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Technology enabling Computing to remain approachable and accessible to students

John Isaacs
Dr John Isaacs, Head of the School of Computing, discusses the technology his team is utilising which enables them to remain open and accessible to their students.

Our school is proud of its reputation as being friendly and approachable among our students. We have always fostered a drop-in culture where students can come into our school, without an appointment, and be able to speak to any free academic about any numbers of issues. It became clear that we were going to lose this when the campus closed and we made a move to online teaching.

Often "computer people" have a stereotype of being hoody wearing isolationists, stuck behind their computers, not wanting to speak to people. Anyone who knows our school and staff will know that this is not the case, apart from the hoody bit. It would have been easy for us to move to email for students to contact us. Still, email conversations don't have the same level of personality or ability to express a problem that an actual discussion does.

With our innate technical wizardry, our school is always going to be well placed to move to online teaching.  One of our staff, Mark Zarb, had been looking at an online tool, Whereby, for meetings with his honours students. Its free, allows you to have a room of up to four people and has a nice feature where you can "lock" a virtual room, and a visitor has to "knock" to gain access. So, our Course Leaders got together, and we thought why not use this across the school for drop-ins?

Each member of staff has a unique link to their room and has allocated two hours a week for drop-in times, allowing us to cover the entire week. We have published the links and availability times to our students on our school info page. All a student needs to do is look who is available at the time and click the link.

We have only been running this for a few days, but already the feedback from students is very positive. One of the comments "It’s great knowing I can just speak to someone!" really let us know what we had planned was going to work. We are planning on extending this a bit further and having an online reception, where students can drop-in to speak to our admin staff, just as they could in SIWB.

Our admin and systems staff have been fantastic at helping us share experiences across the school. Moving online has many technical challenges for us all; it's essential to remember the personal ones as well.

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