#SoTLWalk June

Identities in Crisis

My reflections this month are a bit late. Too much going on. Too many directions to run into. Too much input. Too much expected outputs. Too many turn-around timelines. Too much. On all levels. But this rainy Scottish weekend, brings–unexpectedly–time. It was too wet even for us to go for a long cycle. The house is relatively tidy–thanks to the brief breathing breaks, where I get away from my laptop to load the dishwasher, sort the laundry etc. Household chores have become the new watercooler chats. Anyway, this is probably going to be a long post. So while you listen to the rain fall make a cuppa and settle in.

A walk in the rain

June SoTL Walk

It is really interesting that the last #AdvanceHE and #LTHEchat of this academic year encompassed questions of identity, and incidentally so does the monthly #SoTLwalk. I think we were not just thrown into a pandemic but also into a situation where re-negotiating our (professional) identities was forced on us in this situation. Who am I in this 2D digital workspace? Still human.


These were the set of questions for this month’s walk

So what are you doing differently to enhance or reveal the ‘human’ in your work? Maybe you are using video, dressing informally (even dressing up), showing students what your home looks like, making yourself more accessible, getting people to share their hobbies/non-work lives, being honest and open about your own mental health, bringing the outside in….? Are you having to make new rules for presenting yourself and communicating with people? Do you find it uncomfortable or liberating?

Natasha Taylor

Being human and meaningful presence

I feel the most exhausting aspect of what I am doing is to amplify my voice online. This takes a lot of time and energy. Being more–and also more consciously–in touch with my students and colleagues. Which in turn made me wonder how little we actually connect when being in a physical place together. Yes, it is common that colleagues in our building pop into one another’s offices for a brief chat, or to say hi. But with my students, I feel the threshold to connecting has been lowered so much since moving into MS Teams. The group chat has entirely eradicated the 10 emails all asking the same questions. Often, when someone has a question, the peer-group sources the answer before I even have time to catch-up and all I need to do is check-in to see that there are no urban myths about assessments or deadlines emerging. It is so easy to simply text a: How are you all? Does anyone want a chat? Or resources, that are related to the course I came across during the week. To summarize:

1st lesson = amplified presence creates stronger relationships

If the weather permits I work in the garden, otherwise in my attic office, and more often than not share my background. I have learned that people really do enjoy my office plants, and like the tailor’s dummy (it’s office cum sewing room). My wallpaper has caused some discussion and led to colleague showing me their equally elaborate wallpaper. We had discussions–and show and tell–of various office fairy-lights, as well as other mnemonic objects that live in these spaces.
I have learned that not many other colleagues work in their gardens, and see garden as being for breaks. We have outdoor power sockets and WiFi in the garden. For me it’s the most focussed, and at the same time most relaxing work environment.

blooming branch of dog rose

2nd lesson = Bringing people in creates connection

I havent thought much about presenting myself, I have on multiple occasions forgotten to change my exercise shirt when rushing back from Nordic Walking into a meeting. But I have thought a lot about changing the appearance of my courses. I run two postgraduate courses and the masters’ dissertations on our Master in Academic Practice Programme*. And the courses are either fully blended or online only anyway. However, there are some tricky areas to navigate, such as translating object based learning into the digital realm. Or keeping the master students going while they undertake a two-semester 20 credits research course, part-time next to their usually fulltime work.

I will follow up with a couple of working out loud posts as I go along redesigning, and am almost ready to share. So yes, it made me rethink, the relationship with my students, how the course is presented, and reflect on how to translate my enthusiasm for my teaching and the topics I am teaching into the flat-world online. Particularly with the fully online course I felt I did not do this particularly well–although there was marked improvements once I was not shackled to Moodle anymore.

3rd lesson = don’t redesign activities, redesign pedagogical approaches

These were the concrete things. There are more things–messier, more difficult, more challenging. Some not yet ready to be shared. Others maybe. I read somewhere in the wild world of social media that the lockdown has highlighted people’s characteristics–the good, the bad, the ugly. I am less patient–I find–with selfishness, ignorance, anger. Normally, I try to understand everyone, if I agree or not doesn’t matter. I want to understand. Right now. My patience runs thin.
However, there are good things amplified as well, I was told I was a fab leader–yeah! I had the most thank you emails, messages, and tweets from students–ever! So all is not lost. Most of the reflections though are half-baked, snippets of memories, thoughts, and stories. They might mature for a good while before being told.

One thing to add though–which makes me despair–when I sat out for my SoTL Walk these were the images I encountered (photos of various items of litter floating in a local biotope below). They immediately made me think cynically that today’s walk was going to be about: How not to be human. And it also made me wonder, if we cannot even stop the people in our own community to do this, how are we supposed to initiate deep rooted cultural and structural changes?

4th lesson: when you do not know where to even begin, begin with your self and take it from there

I almost forgot I wanted to finish this post with two of my favourite quotes:

“If the structure does not permit dialogue the structure must be changed”

Paulo Freire

“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. “

Rainer Maria Rilke

While the latter was written with regard to romantic relationships (mainly) I am wondering what if we treat ‘love thy neighbour’ this way? Because in the deepest darkness, where light won’t reach, love will find a way.


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