A Round-Up of the New NTDC TechMeet Forum

By 22nd July 2020 Blog

TechMeet is a new forum run by the NTDC to share good practice, general discussions and back to work planning amongst technical staff during this challenging time.

TechMeet #1 – 17th June 2020

The first NTDC TechMeet session took place on 17th June in the virtual world of GoogleMeet.

Almost 50 colleagues from technical communities across the creative arts and STEM joined us to discuss how technicians are supporting a return to teaching and research. The session was kindly hosted by Dr Kate Dixon, the Head of Technical Services at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Higher Education Institutions and Research Institutions are adapting and evolving in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many organisations are striving to enable the delivery of more online and blended learning for students, as well as deliver research output whilst enabling research staff and students to remain socially distant. How can technicians across the country support this effort?  What cultural changes may be required in technical teams to deliver timetable and research needs?  What training might technicians need to enable them to make a full contribution to university goals?  How can organisations such as the NTDC and Technician Commitment support technicians through these changes and opportunities?

There was plenty of discussion around the key topics as well as shared best practice from many different universities including; Imperial College London, Liverpool, Lincoln, Bath, Newcastle, York, Birmingham, Huddersfield and others.

Teaching Support

Some of the teaching support provided by technical teams included:

  • Blended learning
  • Filming of practical techniques for undergraduate students by technicians
  • Live streaming/capture of key techniques and recording of practical sessions
  • Use of digital technology/photography specialists to produce storyboards
  • Researchers filming ‘how-to guides for techniques’
  • Supporting academic colleagues with online delivery
  • Providing one week intensive lab sessions for first year students/in bubble groups

Cultural Changes

Generally people were optimistic that technicians were resilient and able to accept changes in working hours/location as a result of the pandemic, with concerns around flexible working and public transport discussed.

Training Needs

  • Provision of online training resources and identification of varying levels of digital literacy.
  • Access to online technical skills training, e.g. cloning techniques

One institute recognised that restricted lab opening times and access would prevent any training at present.

TechMeet #2 – 30th June 2020

Around 25 colleagues joined us for the second TechMeet session hosted on Google Meet by Mel Leitch, Deputy director of Infrastructure at Newcastle University. Colleagues from York, Imperial, Bath, Bradford, Birmingham, QUB, Manchester,QMUL, Glasgow and John Innes Centre amongst others.

As the last TechMeet focussed on the acute issues of reopening, Mel continued to discuss technicians’ vision for the medium term: What are the opportunities? What are the issues? How can we work together?

Items discussed in the session included:

Planning and processes:

Enabling both forwards and backwards planning to have clear processes in place, as well a strategy in place if lockdown should occur again nationally or locally (as in the case in Leicester).

Development opportunities:

The provision of online courses and training for technicians to upskill.

The balance of an increased technical workload against a university’s financial pressures to reduce staffing costs.

One institution was going to raise the issue of a professional skills audit and technical resilience programme at their next steering group meeting.

Increased profile

A discussion was held on the increased profile and role of technicians in enabling a return to work, with recognition and acknowledgement coming from a senior level at some universities.

A suggestion was made to have a bigger presence on any committees at university level.

Visibility of Technicians

There was a clear need to fly the flag for the role that technicians do within their institutions with video profiles, showcasing skills on websites, providing tours of their workplace, short films of what technicians do and why it is important.

Follow us on twitter to find out when our next TechMeet will be held.