Amid a global Covid19 shutdown, homeschooling two kids, and working full-time, I presented something resembling a conference presentation at this year’s (moved online thanks to the great team @A_L_T) Open Educational Resource Conference (#OER20).
I found this one difficult to prepare for. With the current climate there was a lack of head-space to craft it in, then I suddenly found myself within a sea, no an ocean of voices advising on how to teach and learn online. In a blink the whole world is shifting into the Web. We are more connected and networked than ever before – even if it is at a physical distance. It’s getting difficult to have a USP in edtech! I had to give myself a wee talking to (with the support of colleagues) that our work still has an important message and the experience and learning I have done for the past 20 years in this field has an important role today.
I wanted to stay true to my original abstract submission, but also connect with the wider extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in right now. The built environment provides many opportunities for educational metaphor – scaffolding, foundations, construction. At a time when we are shifting our residence into virtual spaces, relocation felt like an apt strand to weave into my presentation. I’ve always been fascinated with the 1960s movement to clear city slum housing and move residents collectively into high-rise estates, or as they were called ‘streets in the sky’. We had two such projects in Sheffield (my home town) that have gone full circle from utopian vision, to dereliction, then onto gentrification. Moving an on-ground community into the the sky will only work if that community is cared for, the fabric that they reside in is maintained and improved over time, and if differences in ways of being and becoming are recognised and supported.
Commentators from the HE sector are saying that this could be our opportunity to embrace learning online, to learn how to do it well, and that this will last beyond our pandemic. But what is happening right now will not necessarily work a few years down the line, or even come next academic year. Students lives are changing, teachers lives are changing, the spaces we engage in are changing and we need to navigate those critically. Our educational practices will need to reflect all this. Ultimately this needs to come from a place of understanding, collaboration and an activism to ensure we are present in new ways. It is teaching, not technology, that has an urgent role to play.