Thought for the day: virtual parliaments and hybrid classrooms

On Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning I heard a piece on plans for a virtual parliament, expected to be approved today.

(It’s funny how the word ‘virtual’ has stuck in the online world. It is thought that Jaron Lanier invented the term ‘virtual reality’ in 1989. It feels old-fashioned today, now that the web is implicated in so many aspects of our daily life.)

“It will be a different universe. There won’t be the roar of the Commons chamber, the crammed green benches…”

– Laura Kuenssberg

120 MPs will be able to take part via video link with up to 50 in the chamber at any one time, appropriately distanced.

Backbench MPs apply to take part, and can ask questions online. Screens will be placed around the chamber to be able to see those contributing online. Electronic voting may follow.

“There will be no advantage to being in the chamber over somebody working remotely.”

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker

The House of Lords is going entirely digital and plans to use Microsoft Office. Internal platform wars just never go away…

It will be interesting to see how well all this works.

In my business, Higher Education, I am caught in two minds about the nature of the challenge before us as we look to teaching for the autumn and beyond.

On the one hand, I heed well the many seasoned voices who have worked in digital learning for many years, and who warn, quite rightly, that you can’t just ‘go online’ with a VLE and a Zoom account and expect things to work well.

(Though I hope to write further about the dangers of pedagogic protectionism, and maybe something about all the anti-lecture sentiment going on just now.)

Those of us who have learned, worked and toiled in this field for all or most of our careers know how easy it is to get wrong, and how much effort goes in to getting it right.

And I look on with horror and sympathy – for both the teachers and the kids – at what’s happening with schools who are trying to replicate the classroom experience and end up with a pale copy of their classroom techniques.

A dear old friend in the US messaged me with this:

The kids have spring break next week and I am far more excited than they are. I may take some space to gather myself and try to do this homeschool stuff differently. Each child has dozens of log ins and passwords and bizarrely timed zoom meetings they’ll never ever remember and I pretty much run between them trying to be tech support and occasionally crying. I think I could just teach them the stuff with us all being a lot happier but then they’d lose their school context altogether.

– Dear old friend, via Whatsapp

Even her youngest, my Godson, has Zoom classes. He is three.

None of this will do. And so we are all very excited that, having spent a generation trying to persuade people to teach and learn online, it’s happened over a couple of weeks; but we are aghast at some of the practices out there and just hope that we can all pause, think and adapt more sensibly if this new way of life is going to be with us for a while.

But on the other hand I hear (in the shower, before a productive online working day full of human interaction) about the hybrid digital parliament, and I think 1) there is no reason I can think of that this won’t work, and 2) is there really anything so special about teaching that means we can’t do something similar – on a course or across most of a curriculum?

So there is no magic button, but there is also nothing so challenging about good ol’ hybrid or flipped classroom models that means they aren’t achievable in a few months of concerted human endeavour, surely.

I’m relieved to hear that in the virtual parliament, rules on members’ dress will remain in place.

My next 12 hours of professional engagement will be performed in full Adidas.