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What I've learned in lockdown

Clare McSheaffrey, Head of Marketing and Events at CoSector - University of London

It’s been 10 weeks for me, I started working from home on 16 March as a big event I was due to be at in Manchester got cancelled at the last minute so I took the opportunity to start working from home before the lockdown became official. The office had been getting quieter and quieter and we all knew lockdown was imminent, we just weren’t sure when it would happen.

I know that my role is easily done from home. We’ve been set up as a team to work remotely for quite a while though not on such a big scale as we are doing now. I’ve learned that I can keep myself motivated and productive most of the time but need to be careful not to get distracted by the flora and fauna in my back garden – the daily visits to the bird feeder by the robins, tits and goldfinches, the squirrels trying to dig into the pots and the fragrant blooms that seem to have grown bigger and more vigorously this year than ever before.

As Head of Marketing at CoSector, I’m responsible for supporting our sales and business development functions and making sure all our products and services are well known, predominantly in the HE sector. As lockdown loomed, our services supporting digital learning platforms became increasingly essential – expanding capacity and flexibility as teaching was moved online, supporting plug-ins for accessibility and a gradual increase in digital assessment amongst other things.

We partnered with Janison, an Australian education technology firm almost a year ago in July 2019, and the interest in their digital assessment solution was there, but conversations, demos and getting real buy-in was a slow process. Before lockdown, I attended #Digifest in Birmingham, and a session on digital assessment. In a room full of Learning Technologists, IT Directors and Academics, the general consensus was there was no need to move to digital assessment from paper-based exams, it would be time-consuming to do so, the technology wasn’t resilient or secure enough and just simply why would we? And then covid-19 happened.

The scramble to get summer term exams online and underway has meant more universities talking to us in a much more meaningful way now than ever before. I’ve learned so much about Janison Insights, the online assessment tool that includes authoring, delivery, marking and analysis of results. All this can be done in a locked down, controlled environment. Janison Replay allows tests to be delivered without interruption if there is a break in internet connection, and can even run where there is no internet connection at all, and Janison Remote is an online proctoring solution.  In the last 8-10 weeks, I feel I’ve learned more about all this technology than I have done since I was at college!

I’ve learned how to think about our marketing campaigns and doing things differently. We need to save money, in fact nearly all non-essential spend has been cut back right now, so marketing has to be creative and yet still effective. I have a friend who is a highly successful and skilled entrepreneur and I’ve always marvelled at his ability to see things completely differently from most of the people in the room, looking so far forward into the future I couldn’t fathom how his mind worked. Now I’m learning to start thinking that way, and accept that how I’ve always done things is going to have to change in the covid-19 pandemic era.

As universities are starting to announce their plans for the academic year 2020/2021, we’re seeing all sorts of individual situations emerge. Some are planning for a campus return in the autumn, some are staggering a return in autumn with a blend of online and campus learning, some are announcing all online teaching until summer 2021. I listened to a WonkHE event last week and Jim Dickinson’s view of the ‘new normal’. What would university education look like in the near future, and in years to come? The experience can’t be the same as it was for the foreseeable future, and will it ever return to what we perceive as normal, the traditional view of university life and experience? I’ve learned to let go of the perceived normal, and try to expand my mind to allow an acceptance and understanding of ‘new normal’ as we move forward. All things are possible.

I’ve learned that what is going on around us at the moment can play a big part in my emotional state. At the beginning of the pandemic I wanted to know everything, I listened to all the daily briefings, read newspapers, social media – I devoured any information about the development of covid-19 around the world. Then I realised how much this was impacting on me – I could be positive and motivated one minute, listen to a daily briefing with the rising number of hospital admissions and tragic death toll, and that would depress me, making me feel anxious and helpless. Is it helpful for me to know how many daily tests Matt Hancock has managed to send out? (whichever way they slice and dice the numbers). Not really. Is it helpful to know that Anosmia is now a recognised covid-19 symptom along with dry cough and fever? Yes definitely. And by the way, I learned about the lack of sense of smell or taste weeks ago from Professor Barry Smith, Founding Director of the Centre for Study of the Senses and it’s shocking that it’s taken so long for Anosmia to be officially approved!

I’ve learned to sift through the sensationalist headlines, the biased news reporting, the criticism directed at individuals in charge (or those trying to dodge being in charge), and just absorb the information that is useful and helpful to me personally.

I really have been on a huge learning curve over the last 10 weeks, both professionally and personally. It’s been demanding and stressful at times – I got a mild dose of shingles a few weeks back, but there have also been some really honest and frank conversations that have helped put that right and create a much more positive environment for me to work in and be a valuable part of the team.

One thing I’ve learned I really do enjoy as well, and it’s a bit of light relief, are the Janey Godley voiceovers of Nicola Sturgeon’s press briefings. If you don’t mind a bit of bad language and some weegie banter, it’s very funny. “Frank, get the door”.

#lockdown #covid-19 #digital #assessment #he #online #digitaltechnology #learning

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