Nassi is starting university in September and will be leaving home. When universities moved online overnight during this pandemic, I had a glimpse of hope that Nassi would be staying with us next year and study from home. As a mum, especially a Greek mama, who feels a very strong bond with her children and finds it extremely hard to believe that her little boy is no little boy anymore (I actually had baby typed here originally…) and let go, this was a sweet thought, like μέλι (honey). One more year together. I could protect him from the big wild world and the hungry wolfs, from tiny deadly viruses too, I was hoping. Really? I soon started feeling guilty.
Of course, I also feel sad, very sad, that Nassi like so many thousand students like him will not be able to enjoy university life in the same way many thousands before him did. I hope that his university years will be special for him. Somehow. When he finally goes, I will constantly be thinking of him. I will be worrying. I don’t even know how I will be able to sleep at night. Yes, it is that bad. I remember when I took him to the nursery for the very first time and left him there, all these years ago. The memories are still fresh in my mind. I felt that I had abandoned him even if it was for a few hours. That was a frightening feeling, for a Greek mama especially.
I have to admit that I didn’t just like the idea of Nassi studying from home so that he can be with us, but I also felt that he would have an advantage. No, I didn’t make this up to find excuses. He would learn quickly what learning at university really means. I have been an online and remote learner and student myself for the majority of my education and have been supporting and facilitating online learning in a range of settings. My dad must have been one of the very early non-traditional students who did his undergraduate degree remotely in the DDR when he was working full-time and had a young family. I know from my own experiences that learning requires commitment, determination and discipline, routine and work, hard work. Learning online is not the easy option. So my thinking was, if Nassi can adjust to learning online with help and support, of course, and develop effective study habits, he will be able to learn anywhere, anytime, anyhow. He will become a responsible and confident student. Isn’t this what we want all our students to be? We talk about students’ autonomy but how do we help them get there? Taking responsibility for his own learning from the outset, will not only help him get through his university years and get the maximum out of these, but also prepare him for life. Actually, schools also need to rethink, radically I would say and stop being exam prep factories.
Then, I started thinking why, yes, why on earth are we not (more) systematic in our approach to learning and teaching and approach education as a part of lifelong learning that is seamlessly integrated into our lives. Systematic might be the wrong word. What I mean is integrating learning and education into the fabric of life. The whole education system as one, in harmony. Like a live organism. And moving away from our obsession for exams. I had to add this here. Also, this business with paying fees (there are more inclusive models to fund higher education!) and valuing some degrees more than others? Where does this come from? Why? Nobody is an island. We are social animals. Aristotle said, and he is right. We need each other and we all need to contribute in our unique ways to come together, to move forward together. Treviranus (2016, 7) says this beautifully “It is our variability that gives us collective strength.”
Why have we not adjusted our approaches to learning and teaching and often see technology as an add-on? There are a series of conceptual and empirical frameworks and models that have been developed years ago to scaffold and support learning using digital technologies. We still talk about lectures, and seminars and tutorials and struggle to move away from “delivery” and “content” or even worse “content delivery”. Don’t get me started. A lot has been written about the future of higher education and ambitious models and possible directions have been shared (recently Orr et al., 2020; Ehlers, 2020). It will be really interesting to see what is going to happen. Costa (2020), for me it is Cristina, voices a much needed perspective and stands up for online learning and the opportunities that are opening up for all of us, if we are willing to un- and re-think and re-align our practices and expectations, as she says. Online education is not a deficit model. It isn’t, for me either.
Will anything change or are we going to go straight back to “lectures” full stop. I hope not. Old habits die hard. We will see.
