Tales from the Lockdown #13: Wendy Loretto, University of Edinburgh Business School
16 June 2020
In this series of conversations, our guests talk to Senior Consultant Claudia Monteiro about what they're learning during the pandemic and what future they're imagining.
Wendy Loretto is Dean at the University of Business School, UK
Tell us about something positive that’s happened through this crisis.
We’re opening new dialogues globally in ways we hadn’t imagined before. We’re celebrating 100 years of teaching business in Edinburgh and we’d planned a big conference to mark the occasion for May 2020, bringing together alumni for a whole weekend. We went ahead with it online instead, and hosted 500 participants, which is more than what we could have hoped for initially. It became a much more international affair, with speakers from across the world and plenty of networking and break out events. And that’s given us lots of ideas for engaging with alumni around the world going forward.
What aren’t we talking about enough?
At our School the focus of the conversation has been on delivering teaching and that includes a significant range of seminars, lectures and tutorials.
But as the new academic year approaches, we need to think about community and expanding the work we’d been doing on soft skills, particularly with undergraduates. Our Edinburgh Award programme sees undergraduates using coaching techniques to design their development and learning, and this coming year we really want to scale that up to 1200 students.
Community is also behind the partnership we’re exploring with Shanghai Jiao Tong University, which aims to allow China-residents who want to study in Edinburgh but can’t travel here the chance to be together as a cohort, sharing facilities and accommodation in Shangai.
Tell us a tale of one of your local heroes, a person or a group within your university or school community who have pulled out all the stops at this time of crisis.
Everyone has been incredible. And colleagues have been pro-active when it comes to sharing knowledge for our next stage of planning. Our senior teaching fellow in accounting Adam Finkel-Gates has looked at the analytics in online learning across our cohorts and came up with valuable insights – for instance, whereas the majority of students prefer shorter online lectures, that isn’t the case for his accounting students, they seem to benefit from longer formats.
People have been brilliant at finding mechanisms to keep us connected. Our school forum, which normally takes place twice a year is now happening every two weeks, which means we are sharing teaching and research best practices much more often – as well as running a desert island discs slot!
We’d been doing work on distance learning at scale for a couple of years and that team has put quite a lot of time to get colleagues up to speed, they’ve been so helpful.
Deans across the world are wondering how to keep faculty motivated through yet another change; come September we'll be moving into blended education, with more demands on lecturers’ time. How are you looking at that?
Edinburgh University has been looking at what courses can be suspended for one year (typically those with smaller numbers of students) so that faculty can maintain a reasonable workload.
We’ve looked at what we can strip out – my early calculations told me that come September we’d need 14 additional members of faculty if we were to keep teaching in its current form. And everyone has different circumstances at home – those with childcare duties and the added pressures of homeschooling are juggling a lot of balls. Some lecturers will be operating in a variety of dimensions, between time zones (for those starting the year remotely), to online teaching and on-campus classes with small groups of students.
That means we’ve had to change the entire ethos and think about how we look out for each other, and that’s been a positive. We're doing things we’ve been wanting to do for a while: decrease our reliance on doctoral students for tutoring on pre-honours courses and have that effort spread more evenly across our faculty body, reward those who are currently putting more time into teaching with research sabbaticals down the line, and ease on student assessment, which we know we do too much of. And we hope to gain hours for student contact time too. Students consistently ask us to do so, and now we might just have the chance to make that happen.
What have you learnt about yourself?
I’ve learnt that I really need that human interaction and I’m missing contact with colleagues on campus, I don’t think I could be a home worker indefinitely. And I’ve had to work on my patience; troubleshooting consumes quite a lot of energy!
Photo: Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels.