From studying to home-schooling, and supporting our staff and students, one Learning Technologist shares her experiences from over the last year

Jesrine Clarke-Darrington is a Learning Technologist for The Health Sciences School, earlier this year Jesrine was featured in our International Women’s Day celebration article which highlighted the achievements of our female colleagues.

Having worked at the University for the last eight years, Jesrine shares with us her experiences of home-schooling two teenagers, whilst completing her Masters degree and supporting our staff and students in her digital role, all in the midst of the pandemic.

Image of Jesrine at work

Hello Jesrine, how are you doing?

I’m doing fine thanks. Work is still busier than it's ever been, because everything we do is digital, but I’m coping…

How have you found the last 12 months of home-working during the pandemic?

Working from home wasn’t completely new because I had worked from home on occasions so I managed that ok. The greatest challenge for me was the fact that my workload had grown exponentially and I was trying to virtually support others in working and teaching from home.

I was conscious that staff would need practical support for teaching online and using tools that were completely new to them and therefore planned a series of development sessions to support staff in the transition to online teaching, and working and through lots of 1-2-1 support with staff.

I was also providing lots of support for students too, there was an assumption that students would find this easier but they needed a lot of support too. I found I had to try and balance how much time I spent with individuals because there were so many people in need of my support.

You completed your Masters degree in the midst of the pandemic, what was your degree in and how did you find the experience?

I completed an MEd in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education here at the University. I found doing the degree a very rewarding experience. I gained great insight into educational research and it allowed me to explore topics of interest within the higher education realm.

The latter part of my masters happened just at the start of lockdown. Trying to get my dissertation done was very stressful because I was so busy and felt that I couldn’t give it the full attention I would’ve liked to.

How was the University able to support you during this time?

My supervisor and programme lead were a great support throughout my studies. I was also able to tap into the knowledge of my research active colleagues for help and advice and was able to take advantage of the support offered by 301 by attending one of their workshops.

My managers were also very supportive and allowed me to take a few study days to concentrate on my studies, although this would often result in me still working or feeling conscious that time off would only result in work to catch up on.

The pandemic has raised the profile of digital learning practitioners and allowed everyone to see the valuable role we play in facilitating and enabling teaching and learning.

People often see my role as the 'Tech person', but in reality we are much more than that, it involves coaching, motivating people, teaching, solving problems, advising, being innovative, managing change, strategic planning and more…

How did you find juggling homeschooling, working and studying?!

In all honesty during the initial stages of lockdown the kids were largely left to do their own thing, so the school routine was out of sync, but I have to say I have wonderful children who were very self motivated, so I didn’t have to chase them to get on with their school work.

I set some boundaries so they knew they had to do their school work first and the rest of the time they could do their own thing.

I worked late most days trying to keep on top of working activities, then I would finish work, cook, eat then dive straight back into my studies. I spent most evenings studying late into the night when the house was quieter with fewer distractions.

I was easily racking up 12+ hours a day in front of a screen. Being busy all day and night did result in a sense of 'mum guilt' and feeling that I was neglecting my family. We eventually worked out a pattern where we would touch base around mealtimes or I'd take short screen breaks and check-in on them and they could ask me for help around subjects I know nothing about (thank goodness for Google!) and they would only interrupt me if they really needed to.

It was a very challenging time because there was no time to unwind, I felt constantly tired and was trying to manage competing demands.

What have you learned about yourself through this experience and the pandemic?

One of the things I learnt about myself is that I'm quite proactive. In early March 2020 anticipating that we may go into lockdown I created a document with a few tips on working and teaching remotely which I shared around my department and then later within online communities at the University of Sheffield.

This document quickly gained traction and was being shared across the University and was viewed by over 400 people between March - April 2020, prior to any official guidance from the university coming out. I received a lot of positive feedback with many saying it helped them to prepare for the move to online.

I also learnt that I am more resilient than I thought, although I think everyone during this tumultuous year has had to increase their resilience levels in one way or another.

One of my proudest moments in this role, was the very first time I was presenting my knowledge on subject at an internal conference. It’s one thing to present to your immediate colleagues and another to thousands of students but it was daunting when sharing your expertise to a room full of academics and peers. It was great to engage with them and it was nice to see genuine interest in the topic. It gives you a real boost when you are recognised by your peers in that way.

What motivates you to do what you do?

I enjoy what I do, I have a passion for exploring ways in which the use of technology/digital tools can add value to teaching and learning. I believe that digital has a role to play in higher education, whilst also acknowledging that it is not always the answer to everything.

I also enjoy working with people and developing their digital capabilities and watching their progress as they develop more confidence in the use of digital tools. I often joke with colleagues about starting a reward chart for them because many often share how proud they are of the things they have achieved through the use of technology.

Jesrine was born and raised in Sheffield and encourages others to take up personal development and learning at any age.

My mum was a big advocate for continuing your education and I decided to go to University later than my peers and want to keep learning and developing.

Completing my masters has given me an interest in educational research that I would never have considered before. I would quite like to get published and write articles or papers around digital learning.

From a personal perspective I’d like to be seen as a positive role model. Growing up I never saw many people like me, in my age group aspiring to go to university. Now as a black woman working in an educational technology field, I'd like to inspire others to do the same, and for them to see that they too could have a seat at the table.

What’s next in your role?

There is quite an exciting opportunity coming up in our team. A new role has been developed and we are currently recruiting a new Digital Learning Facilitator, the role is being funded by Health Education England.

The role has come about following the pandemic, because we continue to have the same high numbers of interested students while placement spaces are not growing at the same rate.

The new role will be managed by myself and will focus on expanding placement options by using new digital and simulation roles to create more opportunities for our students.

This is a whole new area that has not been tapped into before and that’s one of the things I really like about my role. It’s always changing - tech changes or new things are introduced - so this is a whole new area of development.

What are your personal interests?

I like to take an active role in my community volunteering my time to work on projects that benefit the community. I was one of the lead organisers that brought a carnival back to Sheffield which ran between 2017-2019 in Norfolk Heritage Park. In 2018 we had more than 6,000 people attend in Sheffield.

What do you do to unwind and relax after a busy day at work?

I enjoy listening to music to unwind and during this past year like I’m sure many have too, I watched Netflix to help me unwind and to distract myself from everything going on in the news and because there was nowhere to go. Now that I've finished studying I can also enjoy reading for fun again.