And how do we use this as an opportunity to evolve and grow?

The past two weeks have been chaotic, as everything was transferred online, hastily, and often without thinking at all. But this is actually an opportunity to improve, to restructure our life and work..

Even though I was happy to see everyone discovering new tools, some of the consequences of using technology without really giving it a second thought are not all that great. Courses that now need to be taught by distance are replicating the campus structure and approach. Online meetings are becoming easier, so we overdo it. We are not yet used to collaborating online. We need some time to adapt and reflect. And we should use this time as an opportunity to improve.

I tested my boundaries this week, using Twitter for the first time. The thought made me a little anxious. It was scary to think that what I was posting was visible to everyone. But after the first few minutes I started getting more and more drawn in to the ease of communicating through this platform, and the fear of the unknown started disappearing. The nervousness was now due to the fast pace of conversation, trying to not miss anything, and not quite knowing how to use the tool. Certainly not the best forum for a slow thinker! I have two different sides depending on whether I am required to respond straight away or more slowly. I would rarely give the same answer in the two cases. So how do I make sure that when I use one of these tools I create an inclusive environment? How do I make sure that when I am assessing students I do not just test how well they fit the picture of a slow/fast thinker the particular form of assessment is designed for but what they actually know? Most universities are moving towards online examinations, being at a lower or higher degree of preparation, and these thoughts are even more relevant. They can uncover how outdated some forms of assessment are, and can offer an opportunity to develop our thinking, our approach, our attitude towards learning.

The concept of visitor and resident (White and Le Cornu, 2011) offers a good framework to place our ideas and build understanding upon. Everyone has a range of modes of interacting when using the internet, either looking to engage and connect (resident) or not leaving any trace at all (visitor). I created a map of my engagement in and through different platforms (if you are not taking the ONL course and want to learn more about this concept, check out this video). It is really interesting to see how different this may look from person to person.

In the last two weeks I used Teams, Zoom, Hangouts, Skype for Business for online meetings, a lot more than before the coronavirus era (hence the spiky bubbles. In my online learning course, I used Blog, Twitter and Miro (mindmapping) for the first time, and I became a fan!

I spend very little time engaging with others on Facebook, mostly using it as a source of information. I have no problem connecting to my friends and family through a video chat, sending them recorded messages. However, when I had to record a video of myself for a course I was giving it took me quite a few hours to get together a relatively simple video message in which I did not look terrified of being on camera. This showcases one issue with technology: we may be comfortable using it in a personal context but not in a professional one. And then we expect our students to use digital tools to learn, thinking that since they know how to use technology it should not be a problem. But they don’t know how to learn, and having to use a tool in a completely different context is not easy. Maybe it is actually a little like using a foreign language. I teach and work in English, but living in Sweden I have learned Swedish and can communicate well in a social context. If I have to teach or do research in Swedish, however, it will not be an easy task, even though I do know how to do all of those things. But it is not in the same context. In most of the cases, we are actually students ourselves. And everyone’s motivation to use technology plays a very important role in our digital literacy and shapes our interactions.

A lot of our students are afraid of being watched. They do not like interacting with their video on. The first time I did it in a professional context it was strange, I felt shy. But then it felt normal. How do we help our students overcome that barrier? How do we make them feel safe? And if it is in a context of being graded, judged, how do we ensure this is still a relaxed environment? If our ways of working and assessments are hierarchical, connection becomes harder. When we are all learning something new, however, we become more equal in this experience. And that we can achieve by using different tools that make learning more fun both for us and for the students.

I never thought a course activity could be so much fun!

Yes, we really need to rethink our approach to teaching and learning! But what does that mean for engineering courses? Is the subject too “dry” to have student interactions? Perhaps we should be even more patient and allow more time for the change in mentality to happen, both for ourselves and for our students. After all, this transition challenges our preconceptions of what it means to learn (and teach), it is not an easy feat to change those, but it is certainly worth a try..

In this digital era I think it’s most important to help students develop a healthy approach to online tools that makes them feel comfortable but also encouraging them to try being a little uncomfortable and learn/try something new.

How do we adapt to the digital age?