On the verge

Written by Jerry Allen


The digital delivery of the university offer is now ‘de rigour’. As we enter another locked down, locked up, learning landscape what are we as educators aspiring towards in this uncharted journey of discovery?

Since March 2020, educators have transformed the traditional face to face tutor student relationship into a maelstrom of multi-platform Moodle, Blackboard, Zoom and Teams lectures and workshops.

Colleagues have invested heavily in the creation of new online programmes to the point of exhaustion. The long summer recess is long gone. The tireless transformation of online material has happened.

Now we are at lift off. Will it work, will they get it?

We seem to be in the midst of a massive experiment. These sorts of transitions normally take time, lots of time. This year forced everything to ramp up at breakneck speed and now we have arrived.

Yet there doesn’t appear to be an arrival point. Students and staff together spinning endlessly in a bubbling cauldron on the verge of the next digital iteration.

As delivery agents replace human touch ‘staff’, it’s a clear sign we need to navigate these digital tools. Yes mind-blowing to say the least as we hit the road running in this new digital pedagogical era.

Daily life finds you peer into a laptop camera all day every day, genuinely aiming to look engaged; raise your hand, get accused of being on mute, forget to lower your hand, then leave your microphone on, an endless reshuffling of brain functions. What about the time you left your camera on and were caught daydreaming out of the window? You are not alone.

But spare a thought for our new learners, those students who are having to consume your beloved content for hour after hour glued to the monitor because this is the new norm. An incessant stream of consciousness not quite on a par with watching box sets on Netflix or Prime.

Are we expecting our consumers to sit glued to their dining room chair with the same zest for digital learning as they would in the lecture theatre that would be followed by a meander to the library via the coffee shop, a small group of friends who will chew the fat over their latest edition of Walking Dead or The Boys?

No, and I fear in this newly imposed digital world our learners are faced with an alternative student experience; alone, isolated and far from the norms of previous years. Long gone are the coffee shop conversations, the wanderings between buildings, the lively student halls experience.

Today our learners are spread far and wide exposed to a radically different student experience.

A traditional evening workshop kicking off at 6pm used to work for most students at the end of the day’s lectures. But wait, our learners are now in the virtual room, not the physical room. I recently fell into this trap with an evening start of 46 student from 13 different countries spreading from Mexico to Japan and 8 time zones. The poor guy in Tokyo finished at 3am local time!

Time only will tell!

Jerry Allen, EEUK Director and UCL Director for Entrepreneurship