I went back to the University campus for the first time in four and half months yesterday. I was quite apprehensive about it to be honest, just getting in the building, how it would feel, would I feel safe, what would the journey be like? And also excited about a sense of normality and how the office would feel as well as seeing colleagues in 3D!
The whole experience was fascinating and easier than I had thought, getting in the building not withstanding, which, as expected was the most challenging part. I thought I might be overcome by emotion when I got back to campus, but I wasn’t! It felt remarkably normal which in itself was weird and strange as things are not normal. Travelling in on the train it was about as busy at 8.00am as it usually is at 6.45am and walking through the City it was pretty quiet. Getting “real” coffee was a real treat as well as a bought lunch! It was also lovely to chat to colleagues in an informal way and without staring at a screen.
My purpose in returning was to assess what needed to be done in teaching rooms and how we could support staff with socially distanced teaching activities. I am a person that likes to work with tangibles and I had an instinctive feeling that getting into the classrooms would raise issues and questions for me which I could not think through by just looking at plans. And this was indeed the case.
Armed with a ruler, visor, mask and mic, myself and two colleagues walked through various rooms and tried to assess what it would be like to teach with a visor and/or a mask on. What impact that had on voice quality and engagement. Whether you could be heard at the back of the room, whether you could still be seen with a visor on. We found that visors do block your face too but also reflect the light which could cause challenges when recording presentations/teaching. We also found that some classrooms worked really well with 1m+/2m social distancing and did not feel too isolated. Perhaps needless to say those rooms with the most flexible seating and that are most interactive in “normal” times are those that work best in terms of implementing social distancing and engaging students safely. We were also able to play around with some of the technology, such as live streaming and screen casting to see how they worked. This also raised questions about how to run teaching sessions and guidance for staff. There is still a lot to do and I am not sure how interactive sessions between students although we did think that more was possible than we had first thought. At least we have made a start.
At the end of the day, I had more questions than answers and took away the main thoughts:
- Teaching on-campus will inevitably be different in the Autumn term (state the obvious!) mainly because there are more logistics to be thought about that surround the actual teaching
- Clear guidance on expectations of staff and students using the rooms will be key
- We can advise staff and even with social distancing and guidance some things still may come down to personal choice and comfort
- Prior information about how rooms can be used, where you can sit, how to move around campus and how to keep safe will be reassuring for students and staff
- Lots of support on site about making you feel welcome and safe will also help us all adapt to the new normal
- Managing expectations about what learning and teaching will be like as well as what will be the same and what will be different will also help everyone transition
- Working collaboratively across the university will enable us to create a safe on-campus experience for all