COVID-19 Learning Lessons: Introduction to a Sevenfold Blog Series

Jytte’s new blog series, published over the fall, serves to reflect on the lessons learned in the COVID-19 crisis from both critical and reparative perspectives. Heidi Kosonen and Melissa Plath introduce the sevenfold blog series in this introduction.

The University of Jyväskylä, like other universities in Finland and around the world, has had to make a number of adjustments to continue to undertake its core activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. These have affected every aspect of the university’s operations, requiring adaptation in the ways of working, teaching, researching, and providing support to the student and employee communities. For instance, libraries, researchers, teachers and students altogether have needed to find ways to deal with the sudden inaccessibility of material course materials, while the lack of face-to-face encounters has forced the university community to find novel ways to enhance learning, exchange ideas and express both support and solidarity.

This exceptional situation has exposed both areas in which the University is prepared to cope with unexpected and extraordinary demands, and those where the University has proven unprepared or unequipped. Ways of working, teaching, and research have been tested, with some proving adaptable and flexible while others demonstrating that they are no longer fit for purpose. This exposure also presents a unique opportunity to learn from these lessons and to create changes that better fit the University’s needs, while also ensuring the University is better prepared to meet future challenges.

In Jytte (The association of researchers and teachers of Jyväskylä) we are interested in advocating for the betterment of the university community. The purpose of this blog series is to reflect on and highlight the needs and lessons learned, while offering potential solutions, to encourage positive changes within the University. We have invited members of this community, including our sister associations, to write about the impacts of COVID-19 from their varied points of view as teachers, researchers, university leaders, students and staff of the University of Jyväskylä. Altogether seven blog posts, published in Jytte’s blog bi-weekly during Autumn 2020, seek to highlight different perspectives on the lessons to be learned from this state of exception.

A Seven-fold Blog Series

In the opening essay to the blog series, Panu Moilanen from JYLL, seeks to study the changes brought about the pandemic from the perspective of university lecturers, trying to find the silver linings to the COVID-19 crisis. Which changes are permanent, he asks, and which will pass after the pandemic is put under control? For instance, in thinking of virtual teaching, could the forced digital leap – glorified over the past quarter of a century – now be giving birth to a virtual university?

Next, in early October, Melissa Plath from Jytte and UniPID, writes about the ambiguity of remote work before COVID-19. The rules and standards for who can work remotely, when, and with what agreement, she says, are confusing and highlight the differences between research and teaching staff and other staff. The emergence of COVID-19 and the necessity for the majority of the university community to shift to remote work has shown both the opportunities and the challenges of remote work, but has also given raise to questions about the way remote work has been implemented before COVID-19. What can we learn from this exceptional situation in the ways to organize remote work? What alternative arrangements might be made for remote work in the future?

At the end of October, Marjo Vallittu from Library Services of the Open Science Center opens up few points of views on what kind of practical arrangements have been needed to keep the library services running during the pandemic to support the students’, researchers’ and teachers’ work. These services consist of e.g. teaching, counselling and support for research and publishing, and involve both printed materials and client contacts. Thus, keeping some of the services and courses going have required many changes and have probably resulted in new lasting practices. Vallittu’s blog post considers these actions, as well as the skills needed from the Open Science Center personnel to ensure the availability of services during Spring 2020.

Opening the November blog posts, Mika Lähteenmäki from the Jyväskylä chapter of the Finnish Union of University Professors discusses the lessons of the COVID-19 crisis on University leadership. In his blog text, Lähteenmäki considers how the community of experts has managed the ongoing crisis. As he describes, we often talk about this community of experts and its special quality, but rarely are able to pin down what this special quality really is. Studying this community’s actions in a crisis helps access its essence, which, according to Lähteenmäki, sheds new light on how a community like this should be led.

Next, late November Miikael Saksman from The Student Union of the University of Jyväskylä, considers the crisis from the perspective of delivering services to students. In his experiential blog post, he presents a quarantine journal of a fictitious student where various services and sources of support to students, such as Studentlife, help Saksman find solutions to the different kinds of challenges by students, such as IT problems and library services. The blog post also makes use of the results of the COVID-19 questionnaire published by The Student Union of the University of Jyväskylä.

In the first weeks of December, Laura Piippo, a University Teacher, from the Department of Music, Art and Culture Studies, writes about the impact of COVID-19 on researchers from an intersectional and materialistic approach. Piippo’s approach is critical in terms of whose COVID-19 experience we see represented in the media and whose not, and in her blog post she wishes to challenge the “this affects us all” narrative by drawing attention to the reality of very different actualisations. The pandemic, Piippo argues, highlights and exposes the plethora of different and unequal positions that fit under the term “researcher”, all affected by personal relations and living conditions. In her blog post, Piippo considers these experiences in relation to different positions within the university community, e.g. whether you have to sit in meetings or not depending on your teaching or administrative tasks. She also discusses the effect of not meeting one’s peers at the university corridors and having the short interactions which create the sense of belonging and spur thinking.

In the last blog post published late December, Stefan Baumeister from the Schools of Business and Economics and of Resource Wisdom discusses researcher mobility. As Baumeister recognizes, mobility is commonly understood as an essential part of every researcher’s career. He considers the recent COVID-19 crisis, bringing all mobility to a halt, as also a good moment to critically review the constant need and necessity of being mobile as a researcher. As he points out, recent studies have found that mobility is among the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions of knowledge organizations such as universities. With universities setting ever more ambitious climate targets, the role of mobility must be critically reviewed. Baumeister’s blog post discusses researcher’s mobility from both the viewpoints of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis. The lessons learned, enabling the wider use of online technologies to replace physical meetings, he presumes to be very valuable.

Welcome back September 25 for the first blog post!

Heidi Kosonen,
Melissa Plath