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Posts Tagged ‘coronavirus’

It’s possible that some people reading this will remember the Grauniad‘s ‘Readers Recommend’ music blog. The set-up was simple; every week, the writer in charge of it would set a theme – ‘Songs About the Sea’, for example – and people would comment on the blog with their recommendations, arguing both from quality of music and relevance to theme (and occasionally sheer brass neck; I once got Roxy Music’s Avalon accepted as a pick for ‘Songs About Myth’ through an elaborate structuralist analysis that showed the lyrics really were a deep engagement with the Arthurian legend, references to samba notwithstanding), (more…)

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Nothing works properly.

Everything takes much longer.

Flabbiness in places it’s increasingly difficult to hide.

Is that really what I look like now?

Pervasive sense that I used to have much more energy.

Increasing tendency to use the phrase “in my day…”

Occasional thoughts that buying a really expensive new webcam might bring back the mojo.

Powerful suspicion that young people are smirking condescendingly behind my back.

Enormous sense of relief that I don’t have to worry about remembering names.

Waking in the early hours to agonise about all of this.

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I could honestly weep. This is our ‘welcome week’ before teaching starts on Monday, and today I was meeting – f2fip! – my new personal tutees. I have been trying to imagine what it must be like for them, making the transition to university in such extraordinary circumstances, and really wanted to ensure that as their tutor I could offer some degree of calm reassurance, a bit of a community, some essential guidance for the first couple of weeks while they find their feet. Well, it’s possible that I have succeeded in making them feel more confident and on top of things, in contrast to their shambolic tutor. For I was indeed the one to turn up half an hour late for the meeting because I couldn’t find my way into the building because of some very misleading signage…

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This time of year is usually the calm before the storm; the brief pause, full of anticipation and nervousness, between the end of the summer and the start of the new term, when it’s impossible to settle down to any proper research and one falls back into the fond belief – which does occasionally come true – that it’ll be fine once everything settles down into a routine. This year? It’s not the calm before the storm, it’s the frantic rushing around before the flood. The water is clearly, inexorably rising, though we don’t yet know how bad it will be. What to do? Try to shore up defences? Secure valuables? Move livestock and children to higher ground? Try to improvise a boat? Assume the worst or hope for the best?

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Connected

Whether or not anyone noticed, I’ve been less present on the internet over the last few days, as a lightning strike last week took out the WiFi router. While waiting for a new one to turn up, I’ve been discovering the delights of persuading the laptop to talk to the phone and persuade it to share its data, with a moderate degree of panic as I was scheduled to participate in a virtual Open Day this afternoon – and the joys of paying lots of extra dosh for additional data, as my usually ample allowance quickly ran out. And it’s not as if I stream stuff… (more…)

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Ignoreland

Yesterday I marked some essays, did more work on preparing next term’s teaching, produced supporting materials for an ongoing political literacy schools project and had a productive online meeting with a postgrad about his dissertation. I followed a new recipe for green coconut rice, and made some red pepper and tomato sauce from garden produce; I had a cup of espresso by the pond, watching water boatmen, dragonfly nymphs and water snails; I detected six different species of bat. And this is all good, and helps keep me grounded, and helps fend off the VAST BLACK ABYSS FULL OF TOXIC FUMES AND ENDLESS SCREAMING THAT IS EVERYTHING ELSE. (more…)

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In Your Room

Here comes the fear… I continue to be excited and energised by thinking about how to embrace the positive possibilities of teaching next year, and not too alarmed (which is not to say, not also infuriated) by the mismatch between universities’ bold promises about face-to-face-in-person (f2fip?) teaching and what a lot of emerging research is saying – hey, if we suddenly have to switch to 100% online, that’s just more of a challenge, right? – but now I’m also scared. Not about my courses, but about what happens to students in the times in between.

If our answer to the question “where are students supposed to be all week, and who are they supposed to spend it with” is “in their room, alone” we have a monumental mental health crisis coming.

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Wicked Game

I’ve been spending quite a lot of time over the last week or so in conversations with colleagues about how we’re going to manage teaching next year. One takeaway from this is a reminder of how dedicated, imaginative and insightful the aforementioned colleagues are. It’s fair to say that we’ve got a spectrum from those who see this as an exciting opportunity to try out new approaches and radically change some of our traditional teaching styles, and those who are focused on ways to maintain more conventional teaching approaches in dramatically new and uncertain circumstances. But there’s nobody who is insisting on privileging their convenience over flexibility, or unwilling to countenance radical change if that’s what best suits student needs. (more…)

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As Buffy wisely (but perhaps unhelpfully, given the result) remarked in the very first episode of the series, life is short. A key theme in Thucydides’ account of the plague in Athens is its psychological effects precisely in relation to a sense of time and the future: the abandonment of any concern for the longer term, on the assumption that one is more likely than not to die, and hence loss of respect for the law (you’re not going to live long enough to be tried and punished, so who cares?), neglect of traditional virtues like thrift and caution (why save for tomorrow when you might not be there to enjoy it?), and above all disregard for what other people think of you. Honour is something that has to be accumulated slowly, for uncertain benefits beyond the feeling that you don’t want to be despised or jeered by your fellow citizens; in the short term it’s just a restraint on what you want to do NOW. (more…)

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Shock Tactics

Every crisis is an opportunity, and the idea of creative disruption – shaking up the system to create space for innovation and profit – is so much easier if something else has already done the shaking up for you. This is as true for universities as for everything else at the moment. The immediate and understandable response of most has been to wonder how to restore the pre-plague status quo as quickly as possible, or to worry about how far some things may already be broken beyond repair (a business model based on ever-increasing numbers of overseas students, and devil take the disciplines that can’t recruit them, for example). Some – like me – have quietly welcomed the sudden acceptance that take-home papers and other ‘alternative’ forms of assessment are actually fine and dandy. But it doesn’t take too much imagination to hear the hand-rubbing and gleeful cackling of people whom we should generally prefer to be subdued and miserable; just think of the most cynical approach to higher education you can, and almost certainly someone is already planning it… (more…)

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