I do not like this new normal (please be nice to others)

I’ve seen a number of news articles over the last few weeks about the start of term in various Universities. Many of them share a common theme – IT services suffering under load on the first day of teaching. They also share the same sorts of feedback: That we should have been better prepared, that we should have been able to predict this, that we should have put more effort in.

Having watched learning technology and IT colleagues across the northern hemisphere spend their summer holidays working 12 hour days, probably 7 days a week, and running 100+ plus seat training courses for academic colleagues, I can definitely say that these issues are not due to a lack of effort or preparedness. Many friends and colleagues have barely drawn breath from the Great Pivot to go straight into a summer of heavy lifting turning entire Universities into online / hyflex / blended learning institutions. Their commitment to academic colleagues, and to ensuring students have the best possible experience in the circumstances is what has them dragging their sweatpants on for another 8 hours of video conference meetings each and every day.

Yes – we did see this coming. But we have no historic data that can inform our modelling for additional capacity, so much has been educated guesswork. With the best will in the world, sometimes that will not prove accurate. I’ve seen reports of 1000% increases in usage at the start of term. Several of the services that have had problems at the start of term have been commercial cloud services, and arguably they have even more user data on which to model and predict load and capacity. But how do you model a global pandemic with mixed models of teaching across the countries and continents?

Finally, this is a global pandemic. It’s not that things might go wrong; things have already gone wrong. Terribly terribly wrong. And we are all struggling. Our students coming to University this year are not getting the start to their academic life they hoped for, but they are still getting the same pile of debt. Decades of Higher Ed marketisation have reduced University to a value for money transaction and like everything else in life right now, nobody is getting the “normal level of service”.

I’m not exactly what my point here is, except that something isn’t right. Besides the pandemic obviously. We’ve  collectively lost our tolerance for failure and our willingness to take a deep breath, walk away, and come back later. As a species we are tired and getting a bit bitey. So maybe this is just a plea to see past the hyperbole, the cheap news stories, the slick marketing presentations, and to see each other’s humanity, fear, exhaustion. To recognise the immense amounts of care, energy, effort, even when ultimately it isn’t enough. To respond as humans first.

3 thoughts on “I do not like this new normal (please be nice to others)

  1. Thanks for writing this Anne-Marie, you speak for many. As lockdown measures return, you are right people are getting tetchy and looking for some one/thing to blame. You are right to point out that we need to respond with care and treat everyone with dignity and respect.

  2. Was pleased to have someone tweet about this post and to read it. I had a conversation with my managers last week saying that we need to understand that things will go wrong – either due to technology failing or because what we do doesn’t work – and that we need to concentrate on learning from this AND also model approaches to “failure” that encourage students to understand that things don’t always go right and that they can make active decisions about how they respond to it – I struggled to find the right word so resorted to talking about “resilience with a small r”. Even in so called “normal” times systems fail and, for example, teaching sessions don’t work as well as we planned and for staff and students learning to ride with this and learn and adjust to do better next time/have a plan B backup/etc. is an important skill.

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