Online engagement after COVID-19: a discussion

Posted on: 18 June 2020

The accelerated integration of technology into our lives as a result of Covid-19 was the focus of the recent online-discussion by Trinity College Dublin on the 11th June 2020.

The Trinity Long Room Hub’s Behind the Headlines discussion ‘Human+Technology Beyond Covid-19’ brought together a panel of experts and voices from industry to mark the launch of a major new research project Human+ (human-centred approaches to technology) in partnership with the ADAPT Centre at Trinity College Dublin.

Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub, Professor Jane Ohlmeyer said that while Covid-19 has brought into greater focus the implications and benefits of technology on our lives, societies were already grappling with the challenges posed by rapid developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and big data. Challenges, which she added, “can’t be addressed by one industry or discipline alone.”

In a live audience poll prompting Zoom attendees to answer the question “Do you believe technology today takes enough of a human-centred approach?”, 72% answered “no”, 20% said they were “not sure” and only 9% said “yes”.

Professor Jennifer Edmond is Associate Professor of Digital Humanities in Trinity College Dublin and the co-director of the Trinity Centre for Digital Humanities. She is also Director of Dariah-EU, where she has been leading research exploring the differences between virtual and Face-to-Face meetings, drawing on tools from the digital humanities and from arts practitioners.

Speaking on the phenomenon of ‘Zoom exhaustion’, Professor Jennifer Edmond said that fatigue is often a result of the difference in “how our brain processes audio and visual information.” In the move online during Covid-19, we have been trying to “do the old things with the new technology”, she said, before providing the audience with tips on how to make virtual meetings more effective.

Professor Vincent Wade is Director of the ADAPT Centre for Digital Media Technology and Professor of Computer Science at Trinity College Dublin. “We now are living in a digital and mediated world”, Professor Wade commented, arguing that although the pandemic has propelled us further into this digital space, digital interaction is now going to be a bigger part of a post-Covid 19 world.

With the rapid pace of change, Professor Wade added, at times it can feel “like humans…are being left out of the loop.” Highlighting inter-disciplinary projects such as Beyond 2022 and Iconic Translation, Professor Wade said co-creation among computer scientists, arts and humanities, and industry is key to ensuring that technology is truly human-centric.

“We need to do better”, Dr Ann Devitt said, as she addressed the opportunities and challenges for learning and teaching as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Devitt is Director of Research at the School of Education in Trinity College Dublin, and academic director for Learnovate. As part of the Behind the Headlines discussion, she said that learning “takes place in those many, many interactions that learners have with their physical environment, their social environment and cultural environment.”

“It’s our role as educators to set up the learning environment and to facilitate opportunities for learning”, but it is not, she commented, “to deliver learning as if it were a kind of a pizza, that needs no more engagement from the learner than just opening a door.”

Concluding the panellists’ talks, Lorna Ross, Chief Innovation officer with VHI Health & Wellbeing said as a designer, “we shape our tools, and then our tools shape us”, adding, “in many ways, the tools we use become the engines of culture.”

She argued that any conversation about humans and technology must take into account the intimate relationship we create with the objects we craft. “For generations, we have taught humans how to understand technology…moving forward we need to teach technology how to understand us.”

About Behind the Headlines at the Trinity Long Room Hub

The Trinity Long Room Hub’s Behind the Headlines discussion series offers background analyses to current issues by experts drawing on the long-term perspectives of Arts & Humanities research. It aims to provide a forum that deepens understanding, combats simplification and polarization and thus creates space for informed and respectful public discourse.

To find out more about Human+, the interdisciplinary fellowship programme cofunded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Marie Sk?odowska-Curie Actions, please visit:

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