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Imogen Vaughan
Associate tutor, the School of Education and Social Work, University of Sussex, England


Alex Vaughan
Members of the Expert by Experience Partner Network at Sussex University


Dr Henglien Lisa Chen
Lecturer in Social Work

Teaching on Zoom: the Expert by Experience Partner’s experience

Since 2003 all social work courses in the United Kingdom have been required to ensure service user and carer involvement in all aspects and stages of their programmes, for example, at admissions, practice-based learning activities and delivery of teaching and student’s learning assessment. The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in many social work courses in England, shifting service users and carers’ involvement in social work education to virtual platforms.

My name is Imogen, and I am the mother of Helen. Helen has learning disabilities. We are members of the Expert by Experience Partner Network at the University of Sussex in England. We were invited to contribute to a teaching module on Adult Social Care one year after the Covid pandemic overwhelmed our national life. In this short piece, I want to tell you about Helen’s experiences of preparing and being involved with an online session with students on a social work course.

Covid-19 Challenge

Home-care agencies supporting Helen have been struggling since 2019 after EU citizens returned to Europe following Brexit. Replacement staff were recruited and trained but then overwhelmed by the pandemic, as carers succumbed, leaving survivors under pressure to manage extra calls at short notice. Constant changes to staff rosters created a disruption, with significant implications for communication between the agency and family carers which compromised our preparation for the Zoom session with the students.

Carers Response

Nevertheless, Helen’s carers proved very committed and creative in supporting her as she struggled with the isolation of “lockdowns”. One installed Netflix on her television to provide diversion; others brought quizzes and sunflowers to cultivate, while another encouraged her to maintain contact with friends on Twitter and Facebook. This helped her stay on FaceTime for longer with her wider family, increasing her digital knowledge and proved a critical factor in enabling Helen to contribute to a Zoom session with the students. The teacher of the course also supported her to operate the zoom link.

Meeting the students again

Helen was able to log on to the Zoom meeting independently and was overjoyed to be talking to the students again. For someone who had been forced to self-shield for months and left feeling irrelevant to the World she knew, it was almost intoxicating to be able to recover normal life.

Rising To The Ongoing Challenges

Helen explained to the students that she had experienced a serious fall the day before and in considerable pain, with visible bruising to her face. Nevertheless, she engaged well with the students and discussed the pre-pandemic situation, described in a written scenario, and the impact of more recent events. She answered the students’ questions; elaborating when prompted by the teaching module lead, feeling that the students found her discussion very helpful.

As her mother, I was able to share my experiences of trying to engage with dysfunctional government departments in a time of crisis. A practical demonstration of the complications arising in my daily life occurred, when I had to break-off at one point, for an emergency phone call with Helen’s GP to discuss necessary treatment following her accident. Unfortunately, Helen had to leave the meeting early, because her carer arrived for her lunch-call, which had been changed the day before to address a staff shortage.

Reflections on Experience

This experience was an example of meticulous planning and preparation, demonstrating the difficulties arising when normal communication is compromised at so many levels. We were fortunate that Helen’s carers had developed her skills in digital communication, despite her learning disabilities. Her accident could have compromised the session, but she was able to participate through her resilience and preparations. Helen has a lot to share. I believe that students need to hear Helena’s voice as they train to become social workers.


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