Tuesday 12 May 2020

Webinars: Embracing the Rise of Online Working & Learning

I am sure I am not alone in saying that the coronavirus lockdown in the UK has had me googling and learning some new words and phrases - 'what is furlough?' definitely will be somewhere in my search history. Today, 'Zoom' and 'zooming' are phrases that we use as much as we would have once said 'Pub' and 'yeah, town was packed last night'. It's interesting to think about how much our vocabulary and speech has changed in the event of this pandemic, as much as our physical behaviours (increased caution, distancing, sanitising), and our ability and attitudes towards working from home have.

A few weeks ago, I was emailed by the university careers department regarding some optional webinars (an online seminar, and therefore more intimate and more interactive than a big lecture or class) provided by the careers team, focusing on developing networking skills, using LinkedIn effectively, and working towards career goals during lockdown. Of course, webinars have always existed before lockdown, but it certainly wasn't a word or a concept that was on my radar; if I have to miss a lecture or a talk at university, I have the option to listen to a recorded, non-interactive version, but now through zoom meetings and webinars, live interactivity is happening online rather than face to face. I knew I wanted to give these webinars a go, but having never participated in a webinar before, I was a bit nervous - simply because I had no idea what to expect for the session and what may have also been expected of me. I also had no idea who else would be attending the session, and the idea that they would have a view into my bedroom was naturally a bit alienating. (In the end, participants' webcams were turned off, leaving just the host and their shared screen, but I had not expected this). I always say that I love to try new things and embrace challenge, but that does not mean that trying new things is not sometimes a bit intimidating. Arguably, turning on your webcam and attending a zoom webinar may not seem to be a 'real' challenge, but I think if it's new to you, then the sense of the unknown can make it a challenge. 

After the webinar had ended, I was so pleased with myself for having attended it that I had a mini endorphin rush, and immediately made a note to attend the next week's webinar, and following that, started planning ALL the changes I was going to make to my LinkedIn, ALL the online courses I wanted to do in the coming weeks, and ALL the changes I wanted to make to my blog in the process of restarting it. I ended up really enjoying the webinar, and I found it super useful and insightful in terms of how I could really maximise my time in lockdown, and the things I could start doing in order to begin building an online network from home, and so came away from the session feeling really motivated. Yes, it may be just a webinar, but I knew I wanted to share this with others who may be feeling a bit demotivated by the length of lockdown time stretching before them, and slightly put off by the thought of trying something they have never done before. I think this has certainly improved my attitude towards trying new things; if you don't try, you'll never know, and the not knowing what you might have missed out on can become very frustrating. I am an avid lover of social media, and I love connecting and interacting with people online, so I'm not sure why I had built doing this into such a big thing - I can only put it down to a bit of lockdown-overthinking, which I am sure we have all done during this period! Essentially this is my long-winded way of saying that sometimes the scary and new things turn out to be the most rewarding. So I cannot stress this enough, whether this is you deciding to also attend a webinar, or something totally different, just do it!!!

But this experience has also got me thinking more broadly, about online learning and how we have so quickly incorporated the use of platforms such as Zoom and Skype into everyday work. This has of course been discussed by many others, but lockdown really is highlighting that not everything has to be conducted in person. Of course, as humans we are hugely sociable, co-dependent, and probably would become miserable if everything was online in a world where lockdown becomes a permanent, black-mirror-episode reality. But we should be able to find balance when we return to normality - i.e. by increasing the number of meetings conducted online or via email, particularly if people are commuting purely for a single meeting, which is poor for the environment and incredibly inefficient.
   At university, if my seminar tutor is ill or unable to conduct the session, it more often than not is cancelled, and not rescheduled. Whilst this does not happen often, that is not to say that it does not have a large impact on studies; as is typical for English degrees, a book is studied per week per module, with a new text introduced the next week. If a seminar is cancelled, then a large amount of valuable knowledge and discussion is either abandoned, or it is up to the student to attempt to replicate their own seminar based on an online handout that is only provided 50% of the time. But, of course depending on the reason for absence, why can't it be rescheduled and conducted online? More often than not, a lack of rescheduling is due to timetabling and rooming issues on the university's end, but if a seminar is transformed into a webinar, this massively reduces these issues, significantly increasing flexibility. Lockdown has shown that these things have always been possible, but just never implemented. (I still love you, UoB). Hopefully we can all take this with us as and when we return to normal life, adapting our behaviours and our styles of working and learning, embracing the online world and the flexibility it can provide.

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