Recently I find myself wondering with colleagues about when we will be back to the office. Reminiscing on the smell of shared toilets that have balsa wood walls and a unique fragrance that reminds me of a music festivals loo. Or when we will be able to visit hipster coffee shops and try not to look baffled by the number of ingredients in a scone (although Tasty Buns scones are the exception). The joyful commute with coughs, man sprawling and the person who keeps on staring at you!!!! When we will all experience that rush in the morning (or evening) so we can get to work on time or get home on time just to continue rushing and blurring the hours away in tasks split by commutes, taxi runs or the need to run in the rain. Don’t get me wrong I miss aspects of the office a lot (especially the people) but sometimes I question the need for us all to be in the office. It feels like we need to be present at roll call or my dad might get a phone call but being physically present doesn’t mean I am in the present.
I have worked 1 day a week at home for 11 years (always a Thursday as we usually arrange post work pints on a Friday) and I love it. I will stress that I am a) fortunate to have worked for 2 employers that provided this flexibility which comes with a-lot of trust and b)I have the space to be be able to do so (although with the whole family in situ over the last 2 1/2 months has been testing but so far no fatalities……so far). But speaking to colleagues I hear a mixed bag of feelings regarding WAH, some can’t work due to the their job involving physical hardware, or their home environment not being susceptible, lack of childcare, poor internet or just a desire to split work from home (home is where the heart is and not where you should be ending a meeting and stressing in the spare bedroom).
Personally 1 or 2 days working at home per week is great however I like to leave the office, put my headphones on and use my 15 min rush to Edinburgh Waverley train station to turn off and try and to morph back into Myles. I like home being home a safe space that enables me to be Myles not the other work Myles (he thinks he knows it all……he doesn’t).
So my working life is kinda hybrid. I switch from on-campus to online without interruption or loss of work, my timetable is kinda like meetings (a blend of online and F2F), the virtual teams I work with our a mini-community and we are always looking to adopt and be creative with the technology available.
This got me thinking about students and what the ‘new normal’ (COVID bingo term, expect more as you read) in September and when recording the latest podcast my co-host ,the pedagogical priest, Michael Gallagher said:
We are the campus – Michael Gallagher
M&M Podcast Episdode 16: #Hybridteaching pinch points, the real possibilities of renewal, and the campus being us. Thanks so much for the chat @mylesblaney_uoe https://t.co/kcFkakmQ8m #mscde @uoe_online @EdinburghUni pic.twitter.com/wxLJEflXyN
— Michael Gallagher (@mseangallagher) May 29, 2020
Now I am no Alistair Campbell however I thought wow, this is the message we should be passing onto everyone now. Universities love buildings and we have perceptions that a building is key to learning hence the desire to create innovative and inspiring learning spaces but in essense buildings allow us to formally gather with a bunch of people that are connected by an overriding topic or function.
Some buildings do play a more fundamental role providing practical spaces however what does a building for sociology students actually do (especially if it just a block of rooms that are always booked, old, uncomfortable etc)? Unless the bricks acts as sponges for knowledge and some how traverse this information to students then the campus is a facilitation tool dressed to impress but with a mix match of new shoes and an old tie (which has accumulated stains over the past few years). Libraries, workshops and labs are different beasts however the majority of universities buildings are a mesh of seminar, lecture and offices spaces.
People make the campus, people make the rooms come to life with words, motions and emotion, people make conversations which can be lead to endless possibilities, people can inspire and people make the campus. With social distancing people chatting, meeting or sharing space is obvs difficult plus throw in local lockdowns and campus closures its even more difficult. The physical buildings will close however the opportunity to allow people to continue working and learning is key.
Technology can act as the building, it can stream a lecture in Collaborate, host a seminar session via MS Teams, act as a single point of contact for course information in Learn, enable quick conversations with peers in an discussion group in whatsapp, piazza or Learn. Technology can help facilitate aspects of work and study, it can become are international campus allowing prospective and attending students to share the opportunity to experience Edinburgh wherever and whenever they want.
We love buildings, we grew up in them, we sleep in them, we associate emotions with them, we are surrounded by them, we know they have limits. They are part of us all however sometimes I feel like we don’t see beyond a brick. Remember it wasn’t the stair well on level D that helped resolve the issue however it did facilitate your movement up to level E allowing you to speak to a colleague about the issue which is now fixed.
I think what I am trying to convey is that this blog won’t be read by a brick (or by anyone), it will be read by a person and its those people who make the campus. The campus exists digitally and physically however post pandemic we might see a mindset that allows us to embrace digital a bit more and build a campus in the cloud.