With school closures due to the COVID-19 Virus a real possibility in the UK, preparations are being made to minimise the potential impact on learning for our students. Teachers, schools and MATs will be anxious to do the best they can using what they have available. In 2020 this can range from fully connected online curriculum delivery platforms to a booklet of printed resources carried home on the last day. And herein lies the issue.
In the drive to do what is best for our students, it is easy to become lost in the delivery options and lose sight of what we are delivering. Even more worrying is the thought of the boundaries some are in danger of inadvertently stepping over in order to do the best they can.
Choosing A Tool
Technology is a wonderful tool that offers so many opportunities to unlock, transform and even drive learning forward in a myriad of different ways… but it is just a tool. Starting with the tool is never a good idea when it comes to solving any problem. When my shed roof needed refelting last year I didn’t solve the problem by grabbing a chainsaw then trying to work out how I could use it to cover the holes. I identified the problem and worked out what I wanted to do about it before assembling my tools and materials.
As soon as it became apparent that schools may have to close to limit the social contact between large numbers of people my Twitter feed exploded with Tweets from well meaning (largely) people offering lists of apps, learning platforms and devices that could be used to facilitate “distance learning”. Infographics emerged showing an array of charts and graphs and icons and words and all manner of other things technology can enable from a distance.
Very few people talked about what they would actually want their learners to be doing during a shutdown. It was all about the chainsaw and not about the holes in the roof.
Now is not the time for panic. It is definitely not the time to start learning an entirely new digital platform and roll it out to hundreds of students in under a week. Whatever expertise exists within your organisation at this point will be absolutely fine to see you through this difficult time.
In the well intentioned search for solutions that minimise the impact of closures on our students I have seen cries for help from teachers that have found themselves in very difficult professional situations. Teachers who are absolute novices when it comes to video calling and webinar software are being directed by their school leadership teams to continue to teach lessons via a live stream from their homes. I wince every single time I see this safeguarding nightmare pop up in my social media feeds. The notion of a direct video feed between the house of a teacher and their students throws so many safeguarding alerts up that it would be ludicrous to my mind to even entertain it.
Now is not the time for panic. With a few sensible considerations we can help each other through this safely.
Put the learning first.
Don’t try to cover new material at a distance unless both you and your students are used to working this way and you can guarantee 100% access. The danger is that misconceptions become embedded and reteaching is compounded by addressing these when students return. Review previous learning, revisit topics and consolidate what has already been studied this year instead.
Keep it simple.
Remember that students will most likely be completing the work under their own steam. Simple tasks that require deep thinking are much more likely to succeed than complex tasks involving fancy apps that students are unfamiliar with. If students must ask for help this should be in text format where possible.
Use what you know.
Now is not the time to be attempting to learn a whole new complex online learning platform. If your students receive a pack of well thought out resources via email that is much better than both you, them and their parents attempting to muddle through the unfamiliar.
Try it out first.
However you choose to keep your students learning, do a dry run first. Log in as a student and experience it as they would. And do it on a mobile phone. That is how they are most likely to be accessing it unless you know otherwise. The beautifully designed, interactive presentation that you want students to view in all its multimedia glory will look completely different on a £50 budget mobile phone than it does on your Macbook. And don’t even attempt multiple documents at once.
Just because it is possible to teach your class via a video call does not mean you should. I wince when I see Tweets from teachers asking for advice about how to set up a call while they are in isolation. Entirely innocently and with the best intentions at heart but a safeguarding minefield. The connection of teachers’ and students’ homes via video call is not something I would entertain personally nor is it something I would advise others to do. Keep interactions textual and public.
Data Data Data!
Data is expensive and downloading large files can eat into those precious allowances quickly. If your home learning eats into the data allowance of a student or family then it will be quickly sidelined or, worse still, result in data charges and hefty Pay As You Go top ups for families that may already be struggling through lost earnings during the school closures. It would be an incredibly generous gesture if the big mobile phone networks joined forces to provide a certain allowance of free data for students attempting to learn from home but I very much doubt it would happen.
Equity, Efficiency, Effectiveness.
If your provision can not be accessed by a number of students then the provision is not a good solution. If you aim to provide a booklet of resources, make sure printed copies are available to pick up as well as the booklets being posted to the website, emailed out and distributed via your favourite online platform. If your provision is to provide live lessons online, what provision have you made for those that can’t access? Every student you teach has an equal right to access everything you set. Setting up a way of working that you know 100% of your students do not have access to without putting in place provisions to meet their needs is simply indefensible.
If UK schools close for an extended period of time we have a professional duty to do what we can for our students to minimise the impact on their learning. But equally important is our duty of care to ourselves in terms of workload and safeguarding. If we do what we can with the tools we are familiar with and keep the learning at the front of our thinking we will come through the difficult times having done our best for our students and kept everyone safe in the process.