Zooming

Well – how the world has changed since I blogged in early March. It is almost unbelievable. Still, I think that libraries here have been more prepared, or rather adapted, for this event than many other institutions. It didn’t take long for the National library to open up all their digital content, and many publishers have taken steps to ease access in this situation.

At the library where I work, we have been making online content for learning for years. I think I started producing videos in 2006 or 2007, and we got our own YouTube-channel in 2010 or 2011. Producing videos started as a way of letting our patrons help themselves, and as a way of saving staff resources. We have been short staffed for as long as I have worked there, and that will be 15 years this fall. In this situation that we have already got a good base of videos that we have used now that the physical library is closed, and we have made many more. The fact that we were used to it also meant that we could produce more content quickly. After our merger in 2016, the librarians at my university also have had the benefit of being used to Skype for business, Teams etc. so the learning curve haven’t been so steep. That said, I have also learned a few more platforms recently. First of all – Zoom.

I held my first lectures (I know, I know) on Zoom a few weeks ago. Even though I have tried to do more asynchronous teaching (i.e. videos, Q&A forums etc.) since the library was closed (due to internet capacity, scheduling issues etc.), I have been zooming (is that a verb now? :)) with some classes. An article in the Norwegian higher education paper, Universitetsavisa, pointed out that many students are struggling with this new situation. The students are having problems getting up in the morning, and often end up sleeping until 11 am, and they only manage to get a couple hours of school work done during the day. They spend a lot of time online, but are easily distracted, and many state that they miss the library space and reading rooms. The outer frames of their study days, that they have been used to, is not easily substituted with their home environments. Many students have moved back home with their parents as all campus activity not strictly necessary has been cancelled, so only students that need lab equipment etc. will need to be on campus. Living with their parents again is not conducive for academic work.  Obviously, these challenges cannot be fixed with a new tool or a new platform of any kind. That is why we are thinking about trying some more informal sessions online, too. Coffee mornings at the virtual library, for instance. Some libraries have started having “shut up and write” sessions online etc. I think that librarians have been able and even eager to try new things to maintain some sort of normalcy for their patrons. It is too early to tell whether we will succeed.

So anyway – Zoom. So far, I think it has been good. It is easy to use, and as long as we have the app from the university, it is secure (or so I am told). It is still quite difficult to teach to the void. I am used to my lectures beeing recorded etc., but then there are still some students in the auditorium. I find it difficult to be a good, engaging teacher, when all you see is 20 black frames with names in them. I encourage the students to use the camera if they have sufficient internet speed so to make them more humans to me, but I get why many (most) are reluctant to do so. I also find that most students are reluctant to ask questions during class on Zoom. I always record the lectures so that students who were unable to join can watch it later, but I have started to say at the beginning of each class that I will turn off the recording toward the end, so that students who have questions they do not want recorded can ask them then. Almost none do.

Zoom (or similar tools) will probably always be an addition to teaching for me, not the main thing. If this situation will continue for a long time, I will need to be more creative with giving the students assignments that can be done in class or before/after, like using “breakout sessions” in Zoom, and asking them to discuss something or reflect on something etc. I know I could use Kahoot etc., but I don’t know.. I guess I just think of that as something entertaining, and not really useful for real learning. Well – as Alexandre Dumas put it: “He who lives will see.” Stay safe, everyone.

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