Laura Cotterill

Laura Cotterill recently spoke at TEDxWolverhampton back in November.

As a write this blog post, I am feeling rather stressed and overwhelmed and it is honestly due to the constant feeling of digital connection to other people; not only in my job but also my personal life.

As a millennial, I have had what I think is a healthy balance in my relationship with technology. In my childhood I experienced the lengthy wait times trying to connect to dial up, msn messenger chats, watching the clock for my 60mins free BT minutes on the landline and took pride in using my hefty Motorola ‘Talkabout’ 180 phone that was for texts and calls only with the occasional game of snake thrown in. I had a relationship with technology where I was able to mentally and physically disconnect and relish in social endeavours without this constant feeling of connection I find myself having today.

Fast forward and I’m sat at my laptop drafting this blog post, have my two phones (one work, one personal) side by side, seeing a constant stream of WhatsApp notifications, email threads, and phone calls, it’s lunch time and I feel exhausted…

Whilst I have found the balance of using technology from a work perspective somewhat over whelming at times, it has not stopped be from appreciating the sheer value of digital technology; it has certainly kept me sane during lockdown and has enabled me to continue my job and social life using virtual opportunities.

The developments of technology have been influential within the everyday lives of young people and it is apparent that the Internet is now transforming Education. The Internet has provided a social context whereby relationships, virtual interaction and collaboration are promoted; furthermore, offering an outlet for unlimited exploration of ideas. Student’s knowledge has advanced within the digital ether and the growing social-culture driven by the reliance of fast access and instant information across unrestricted space and time is now very much ‘normal’. As a result of this, our student’s pre-lockdown, were seeking out online connections and we are now using these desires to remodel the Education system as a direct response to the global pandemic with what I see as positive results.

Within a very short space of time, my students were propelled into virtual learning experiences and had to adapt fairly quickly in more collaborative methods of learning. The interface of Education completely changed within 24 hours and both myself and my colleagues were improvising overnight. Lesson plans and delivery methods had to be reconsidered and dynamic online opportunity shifted to the forefront of the teaching and learning agenda. It was challenging and has most certainly taught me to explore innovative ways to keep my students actively engaged in their own learning.

Whilst there were some teething problems to begin with, the transition as a whole was fairly seamless. Through the pandemic, I have seen that using purposeful technology has great potential to aid in generating communities of knowledge. Lave and Wenger (1991) define Communities of Practice as, “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” – I have seen this approach become more prominent in enhancing digital relationships amongst my learners.

Students are seeking virtual community in outlets such as TikTok, YouTube and Instagram; these social media settings have become pivotal in creating a collection of people who contribute to the growth of the whole platform and propel social creativity.

The use of online platforms has enabled students to bridge the technological gap between social and educational contexts. Not only this, but I have seen relationships with my students improve and I feel that technology has provided a very much needed mutual space for networking opportunity. During lesson delivery, I have seen that online spaces have improved student’s willingness to share knowledge and ideas and they now relish in the chance to communicate with each other.

The most significant observation from teaching online during the pandemic has been that online spaces have provided an open forum enabling students to shift away from a focus on themselves and work towards what can be achieved by the emergence of community opportunity. I hope that we continue to adopt this approach within the formal learning environment as it has equal value in driving social enquiry – which is needed more than ever during such lengthy periods of isolation and social disconnect. Which may well continue for some time to come.

References: Lave, J., & Wenger, M. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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