Bob is another one of my eLearning colleagues (like Wendy and the rest, amazing!) He works in our Support area, focusing on our non-D2L tools, like Collaborate, Kaltura, ReadSpeaker, WordPress, and BBAlly, etc. Bob is one of those quiet types, and you don’t always know how busy he is, so I was very interested in hearing his perspectives on our move online back in March 2020.
“One thing I find shocking right now, looking back, is how little I remember of the move and how long ago it feels now. I wish I had video of those last few hours when we were still here working in the office before we had to leave, with no preparation.” But as he began to think back, Bob echoed something his support colleague Wendy told me as well: “I thought it was fun. That sudden 24/7 support where we were doing things we wouldn’t normally do – nonstop support. In hindsight, I’m surprised how well faculty and students adopted the technology, adapted to it, and were able to use it so substantially, because as you and I know many faculty did not use technology in their teaching prior to COVID.”
Bob found the move to completely online support fairly seamless, “maybe because most of the support I provided for people up until then was done over the phone or over e-mail. I liked getting on Collaborate or Teams to have conversations with people and go over things with them. Certainly, it’s a lot easier to do something over Teams than it is over email, which is a slow back and forth, back and forth.” I asked Bob if he found himself wondering why we, in eLearning, had not picked up Teams as a tool to support our work until COVID hit. “Yes, although I will admit that I was not a fan of Teams pre-COVID. I didn’t like the thought of having Teams chat open all the time, so you’re not only answering emails, but answering Teams chat as well.” But now, as with the rest of us, we can’t imagine going back to our old ways of supporting faculty.
And transitioning to working from home? Well, as for most of us in eLearning, Bob says “I found it easy to do. I had a good setup at home, and we had a robust Internet connection, which helped a lot. For a lot of people, terrible home Internet was one of their major stumbling blocks.” But, of course, working from home can blur the lines between work and life. “It was not possible to leave your work at work anymore. Especially because of the volume of work we had. You’re inundated with so many support calls you wake up in the middle of the night and think about one of the calls you forgot, realizing you hadn’t gotten back to the person, and you might jump up, turn on the computer and get back to them right then and there.” While Bob prefers working from home, he admits that there are things that “are easier to do in person, for example quickly bouncing ideas off of others when you can stand around the office talking to everybody at once.”
One thing Bob found about supporting people through Teams was that “I felt/feel like I’ve met them. I’ve talked to them, I’ve seen them, they’ve seen me. I was surprised that, while it’s not the same as face-to-face contact, it gave you the sense that you had met the person and gotten to know them.” At the same time, “the disadvantage to only seeing people virtually is that if you go to someone’s office, you might sit down and look beside you and see something that you wouldn’t have seen on camera. It might have been a poster and you ask ‘Oh, did you go to that concert?’ Or you have a discussion where you find out that they are a friend of a friend of yours. The nuances of human existence can sometimes be limited by Teams and the field of view of the camera.”
When I asked Bob about what the biggest challenge he faced when we all moved online was, he paused for a few moments to consider. “Frustration with Collaborate and the myriad problems people had with it initially and trying to figure out how to support them. Although we in eLearning were familiar with it, we hadn’t yet had to teach an entire two-hour course using Collaborate. And people were encountering multiple issues with their home device, their Internet connection, and especially with not understanding how to use Collaborate for teaching. Sometimes I wished I could just go over to the person’s house and have them show me what they were doing.” All of us in eLearning struggled similarly supporting the complex issues arising from synchronous teaching in Collaborate, but as Bob notes, “for us, we could handle that learning curve because it was our idea to adopt those technologies to begin with, but it was complex trying to figure out someone else’s problem when you’re also trying to figure out how the software works.”
One of the biggest rewards for him from the past couple of years, Bob reflected, was that our eLearning team, which “was a tight team going into COVID, became even tighter. It didn’t blow us apart and we became more supportive of ourselves as a group and around what we were doing and how we were handling things. I think a lot of people never have that in their work life, let alone during a pandemic.” Bob also says that he didn’t resent the sudden increase in workload, “and I didn’t get the feeling that anyone in our group was feeling resentful – we just jumped right in, and it was a rewarding experience.” Strangely enough, however, transitioning back to “normal” has been challenging (and not just for Bob). “Coming back to working in the office and supporting people when it’s not as high pressure is a little boring in comparison.”
When I asked Bob what advice he might have for a new support person coming into eLearning, especially during frantic times, he said “try and put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re helping. Try as best you can to see things from their perspective and get out of your own head. But I don’t think that’s any different than what I would say to a new in-person support person: listen to what people say about their problems.” Bob had a few more things to say about this perspective piece, which was so similar to the experiences of faculty teaching online for the first time, in that they were able to step into the shoes of their students much more easily than when they taught in-person: “There were times I would have to go into someone’s Collaborate class and help either students or the instructor, like I would in other jobs, where I went into someone’s classroom to help them with technology challenges in the middle of a class with all these people watching you and time ticking away. So, while it wasn’t difficult to do the same thing online, it gave me a clearer perspective of what faculty and students were going through.”
If Bob has one regret from the past couple of years, it was wanting to record “certain support cases along with the details of what went on. I kept telling myself that I should do that, but I never did,” which is not surprising considering the pressure-cooker that was eLearning support back then. But he is proud of the work he and his support colleagues did helping people with issues critical enough to make them want to throw in the towel. “We did it in the end, and the people we helped were very thankful.”