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Fearing Technology in a Pandemic by Dr. Javeria. K. Shah

Two teenage girls looking eagerly at a screen
Technology doesn't have to be scary...

The human within this pandemic

2020 seems to have started us off with a science fiction style decade filled with pandemics, lockdowns, and polarised political narratives.

A parallel universe unimaginable to many, we now live in a climate of uncertainty to a backdrop of house arrest, health scares, and for some, loss.

This post offers a pedagogic consideration of digital ‘issues’ in a learning and teaching context, but before doing so, offers love, empathy, and solidarity to all those affected by recent events, and deepest condolences to anyone reading that has lost someone in this pandemic.

Learning and Teaching within a pandemic: Digital Fears

In amidst this rather eventful year, the teachers amongst us have perhaps encountered one of the biggest challenges of their career in shape of balancing learners’ physical safety alongside a meaningful and engaging learning experience.

Is such a balance even possible? – some of us have asked ourselves. After all, some within the teaching community are apprehensive in their use of technology in general.

While a pandemic has necessitated digital technology to facilitate the learning experience – that longstanding apprehension, or worse, technophobia is hardly likely to disappear.

A flashback to ‘simpler times’

I am reminded of the early 2000s as I transitioned into a teaching career from the media. Back then, the virtual learning environment (VLE) was making its first rounds in the Further Education (FE) sector.

Having enjoyed some success in the secondary sector, FE held every confidence that this was the way forward for the sector and its learners. Except, no one knew how to use it!

You see, my colleagues and I could not be described as digital natives by any stretch of the imagination, and our students were just as bewildered by the ‘usefulness’ of the clunky VLE as we secretly were.

After all, uploading resources in addition to preparing and teaching classes just seemed like ‘extra work’. Putting this effort in was perhaps even more of a hardship for learners that didn’t log on or engage. Causing us to ask ourselves things like:

Who were we doing it for?

Who were we learning this extra bit of ‘complicated’ technology for?

Fast forward five or so years, and the VLE landscape had notably changed, for the better.

Most college’s where I worked had e-learning teams and support was often available to develop courses with a VLE ‘presence’ so to speak, however, the issue of student engagement remained. It was around this time that I made my final transition into higher education…

Learning and Teaching within a pandemic: Higher Education

In some senses, the UK HE sector is incredibly advanced, but in others, it frankly struggles against its school and further education counterparts.

The scope of this post doesn’t allow an extensive discussion on this point, and perhaps this is a discussion I will return to the in the future – but for now, this point frames the discussion to follow on learning and teaching in amidst a pandemic in HE.

Coming from a position of lived experience of having to navigate different infrastructures, technologies, platforms and approaches across a range of Universities, I would argue that the biggest challenge affecting the HE educator is a lack of an existing digital direction at strategic institution-wide levels.

This has meant that much of our digital teaching/learning responses have been reactionary to the pandemic. This is perhaps a result of institutions being challenged by an ongoing resistance amongst colleagues to adopt technology in their teaching when they didn’t have to and because it was ‘extra work’. A similar resistance to what I remember in my earlier flashback.

So, has our current situation sparked a reconciliation in this dynamic?

So, what next? Back to ‘normal’ after the pandemic?

I don’t think we can, as we have all had to upskill under a great deal of duress and time consumption. The benefits of a blended model in some teaching contexts can also be clearly seen.

In my view, one big advantage has been that we seem to have slowly been evolving out of the 70s model of ‘you’re only working if you’re seen’, and working from home has finally begun to receive the trust it has strived for in some organisations.

Could it be that after this, we will have reached a stage where we are incorporating digital technology and pedagogies into our approaches because we don’t have to but want to?

Either way, one thing is clear, we will have to begin looking at institutional infrastructures that can support this shift and begin bridging the divide between those that fear or resist technology, and those that wish to embrace it – if we are to make the tough learning of 2020 meaningful and longstanding.

Dr Javeria K. Shah an academic and educationalist driven by the pursuit of social justice. Her work is interdisciplinary and aligns with the visual arts, sociology, policy, and education fields. Her research draws on person-centred methodologies that incorporate visual anthropology and narrative approaches to interrogate and re-conceptualise societal positioning(s) of the individual and their self-identity formation. In 2018, she set up the Social Performance Network which is a research and practice-orientated platform that aims to extend focus on issues surrounding socialisation and its “performance” and enactment in social world contexts.

If you liked this post, check out her blog at


Guys, Dr Javeria Shah is an absolute legend in our space & I am absolutely honoured that she took time out of her busy schedule to write for AHT! Thank you so much!

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