Like Elastigirl on one of my The Incredibles mugs (yes, I have more than one, I teach on an Animation course, they were basically a work expense!), I feel like I am ‘Stretched to my Limits!’ at the moment. Global pandemic, quick pivot to teaching online, learning to use a new virtual learning environment (we seem to be now moving to MS Teams), preparing for more online delivery for next academic year (and possibly beyond), on top of normal marking and grade admin… there is a lot going on. And, ironically, at the same time I (and possibly you, too) am just not stretching enough.
This hit home when a colleague of mine posted a time-lapse video of him working through a morning, where he really didn’t move around enough. So I asked myself, what am I doing? And what can I do more to form better habits of working from home? And – maybe most importantly – how can we as lecturers foster good habits in working from home (and working on a computer) for our students?
Flashback to the online session I facilitated the previous week, which I thought would take about 45 minutes, but that ended up taking more like 2 hours. (…what can I say, they kept me talking…) Where I didn’t schedule a break. Where I didn’t really move around, and didn’t encourage the students to either. Of course they might have, most of them didn’t have their camera on, but to be honest, I doubt it. A horrifying scenario, now that I come to think of it!
Weirdly, when I used to work at/from home before, my habits were quite good (I think, at least). I usually don’t work all day at the computer. I usually follow the basics of the Pomodoro technique, working in 25 minute focused chunks with 5 minute breaks in-between and a longer break after 4. During those breaks I move around, getting more water or making a hot drink. When I have a lot of typing to do, I often work on a standing desk, or at least standing up with my laptop on a box on top of my desk. But none of this had transferred to my teaching, probably because I was so stretched that I focused too much on content, rather than stop and think of mode of delivery.
Of course this is a big issue to tackle and I’m making headway little by little (at least I hope so). But it was time to add a little ‘stretch goal’ by finding a way to include breaks, movement and particularly stretches into scheduled teaching (and hoping it rubs off and allows them to build good habits for the future). Luckily, I knew exactly who to call for advice, as my friend Marina is behind SittingDuck.co which is all about ergonomics when working from home. A real-life Mrs Incredible to the rescue!
Once I told Marina about my idea to somehow get stretches into teaching sessions, she made me three backgrounds that I could use as video chat backgrounds (you can add your own in Teams, or at least unless you’re on a Mac as a colleague informs me), but would that be too distracting? Maybe, I thought, it would make more sense to add them as slides into the deck I wanted to cover for my session – one for before the session starts, one for the break, and one for the end of the session?
And that is what I tried out today: Marina made me three slides
- a sort of ‘holding screen’ welcoming students to the session, telling them when it would
start, encouraging them to sit or stand comfortably and have a drink nearby, and suggesting a stretch before we started
- a break slide that suggested another stretch, as well as encouraging students to move
around and top up their drink
- a Goodbye slide that suggested another stretch
After building them into my slide presentation, I realised that sharing the screen at the beginning with the whole presentation didn’t really work for me, so I instead shared just the image. (After starting the meeting really early, to make sure no student would be there before me…) Just sharing the image also allowed me to continue working in other windows on my computer.
The break image came in the middle of my presentation, which was well-timed. I turned my camera off and muted my mic, but at least one student left their camera on and at some point did move around. They didn’t do the stretches the slide suggested exactly (or not that I saw, I was at some point also away from the computer moving around and topping up my glass of water), but even if they didn’t, they were moving around, and I hope others were too!
The Goodbye slide, I have to admit, I messed up. After covering the content I needed to get through I came out of the presentation to answer questions and mop up concerns the students might have, and then we just said goodbye to one another, without me remembering that there was another stretch I wanted to suggest.
So, a little try-out today, and I have to say that I am really happy with it. The idea, I think is a great one which I definitely want to keep and get my colleagues to also include into their teaching for next term. I’ve sent a call out to my students to see if any of them would be up for helping to custom-make us some stretch images or even animations (as we borrowed images from the internet for the prototype). The how to integrate this logistically (and logically) into the sessions itself, with swapping from application to application and screenshare to on camera is something I’ll still have to work out.
What do you think, worth developing further?
…and if you want to check out Marina’s work, you can find out more here: sittingduck.co (the tag line is ‘For duck’s sake, don’t forget to stretch’ – how hilarious is that?)