, using Teams for online meetings. We’ve become well-versed in the full functionality of Teams and have found we’ve used this to communicate and collaborate much more than email.
Below are some reflections and tips from members of the TEL team based on their experiences so far of working remotely:
Working at one’s desk without the need to physically travel between meetings, it’s easy to schedule or accept invitations to back-to-back meetings and allow no transition time. This can result in spending hours in front of the screen with no breaks to take stock, consolidate notes, take a quick breather. It’s important to remember to build in short breaks between online meetings if possible, even for a stretch or to rest one’s eyes.
I’ve found that it’s possible to work for hours in front of the screen, especially if I have a lot of meetings or staff development webinars, without remembering to take a break. Using the timer built into Windows 10 has been helpful in reminding me to step away for a few minutes at regular intervals. Popping out into the garden briefly and taking some deep breaths in the fresh air helps keep me calm and focused.
Meeting up socially online as a team can be fun. We’ve enjoyed a couple of online social gatherings at the end of the week which has been a nice way to demarcate the end of the working week and start of the weekend. We’ve met in our virtual space which we’ve called ‘The TEL and Bottle’ and had non-work related chats. We had a pub quiz on one occasion which was good fun!
Some of the team are juggling childcare or other caring responsibilities around their working arrangements, making normal working hours difficult and, at times, impossible to maintain. Blocking out small chunks of time in the Outlook calendar, regularly setting your Teams status and adapting your email signature can help to communicate your availability and likely response times. This is particularly useful when sending communications out of hours, so that others know you are not expecting them to reply early morning/late evening. Full-time caring also means prioritising how you spend your working hours; some of the team have found it extremely helpful to mute Teams notifications, to help focus on tasks, and instead use the mobile app for responding to Teams chat when multi-tasking with children or away from the desk. That said, however, it can be very stressful to keep an eye on work whilst caring, particularly if children are very young or have high care needs, so keeping in regular contact with your team and planning workloads helps avoid burn-out.
Despite being physically distanced, some of us have reflected that this shared experience is, in some ways, bringing us closer together as a team. We’ll have a shared memory on which to reflect at a later time. Working in different offices on campus, we don’t always see each other everyday. Working online, I know I’ve made a conscious effort to touch base with everyone even just briefly everyday.
In sum, it’s fair to say whilst it’s not quite the same as being on campus with colleagues, we’ve adapted well and we’re working well together at a distance.
A reminder that the TEL team is here to support all staff to use technology effectively to enhance teaching, learning and assessment, and enrich the student experience. You can find the TEL team’s guidance for teaching online and details of staff development sessions – Teaching & Learning Online and Getting started with webinars (using Blackboard Collaborate) – on Blackboard’s Help for Staff tab. Guidance on personal capture (recording) tools for creating screencast videos (including narrated PowerPoints) can be found there too.
If you’d like to know more about using MS Teams (part of Office 365), DTS have some useful guidance on their website.
If you’re reading this blog post and don’t already follow us on Twitter, you can do so using @UniRdg_TEL. We’re sharing timely information and resources from within and beyond the university.
Stay safe and well, and please remember that we are here to help you. To contact us with a query or request for advice, please email it@reading or log a ticket using the IT Self-Service Portal. If you’d like to share how you / your colleagues have adapted your teaching practice to deliver online, please drop me a line (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) – we’d love to hear how you’re getting on.