Adapting to the pandemic has been a challenge for every university – but now, most institutions are turning their attention to making the most of hybrid learning opportunities.
As an academic that has previously worked with the Open University, Georgina Blakeley brings unique insights to her work as Director of Teaching, Learning and the Student Experience at the University of Huddersfield.
Kitty Hadaway, GoodCourse’s universities lead, sat down with Georgina to ask about her experience of the pandemic and her plans for Huddersfield moving forward.
I’d describe myself as an accidental academic. Both of my parents were teachers, and I never planned on following them into the profession – but when I was offered a job teaching at Huddersfield, I found that it was something that came very naturally to me.
I learned a lot about the fundamentals of teaching while I was at the Open University because in that context, designing an educational experience that worked for everyone was central to everything we did. A lot of that came to be really useful when the pandemic started, after I moved back to Huddersfield.
Teaching can be a great way to make a difference for young people, and to me, education is a really important part of social justice
I’ve been really proud of how my colleagues have adapted to online teaching. I helped to support them in coping with the cultural shift involved, as well as with the more practical aspects of a switch to remote learning.
Teaching can be a great way to make a difference for young people, and to me, education is a really important part of social justice. Creating the right conditions for everyone to thrive and succeed has always been a big motivator for me in my work. There can be a lot of pressure to get this right, but teaching is a massive privilege.
We’ve all had to get to grips with new technologies and embrace all of the opportunities it offers. There’s now a lot of willingness to keep going with that learning, especially where it presents scope to make the learning experience more inclusive.
But our students do want to be on campus, at least some of the time – this is what we’ve heard from our third-year students, who have had every year of their studies affected by the pandemic to some extent.
I think that it’s definitely possible to keep the benefits associated with the shift to digital while honouring what students and teaching staff want – we’re still working out exactly how to make that happen.
We’re involving our students in the process of reshaping their campus as much as we can, especially when we’re trying to make the university a place where Black and other ethnic minority students feel that they belong.
We pay students for their input wherever we can. They’re giving their time and their expertise, and we want to set their expectations for the future high.
It’s important to love your subject and to enjoy teaching it. Universities can be a difficult environment to push for change in, so it’s vital to be open to working on an issue and to want to keep learning.
I admire so many of my colleagues, as well as my students! But if I had to pick, I would say two professors from the Open University, John Clarke and John Allen. I worked with them to develop teaching modules and learned so much from them about how to teach more effectively.
If I could recommend one author, it would be Robert Dahl, who was an American political scientist. He has produced fantastic work on democracy. When we got to interview him for an OU module some time before he passed away, he was still teaching first-year students, in his nineties. He taught me so much about the importance of having an inquiring mind.