There is now an opportunity to be bold and I can sense an appetite for change. Jessop (2020) recognises the opportunities to re-imagine more effective pedagogical approaches. Now. Approaches that have been around for a while. Active learning in various shapes and forms supported and enabled by technologies that have the power to create seamless and connected learning experiences ( Scott, 2020). There is excitement in the air. I can feel it too. Finally, I think, we also seem to recognize (more) the value of creativity in learning and teaching. Maybe we just talk about it more… Maybe I am seeing things that are not there. Wishful thinking? Creative approaches are often pushed to the corner… under the carpet. Innovators are ignored, excluded and ridiculed. And their innovations as well. Nelson (2018, 4) wrote “There is a strong pedagogical impulse to eliminate haphazard approaches to learning and sadly imagination and creativity are a casualty.” These are his words. Anybody who has pushed the boundaries knows if this is true or not. They will have felt it, experienced it. Are we moving from creativity as casualty as Nelson (2018), said, to creativity to the rescue? Crawford (2020, online) recognises that “… the creative vaccine can work its magic on all our minds at this dreadful time…”. He talks about art, but creativity is not just art. Resourcefulness is what many of my colleagues have shown during the pandemic. Many have become experimenters and explorers. Hungry for new ideas. There is a fresh air of excitement about teaching all around us, that I haven’t felt for a long time. Can anybody else feel this too? We do seem to be more open to ideas (than ever before?), to different ways of teaching tactics, to use Hammond’s (2017) words and supporting our students’ learning. Plato said that “necessity is the mother of invention”. Could it be adversity? I think change was needed for a long time but it just wasn’t happening. Were we sleepwalking? Chatzidamianos (for me Gerasimos) and Nerantzi (that is me) (2020) have come together and knitted the PPE for learning and teaching in higher education during the pandemic based on their observations from recent experiences: Positivity, People and Emotions.
When I started writing this piece, I didn’t plan to just share the fact that Nassi will be going to university and my feelings about it. I am of course excited about him starting university, which I haven’t mentioned yet, I think. But there was something else that has been occupying my mind for a little while.
So, here is my idea. Finally.
Couldn’t the first year of an undergraduate degree, of all undergraduate degrees, yes you read this correctly, be offered online by default? By all universities? Is anybody else seeing the advantages this would bring for our students, their university experience and their lives? But also communities and society as a whole? Wouldn’t such a re-structure of our programmes, help our students master learning how to learn? How to develop effective study habits, how to inquire? To take responsibility for their own learning? What difference would it make to the wider academic community? To inclusion, retention, progression and success at university and in life? Some would say this should happen before anybody starts university. Also true. Why isn’t it? We will of course, have to sort out access to networked technologies for all citizens first so that it doesn’t become another intervention for the privileged, for the few.
I know, universities are big ships and difficult to maneuver. It is however, not impossible to change direction.
From a Greek mama with love
Chatzidamianos, G. & Nerantzi, C. (2020) “Stripping the layers of the onion” in learning and teaching in HE: positive lessons learned from working during a pandemic, AdvanceHE, 3 June 2020, available at https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/news-and-views/stripping-layers-onion-learning-and-teaching-he
Costa, C. (2020) The limits of online education are assumed, not a given, 4 June 2020, Social Theory applied, available at https://socialtheoryapplied.com/2020/06/04/the-limits-of-online-education-are-assumed-not-a-given/?fbclid=IwAR063w7Xob6SzpyXTMQRkM5D_tnvwL0hdR26T33a5fLe8q41-y7_i2veHYM
Crawford, P. (2020) Coronavirus – an outbreak of creativity, Arts and Minds Blog, Arts and Humanities Research Council, 22 May 2020, available at https://ahrc-blog.com/2020/05/22/coronavirus-an-outbreak-of-creativity/?fbclid=IwAR0agQVM1X3MxHuQyoFzcm8X8htsNjGTglieoY_YP4-1PITVOwOxHA-5fQY
Ehlers, U-D. (2020) Future Skills. The future of learning and higher education, translated by Ulf-Daniel Ehlers, Patricia Bonaudo, Laura Eigbrecht Karlsruhe, available at https://nextskills.org/library/future-skills/
Hammond, C. (2017) Introduction: Critical pedagogies – horizons of possibility, In: Hammond, C. (ed) (2017) Hope, Utopia and Creativity in Higher Education. Pedagogical tactics for alternative futures, 1-19
Jessop, T. (2020) Let’s lose the deficit language about online education, 2 June 2020, WonkHE, available at https://wonkhe.com/blogs/lets-lose-the-deficit-language-about-online-education/
Nelson, R. (2018) Creativity Crisis. Towards a post-constructivist educational future. Clayton, Victoria: Monash University Publishing
Orr, D. Luebcke, M., Schmidt, J. P., Ebner, M. Wannemacher, K., Ebner, M. & Dohmen, D. (2020) Higher Education landscape 2030. A trend analysis based on the AHEAD International Horizon Scanning, available at https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-3-030-44897-4
Scott, G. (2020) Can we plan for a socially distanced campus?, WonkHE, 6 May 2020, available athttps://wonkhe.com/blogs/can-we-plan-for-a-socially-distanced-campus/