By Rob Lowney
Life in this pandemic is surreal and anxiety-inducing, so it’s perhaps unusual for me to say that I feel like my work life hasn’t changed that much at all.
Pre-pandemic, my days would be filled with meetings, designing and delivering professional development (PD) to academics around learning technologies, responding to learning technology queries… and that’s still how my days are filled. The volume is now much greater, but strangely I’m grateful for that. A busy work day keeps me occupied and I forget about this pandemic for a while.
Each day I get up and make the arduous commute to my desk in the corner of the living room. While waiting for the coffee to percolate, I do a short breathing or meditation exercise, using the app Stop, Breathe and Think. I don’t miss travelling on a packed Dublin Bus every morning, but I do miss that time I have to myself to get my brain oriented, so I try to start my day off well each morning.
Working from home hasn’t been much of a change for me. Pre-pandemic, I could be working on any of DCU’s campuses any day of the week, so I’m used to going without an office. So long as I have my laptop and some wi-fi, I’m good.
The first task is to scan my email and our helpdesk tickets to see if there are urgent issues to be addressed. If there are, I get to them straight away or contact my colleagues in the Loop VLE Support Team. At the other end of these emails is usually an academic who has little experience of teaching fully online. A query might seem small or simple to me but it’s of huge importance to them – and therefore their students – so I strive to treat it as such. Throughout the day my eye is on my email account, alert to anything that might arise. Not ideal – I should be focussing on just one thing at a time – but needs must.
A core part of my role in DCU is acting as one of the project leads – with my colleague Suzanne Stone – for the IUA Enhancing Digital Teaching and Learning (EDTL) project, launched in 2019. Never a more apt time for such a project! Although most of my day is spent on frontline support and PD related to the crisis, it’s still important to keep ‘normal’ projects going. Our project focus is developing academics’ capacity in technology-enhanced assessment. Every day contains an EDTL task – a catch-up with the national project team, a virtual coffee break with our participating groups of academics, designing and delivering online workshops, evaluating our activities, and so on. Our participants have adapted nimbly to the online format for project workshops, and they too are glad to keep going with ‘something normal’.
The Teaching Enhancement Unit’s output of PD activities has increased dramatically during this crisis. Each day we provide up to three webinars related to remote teaching and using the Loop VLE effectively. Most days I deliver a webinar on a Loop tool that can be used for assessment, or co-ordinate with a colleague who presents. It takes time to prepare these each morning but it’s time well spent. PD for academics during this crisis is vital.
Each day usually involves a call with some other members of the Loop Support Team and our head of unit, Mark Glynn, to assess the situation, discuss issues, plan new PD activities, and as the semester draws to a close, to discuss alternative assessment arrangements.
I certainly feel spent by the end of each day, but looking out my apartment window I see St James’s Hospital and it puts things in perspective. My busy work day pales in comparison to the heroic duties our healthcare workers are fulfilling.
Rob Lowney is a Learning Technologist in DCU’s Teaching Enhancement Unit (TEU) in the National Institute for Digital Learning. Rob’s account of his typical day was first published in a special edition of the National Forum’s eZine.