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What have I been doing during the pandemic?

Professor John Skelton

May 2020 |

I work two days a week at the University of Birmingham these days (generally, I mean, not just because of covid), so I am spending those two days working from home. I can tell you that the back garden is looking lovely, the quince blossom has come and gone, the next door neighbour had a parcel delivered this morning, and the fields where we go walking are full of the sound, and sometimes the sight, of larks.

Other than that, our Med School is wrestling with the issue of how we graduate students we’re confident are safe without actually giving them the full range of exams we normally do, what with the University being shut at present … How are others dealing with this issue? I’m Head of Education Quality for our MBChB Programme, so have to be interested in this.

One of the things we’re doing is giving an online viva exam – in fact, a case-based discussion – to the bottom students of our final year. I’m involved in giving practice sessions for these, so have three students lined up for today and tomorrow. And I’m discussing how we manage clinical exams (ie, exams with touching) for our Physician Associate students in August. And I’m doing character references for the General Medical Council for students.

My big question for all of us is this: will the current crisis utterly and completely change the face of education? Or will it all somehow just disappear, and we’ll go back to what we were doing this time last year? (And for those of us in universities, structured and financed to deliver face-to-face teaching, will we be able to charge our students the present level of fees if we move to a more distance-oriented programme? And will they accept this? Will we so arrange things that each student gets as many contact hours, but more of them one-to-one or in small groups, delivered online?)

Within EALTHY, I’m working with our much-admired Head, Catherine, as co-editor of a special issue of the journal ESP Today.

Other than that, I’m working on a paper on language and philosophy for a colleague in the Netherlands, who works closely with a former PhD student. We’ve recently published a paper on an aspect of this (Great fun! Don’t miss it! Read all about the beetle! … at Veen, Skelton, de la Croix). I did an online tutorial with them on Monday with about twenty students, mostly Dutch but with representatives from UK, Sweden and the US as well. Good fun! Actually, yes, it was – much as I dislike Zoom, Skype and so on.

Also, I noticed during lockdown that the piece I did for our friends in Castelló has recently been published. It’s part of Discourses at the edge of life. If anyone wants a copy of “Montaigne, the essay and the end of life”, let me know. It’s so flipping long – between you and me, it goes on forever – it will last you well past the current crisis.

I live in Stratford (Shakespeare’s birthplace), hence the walks in the open countryside. A walk of about a mile, and then I can go and listen to the birds, and fail to identify most of them, and admire the improbably clear skies.