Anna Pritchard is an Open University Practice Tutor on the social work module K315: Critical social work practice. Anna started tutoring her Practice Tutor role with the OU in February 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic. In her below blog, ‘Same Ocean, different boats: A return to face-to-face teaching’, Anna shares her first face-to-face tutorial experience.
Today was the day that so many, including myself, had mixed feelings about. The return to face-to-face teaching.
When I say ‘return’ I use the term loosely as these students, despite being in Stage 3, had not experienced any face-to-face teaching during their degree so far (thank you, COVID)! For me as a tutor, having only delivered the module online, it was also less of a ‘return’ and more of a voyage into the unknown.
Some students had been worried about travel times, arranging childcare, parking, etc. Whilst others were looking forward, with some anticipation, about the experience of face-to-face tuition. For me, I was worried about what the venue would be like; would the room be small and cosy, or vast and formal? Would they be a ‘nice’ group? Would the tech work? Would my workshop meet their expectations?
Following a restless night, I just needed to be there. In my bag, I had everything except the kitchen sink – laptop, HMDI lead, mouse, flip chart, pens, post its, module guide, practice learning guide. Mary Poppins would have been proud. A 10 minute walk to the station, loaded up like a packhorse in the pouring rain to catch the 7:20am train. The day was not feeling positive and on the journey, a soggy me ruminated on why I had ideas above my station in life and wondering what on earth I was doing.
I arrived in London 1 hr and 45 mins before the workshop and looked like a typical British tourist with my rucksack (over both shoulders!), phone with map in hand and off I headed to the venue, whilst stopping for a decent coffee.
The venue was beautiful, we were in an all-glass room which had a conservatory feel to it. It also had a bar but sadly, this was closed to us. Thankfully, the tech was amazing! There were three sound guys when I arrived who were setting up which reminded me of the ‘how many people does it take to change a lightbulb’ joke. Anyway, there was a laptop, connected to a projector, to speakers all around the room. ‘Wonderful’ I am thinking, tech worries set aside. And then they hand me a wireless handheld microphone! Whilst I thanked the guy for showing me how to work it, I pointed out that there was no way I would be using it.
Students began to arrive and that is where the magic really happened. It was so great to speak to them as they arrived about their journeys in and their feelings about returning to face to face. Most were excited and looking forward to the experience. As they continued to trickle in there was lots of really happy faces and hugs – they had all met online but most had not ever met in person. The feel and mood in the room was buzzing. This was despite, one student getting an £80 fine outside the venue on the way in, for dropping a cigarette butt on the floor – yet he was still smiling and did not allow it to impact on his day.
We cracked on with the session, so lovely that they could just shout out questions. The phrases ‘you’re on mute’ and ‘is that an old hand or a new hand?’ did not feature all day, amazing!
One small group activity which was planned for 15 mins discussion we had to extend to 30 mins as ‘we aren’t finished’. The richness and natural flow of conversations that you get face to face really made the difference.
During a large group feedback activity, one student shared a story about their practice and unexpectedly became tearful. The group were really supportive and we reflected on how different it feels to share in a group face to face when we are out of the habit of doing so, and how we pick up on the energy of others when we are together. It was a particularly moving moment which also demonstrated not only how safe this student felt to share their experiences and their feelings, but also how important connection is in Social Work – both to our clients and to our team.
Breaks were longer than planned. Not having kitchens in the room next door is something worth factoring into planning. Equally, allowing plenty of time for general chat and networking was also important. All students found something to eat locally and were keen to check in with me when they got back, that I had also eaten something. The care and support that was shown to each other really shone through and I think will make a huge difference to how they learn on this module.
At the end of the day, students left with smiles on their faces and a spring in their step. Several hung around at the end to tell me how much they had enjoyed the day and were looking forward to the rest of our time together – this was the best feedback to have received.
Overall, it was a good day. Most of the things you are worried about as an Associate Lecturer pale into insignificance when you get in the room with the students. There was a real shared understanding of the some of the challenges individuals were facing and the recognition that whilst we had been on the same ocean in different boats, that this was an opportunity for us to all jump on that yacht together and sail into the distance as a connected group looking forward to a journey we will now embark on together.