Thursday, April 09, 2020

Schools must change… online must be part of their future… 12 recommendations...

There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune… On such a full sea are we now afloat…’ Shakespeare
Necessity is the mother of innovation… out of the blue teachers and parents have had to volte face and demand a huge daily dose of screen-time. Not that the young weren’t doing it anyway, it was just the ‘wrong’ type of screen-time. Teachers and parents, were all a bit wrong-footed by this.


The response to closing down schools by the authorities has been typically banal. Rather than think creatively, and pull back the Easter and Summer holidays, so that kids could get back to school when the crisis was over, taking the pressure off working parents and teachers, we threw ourselves off the cliff. All it needed was to push the September University term out to January next year with a catch up Summer term in 2021.
So desperate were many to continue ‘schooling’ that we did exactly the wrong thing and took the classroom online through Zoom. Online learning has been around for decades and few use the technology for lecturing online, but teachers rushed at the problem, often wanting to be a classroom teacher on a screen. The eponymous Zoom turned out to be a mad rush to talk at people online, rather than sit back and think about how best to do online learning. We saw students and parents overwhelmed by a tsunami of uncoordinated activity.
It showed how unprepared the education world was for this. With almost universal access through smartphones and the internet, almost all learners were au fait with online learning. Hundreds of millions use Duolingo of language learning, everyone uses Google, Google Scholar is a primary tool in research, Wikipedia is the largest knowledge base ever constructed and an array of free resources from Khan Academy to the BBC were available. YouTube is a huge learning platform. Yet we still got bogged down in petty security issues around Zoom, largely kids pranking because teachers don’t know how to use the settings on the tool.
So what will the consequences be?
First, no one is suggesting that schools shut up shop in the future and educate all kids online. But we can surely take some positives from this experience?


Parents are often overlooked in education but have had to take more interest in their kids’ education. Many will have gained a new respect for teachers and teaching. The problems of motivation and behaviour will have hit home hard. Parent expectations will change as they’ve seen how communications and online learning can be an integrated part of our future education system. Their relationship to teachers and schools will be different – stronger. They will also have had their eyes opened to online resources that their children can use, over and above those provided by the school.More power to parents.


Most teachers have had to go back to school. They saw that knowledge of online tools was necessary, as that these tools are what their pupils will be using in their work and lives in the future. They literally had a crash course in what one would call experiential learning, of delivering online, even if it is only Zoom. The advantages and disadvantages will have been experienced. Some will have realised that communications can be focused and rich with a lot of social collaboration and that less is more. Teachers have been upskilled and it is these tools will get more use in the future.


Education is still largely down to teachers, often designing and delivering their own lessons and courses. Many will now realise that quality content also exists online, and can be reused, from Khan Academy in Maths to Duolingo in language learning and a ton of stuff across the curriculum from the BBC and other sources, where there’s a pile of free content that takes the weight off your shoulders. Some may also have experienced the promise of personalised feedback and adaptive content. With AI, personalised learning is now here, using smart software to deliver smart teaching. Many will take that experience and do good things with it when they go back to school. Teaching is king but content is queen.


I was never keen on the word ‘homework’ as it suggests learning is a chore. This was confirmed by research outlined by Guy Claxton. Nevertheless, teachers may now see a wealth of possibilities for online learning as homework, and drop some of the photocopied sheets and hackneyed ‘design a poster’ assignments. Learning at home will be more sophisticated.

Marking & feedback

Marking, one of the reasons teachers are so overworked, can to some degree, be automated, reducing workload. Formative assessment and feedback may have been tried with annotation tools, even video /audio feedback. More sophisticated adaptive, personalised techniques may have been used. Marking and feedback will be more automated.

Leadership teams

Many teachers rushed at the problem, delivering stuff, unaware that learners were getting demands from teachers in many other subjects. This was overwhelming for parents and learners. What was needed was a co-ordinated approach, with a clear timetable. Schools need to plan for their digital transformation with full digital strategies. There is no going back on technology. Leadership teams need a digital strategy.


We witnessed a rush by teachers to catch up on online learning using social media. Teachers asked for help and those of us who felt we had something to offer came back with recommendations and tips. I’ve long thought that Twitter was an excellent CPD tool. Many learning theory and practice experts are active and generous with their advice. I’d like to see organisations such as ReasearchED, go more fully online. The teaching profession need to shed their antipathy towards technology. Social media and online delivery for CPD.

Teacher training

There has to be a shift in mindset in teacher training so that online learning is a key skill for all teachers. Skills and practice in technology are now necessary in teaching. This prepares teachers for a future where online learning will be the norm, a portion of all educational processes. To be honest it already is – every learner already uses Google, YouTube, Wikipedia and a mass of other resources. Compulsory online learning in teacher training.


Learners have been forced to be a little more active and self-sufficient. This is no bad thing. Education, as John White explained, is the process of inculcating autonomy in learners – so they become autonomous in terms of looking after their health, finances, careers… and learning. Learners have been exposed to online learning and more capable of learning online.


There was plenty of comment about the digital divide, which rolls nicely off the tongue. But we mustn’t let this issue stop us from moving forward, using it as an excuse for inaction. most kids have a smartphone and the solution is to get technology to those that may not have an internet connection. My house had no books, that didn’t mean that my teachers refused to use books in learning. They made sure I had access to books. Learners with specific learning difficulties have long used tech to overcome their disabilities and problems. When you look at technology as a leveller not a divider, it can looks very different. Nevertheless, equity is a problem that needs to be addressed.


Many teachers have risen to the challenge. Many will feel that it has been a different, difficult, even enlightening experience, where they had to quickly learn new skills. Hopefully many will continue to explore the world of online learning when they go back to school. Teachers must see technology as reducing workload and part of their job.


The educational establishment, the DfE, quality assurance bodies and Ofsted, really do have to waken up and see this, not as a setback but an opportunity. We must not get held back by the same old arguments that the only good teaching is in classrooms. Sure much good teaching takes place there but it also takes place elsewhere. These bodies are not meant to be a brake on progress but they often are. This has to change. Online learning should, to some degree, be part of all learning experiences.


‘There is a tide in the I would hope that parents have a new found respect for teachers and realise that their kids are not the angels or not as ‘gifted’ as they had thought. I also hope that teachers have a mutual respect for parents realising that they are also key to educational process. Teachers may also have found that the online learning community is not a bunch of corporate clones trying to rip them off but people just like them, with kids, trying to improve the world. Lastly, technology in learning should be seen, not as the enemy but as a useful and necessary tool, as it is in almost all areas of human endeavour. We all have much to learn from each other. As for the kids, they’re mostly there already… 

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