Jacqueline Daniell, CEO of Wey Education, discusses how educators can use technology to help re-engage students, improve recruitment and capacity issues during school closures
Earlier this month the Government announced that when schools closed their doors on Friday 20 March it would be for the foreseeable future – minus those who will be caring for the most vulnerable and children of key workers. The outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has had severe implications across the globe, already impacting the jobs and lives of so many in such a short space of time. The important thing now is for us to pull together as a community and help those not only in need of support, but to ensure our future generation does not miss out on important learning opportunities – especially with GCSE and A-Level exams now not taking place this summer.
While education technology has been on the agenda for a long time in regard to improving and providing effective solutions for teaching and learning, now more than ever, it is important for schools and parents to identify the resources that will help them to carry on with respective roles where possible and ensure there is minimum disruption to the education system during these difficult times. Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, explicitly said despite the impact COVID-19 is having on schools, they will ensure that “no child is unfairly penalised”, and all pupils “will get recognition” for all of their hard work and endeavours. That said, the Government is yet to explain how they plan to do this.
Observing what is going on across the globe and the experience we have had dealing with many other schools internationally, we are aware of how important it is that schools across the country prepare themselves, their parents and their staff to be able to continue supporting learning throughout these uncertain times with a flexible approach that suits various learning and lifestyles.
Our Prime Minister has called the outbreak the “worst public health crisis for a generation”, and it is vital that everyone pitches in and helps out where they can. Whether it be taking shopping to vulnerable neighbours, offering your support to local businesses or simply self-isolating to avoid putting others at risk. This is why we are supporting schools as they face unseen challenges in these unprecedented times, as online education experts who have taught students outside of the physical classroom for over a decade we have developed some top tips for schools, students, staff and parents.
Upskilling staff with extra knowledge, information and technique about teaching students online is really important. Teachers are phenomenal, they are hardworking, courageous and I’m sure many parents who are looking after their children at home this week will soon be calling them miracle workers for their ability to control a classroom full of 30 students. However, teaching via the internet requires specific skills and teachers will need time to adjust their style, adapt their resources and work in a different way if they are to deliver lessons with the same confidence and standard as they have in the physical classroom. It is important they remain patient with themselves and with their students as it is a learning curve for all involved.
Some key lessons that many of our teachers have learnt through years of experience are that cross curriculum themes such as safeguarding and assessment for learning can be enhanced by the use of appropriate digital techniques for example a digital speed grader or automated quizzes. Many of these were learnt on the new training course we opened last year which provided useful insights to teachers about the importance of planning, how to develop innovative content for online learning, as well as tips on providing feedback online.
Creating a routine
A lot of the positive feedback we get from our students revolves around the flexibility and accessibility that online learning provides them. However, at the same time a routine and structure are important. Many students and pupils will find a routine enables them to remain focused throughout the day. With this in mind learning in a virtual environment should be treated just like any other day in the classroom, given that all the resources are available for both teachers and students alike. Mindset is also a crucial part of this. For many pupils who use virtual platforms, their classroom is often their home, and this will be the case for many new students at this time. However, students naturally psychologically move from home to the classroom, even if they are not doing so in the physical sense.
It is crucial that lines of communication are continuous and prolific. It is easy to start to feel slightly isolated when you don’t feel the presence of co-workers down the hall, or pupils across the classroom. Therefore, it is vital that members of staff talk amongst themselves regularly and keep each other updated sharing best practice about what is working for them or new techniques they have implemented. Additionally, students should do the same. It can be a strange experience moving from traditional day-to-day routine of going to school and all the associated logistic of that, to being at home studying online and socialising in the virtual world. Whether it be about a group project, a piece of homework or simply what was on the television the evening before, speaking and supporting one another, inside and outside the home, is key.
Furthermore, these lines of communication should be part of the support network that individuals build. Support networks are influential in developing a positive mindset and a strong working routine. At this time when we are all asked to stay at home our families are hugely important. We rely on them for support and we support them in return, just as we must do with our colleagues, friends and peers. In some circumstances this in itself can cause stress or heighten tensions which is why communicating with the wider virtual school community is absolutely vital
We have been working with schools to provide more in-depth support to students in Key Stage 3 and 4 who would have been taking important exams at the end of this year. In this difficult time when schools are struggling with staff shortages or resource shortages due to the impact of COVID-19, we recommend schools also make the decision to prioritise Key Stage 3 and 4 students if it is necessary and where it is possible – after of course taking into consideration the health and wellbeing of students. This is because whilst at this moment we know exams in May and June have been cancelled, there will likely still be some form of moderation, and whether students sit any exam or not it is crucial that they still learn the content to prepare them for the next stage of their educational journey. The ability to provide a focus where necessary may prove to be vital in the months ahead.
Many schools will have opted for the existing technology already available to them to provide digital content and promote self-study. However, this may fall short of the necessary level of provision for pupils during these key stages as they approach either the exam season next year or applications to college and university. Generally, this technology wasn’t designed to support learners in a wholly online environment and was intended as part of a blended package. This is why it’s important for schools and parents to identify alternative tools and resources out there that will be able to facilitate a smooth transition to online learning, without any disruption to teaching and learning, in a way that is engaging and intuitive.
As I alluded to earlier, we are currently in a time of uncertainty where comfort comes from working together. Experts in their fields should put their knowledge to the best possible use and help where they can. That is what we are doing; we have already supported schools in Wuhan, Guangzhou and Shenzhen through the difficulties they have faced with huge success, helping to facilitate their continued education and we want to be able to share the knowledge we have accumulated far and wide.
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