Since my previous CMALT portfolio communication has continued to be a core to just about all elements of my professional life. However, the model has significantly changed during that time. Before, nearly all communication within my role supporting students and staff was through email with some face to face. Since the pandemic this has flipped so that now the majority of my interactions are live (online) with some email. Within my team the situation has similarly flipped as we all shared a single office on one of the four campuses and spoke and shared knowledge in physical space. As part of a pilot of Microsoft Teams we implemented a department Team area in early March 2020. This has proved invaluable, as we have centred all of our shared communication, planning, team resources and support for one another all into this single space. We have a daily early morning coffee get together for half an hour, we maybe chat about work maybe not.
For support sessions with staff, a colleague set up a booking system via PowerApps. I enter my available 30-60 minute slots which appear on a SharePoint site and staff simply click on the one that suits them best. The booking then appears in both of our calendars and the user also receives a link to my Blackboard Collaborate room. This has been crucial for our team as we can even the workload across several staff as requests are kept out of inboxes and into the booking system. Since lockdown, I have had over 150 sessions, mostly one to one but also group sessions.
Before and after the pandemic ensuring that resources and support are available to colleagues and students in multiple formats ensures that they are inclusive as possible. So face to face sessions, online webinars (which are all recorded), text-based guides as well as how-to videos.
A significant communication challenge came when the new medical school requested support for conducting Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs) online for candidates applying to Ulster University. This involved two cohorts of around 130 in February and June 2021. After discussion with colleagues I determined that Teams met their needs best even though it didn’t support breakout rooms. However, just before the end of 2020 Microsoft released this function and I then spent time testing and devising the process that would work best for assessors and candidates. I spoke to candidates and assessors across four information sessions, then ran one assessors hands-on session and during the week of the interviews I added an open test session each morning between 8-9 am for any student to test their systems for that day. This work is a whole paper in itself but for here I can’t emphasise enough that the experience required more of my communication skills than any technical skill. Both candidates and assessors were new to online interviewing and so I ensured that I took the control and worry of technology out of their hands by allocating the breakout rooms, running the timers and bringing everyone in and out of rooms. More importantly though I had to reassure everyone at all times that there was nothing to worry about and that any problems would be dealt with and wouldn’t be taken into account. Between myself and my colleague we facilitated 16 sessions of 8 candidates (I ran 12 of these) and opened and closed over 1024 breakout rooms over four days. Several people commented on my ability to maintain a sense of calm, which in turn calmed them.
Beyond my day to day work I contribute regularly to conferences, internally and beyond, collaborating with people as much as I can. I have pushed the norms of presentations where and when possible contributing to the PressED conference (2019 and 2020) which is a Twitter conference, Pecha Kucha and even a Limerick talk at OER19. I have also been on conference organising committees for ALT-C, ALT NI and OER.
During the pandemic I co-facilitated several external sessions:
- Teaching Technologies: Fostering Discussion, Debate, Collaboration and Engagement for the Cara Syria Programme – with Emma McAllister
- Socialisation and Engagement for Queen’s University Belfast – with Áine McNeil
- Engaging Students Online for North Regional College – with Áine McNeil
- Stories of Care: Reflections on Teaching and Learning Online in 2020 for IUADigEd series – with Kate Molloy
Impact as seen in my Alternative CV (a #DS106 assignment type) and my #FemEdTech post about my curation of the account.
Clare thank you for your calm capable professionalism- awesome! #proudofUU 🙏
— LouiseDubras (@LouiseDubras) February 15, 2021
— Katharina Kurz (@kathii_kurz) December 8, 2020
If you didn't get a chance to attend yesterday, do take a look – as well as covering a really important topic, the presenters also used great engagement techniques, including Padlet, Chat bombs, and 'negative to positive changing a letter' [that might have a snappier title 😆] https://t.co/zzEUMKIBOq
— CONUL T&L Group (@CONULTL) December 8, 2020
Being clear and aware of avoiding over technical language when talking to both students and staff has always been something that I have kept in mind. Overly, jargonistic language can easily put people off using technology within teaching and learning, however, since lockdown I have to think even more carefully about this and remove even more acronyms and explain other terms clearly in conversation with staff. Remaining calm has proved the most essential part of my communication during this highly pressurised and stressful time for teachers moving their teaching fully online. This aligns with the work I have been focusing on since late 2019 on care within higher education and challenging the resilience narrative. This work over conferences in 2020, along with external webinars that I attended has ensured that I am up to date with different approaches to learning technology within and beyond higher education.
Over the last year, I have had to face my the opposite of what most people did – where others felt the lost of human interaction intensely, I felt overwhelmed by the intensity of non-stop human interaction. I love email (I know this is a contentious view as many loathe it); I love the slow asynchronous pace, I love dealing with emails as and when I fit in my schedule, I love having written evidence of plans/discussions/decisions, I love the flexibility. The pandemic meant that my support shifted to almost fully synchronous. There were many days when I would go into my support room and one person would arrive as the previous session was still going (despite me having allocated one hour between each). A lot of these conversations were as much counselling as technical support. This was the aspect I felt was most exhausting for me and being able to reach out to colleagues and friends throughout, as well as joining a coaching course enabled me to maintain a level of control over situations that threatened to engulf me.
Whilst, the lockdown has increased this direct communication I have on a daily basis the knock-on effect has been a negative impact on my writing. Working full time, homeschooling and working on my PhD has meant that writing in reflective spaces has simply not been possible, and I have missed this outlet. Contributing to the 25 Years of EdTech: The Serialized Audio Version podcast (chapter 1996 – Computer-Mediated Communication) in late 2020 was as near to public reflection that I managed this year (and I was so exhausted I forgot to say half of the things that I had noted down).
When I joined Twitter it was a great way of learning from the wider edtech community as I was then one of very few learning technologists in my institution and was a team of one. However, I have gained so much more that I could have envisaged. However, this portfolio champions the importance of such open platforms for professional development as I have been able to provide a lot of evidence in the form of Tweets, about content or examples that are locked within my institution – openly available feedback in many cases. I have learned so much from peers across the world and I have shared my own practice as much as possible, and as openly as possible, in return. This is proving invaluable for my PhD journey as well, as I learn new communications skills such as interviewing and conducting participatory sessions for research purposes rather than teaching purposes.
Digital curation gets more and more difficult however, as they grow over the years. I do have a LinkedIn account for example but have now forgotten the login details which also means I can’t log in to SlideShare either. It takes time and effort to keep on top of these fixes and ever more pushes me to add content directly to this blog on my own space. I can then keep much better control of what is where and can easily update things in a single space.