The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many to change their way of life and their ways of working. One of the biggest changes to many people’s way of working and learning has been the use of videoconferencing. I cannot fault the functionality of this online format; however, it does not facilitate the organic, serendipitous, academic discussions which I found were catalysed by something as simple as waiting to go into a lecture, sitting next to someone, and being around people as I left. The many happy hours I spent with friends made through lectures, pulling apart and exploring the limits of what we had learned, were an important part of my PGCE experience in 2015.
Videoconferencing has allowed ‘business’, in the broadest sense of the word, to continue in many sectors. There are lots of positive things about this newly-adopted way of working, particularly for me as a private tutor (but a discussion about these is something for another occasion). However, as a student, I have found that one disadvantage of videoconferencing has been the absence of the academic social elements associated with lectures, and their absence has highlighted the important part they played in my previous Cambridge experiences. For example, in a videoconferencing ‘lobby’, I cannot mingle with people from other colleges or courses who I haven’t met before, strike up a conversation with the interesting person I find myself positioned next to in gallery view, or hangout with people afterward.
However, an absence of physical lectures does not mean that academic conversations have not been happening. I am aware of a range of groups who meet regularly, in the virtual world, based on course, college, or research connections. In addition to these meetings, I, and others, have been meeting people for conversations while taking daily exercise. My chosen method of exercise has been walking. During the last two terms in Cambridge I have had some wonderful ‘talking walks’ with coursemates – and maintaining social distancing in accordance with government regulations has been no barrier to this.
We’ve had the sort of enthusiastic, exploratory discussions that were much like those I had after lectures, but with the added benefit of the changing scene, the fresh air, and the endorphins. All these, and the full barrage on the senses presented by being out and about, seem to sharpen the mind, broaden perspectives, and invite inspiration. After staring at the monitors in my room all day, the evening sun on King’s and John’s and the amazing sunsets through the trees as we walk and talk along the Backs is just so uplifting. For a few magical moments it feels like normal, and yet legal, though we’re from different colleges. We just keep our distance and keep on walking.
These experiences are not unique or special. Countless people, and an ever-increasing body of peer-reviewed literature, have commented on how the outdoors, moving around, and walking can have positive effects on how we think and feel (see Cooley et al., 2020; Fleury et al., 2020; Haliburton et al., 2020; Nolfi & Gischlar, 2020; Oppezzo & Schwartz, 2014; Rominger et al., 2020). Indeed, according to legend, Aristotle may have gone so far as to conduct his lectures whilst walking, though I doubt that many students would have been able to hear him on a windy day! I would not suggest that lectures or all group discussions should be conducted on the move, but when things return to a new ‘normal’ and not all lectures are conducted through the socially-stifling medium of videoconferencing, I would advocate continuing talking walks with peers, as a valuable complementary form of sociable and uplifting academic development.
Mental Health: Urban and Green Space Walks Provide Transferable Biopsychosocial Benefits. Ecopsychology. Advanced online publication. https://doi.org/10.1089/eco.2020.0050
Fleury, S., Agnès, A., Vanukuru, R., Goumillout, E., Delcombel, N., & Richir, S. (2020). Studying the effects of visual movement on creativity. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2020.100661
Haliburton, L., Schmidt, A., Media, H. U., & Munich, L. M. U. (2020). Move, Collaborate, and Iterate: Improving the Work from Home Experience. Virtual Symposium on The New Future of Work (The New Future of Work), 1–6. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/publication/move-collaborate-and-iterate-improving-the-work-from-home-experience/
Nolfi, T., & Gischlar, K. (2020). Learning on the Move : Making Meaning Through Movement. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 32(2), 329–335.
Oppezzo, M., & Schwartz, D. L. (2014). Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition, 40(4), 1142–1152. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0036577Rominger, C., Fink, A., Weber, B., Papousek, I., & Schwerdtfeger, A. R. (2020). Everyday bodily movement is associated with creativity independently from active positive affect: a Bayesian mediation analysis approach. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-68632-9
Benjamin Strawbridge is a first year PhD student at the Faculty of Education. His research builds on the successful piloting of a whole-class intervention, which he developed during his career as a secondary science teacher, to support the language development of students who struggle with language and/or communication in the science classroom. His intervention draws on Lyn Dawes’ ‘Talking Points’, an oracy-promoting, dialogic approach. He holds a BSc in Biomedical Sciences from UCL, in addition to both a PGCE and MEd from the University of Cambridge. He is an active fellow of the RSA and founder of Strawbridge Tutoring.