School leaders are always under pressure to make decisions, and they make these with the best interests of their students, staff and community as a priority in each one they make. We take a look at how teaching and learning can continue without the use of traditional school buildings and classroom structures.
How can children learn remotely
Before we look for solutions, we need to consider the questions we face:
- Can we deliver learning through technology that everyone can access?
- Is there anything offline we can do in support of this?
- What can we reasonably do to continue with education when school is closed?
Through the interconnected world of EdTech, we can ensure teaching and learning takes place by considering the eleven points below, but let’s look first at a no-tech solution.
The low preparation or no-tech model may be the most likely one to work with dispersed pupils, so let’s consider what can be done without relying on any online tools to begin with:
- Send an empty exercise book home with each child for them to use for creative writing or as directed for some of the activities below.
- Allow each child to take a number of reading books home from school or the local library (they can keep a reading diary or write book reviews or reflections on chapters as they go).
- Print off and send home a menu of activities for children to do (make available on the school website and update if needed too), this could be based on an existing 30 day challenge such as a wellbeing, music or a drawing challenge (e.g. https://lynettehunt.wordpress.com/2013/04/04/30-day-drawing-challenge/ ).
- Direct children to create mind-maps/sketch notes from their existing class books and notes (useful for revision and consolidation work).
- If you can afford them, buy revision guides for children to work through at home.
- Share your knowledge organisers or scheme of learning with the children and ask them to refer to this.
- Ask your PE colleagues to share a fitness scheme for children to access from inside their home, if you have time you could baseline them on these skills before and check progress afterwards.
- Provide a plastic cup and cress seeds or beans for the children to grow while they’re away.
- A final consideration, will you collect in or mark the work afterwards? This could lead to a massive workload issue which would be unreasonable for staff to manage.
Okay, that’s just a few ideas for a no-tech solution, but what do you need to consider if you are going to embrace a technological approach to close-down?
This may seem like common sense, but once not in school it will be too late to share login details and passwords on the day we’re told that schools are closed. So, take the opportunity to create a master list of websites, apps and tools which your pupils and staff should be able to access. Share this list with everyone and check that they are able to successfully log in and use the tools as designed.
Share this list on your school website, on a physical noticeboard outside school and via your newsletter and social media channels too.
Be clear with all stakeholders what the communication channels will be for contacting school and also share a statement of how and when a response should be expected, e.g. will emails be answered on the same day? Which email address should be used to contact the school to request login details/ password resets? How will your school contact and support families who are not online?
Finally, if your staff have laptops etc, make sure that they have the technology and logins as well and have access to their laptops at all times.
3. Setting your expectations for online access for staff and pupils, especially with regard for online safety
You will need to clarify your school expectations and perception of online learning, and a lot of this will be driven by your ecosystem.
If pupils are all going to use apps without social interactions, you will not need to be too detailed at this point. However, if you are going to deliver online learning through a virtual learning environment, online classroom or Team etc, you will need to set the ground rules for both online safety and responsible use of the technology.
Refer to your school policy for this in the first instance, and add further information as an FAQ if deemed appropriate. For example, you may wish to state that staff members should not be ‘alone’ in a video chat with a single pupil at any point in time, or you may highlight that everyone must only use their school credentials to access all services/ resources at all times.
You may wish to use your school website as a broadcast for resources and learning links for pupils and their families to engage with from home. If you do this, signpost the learning area clearly and explain what they need to do and how to do it. A short video or presentation would make a good welcome point for this page on your website. Consider making this your landing page.
For those on the Schools ICT Managed Service:
Please be reassured you will still be able to contact the Cirrus team on the usual Schools ICT helpdesk on 01609 536086 Option 1
Even if you school is not currently signed up to our Managed Service we can help you on a chargeable basis – or why not consider taking out the Managed Service SLA? You can move to the managed service at any time. For all the advantages and options visit https://cirrus.schoolsict.co.uk/managed-service/
5. Teaching live or via recording using Microsoft Teams, Skype, Google Hangouts or other online platforms
You can use video learning tools to deliver a more personal learning experience, this often involves the teacher sharing their screen/slides with the students, who access the webinar directly. Each tool has a slightly different way of using it, however the key aspect remains the same - the teacher should be first in and should ensure all learners have left before they close the session.
As a point of safety, we’d recommend not sharing videos for any non-teacher user as this avoids the online safety risks inherent with video sharing. To avoid background noise and distractions we suggest that you mute all microphones too unless you want to hear from a specific individual in the class.
If you do share videos, teachers should ensure their background is plain and suitable for their class to see. They should also be aware that each of these platforms can record the webinar for playback later. They can find some useful tips for presenting themselves online in this ‘preparing for a Skype interview’ video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQwanxQmFnc . Some teachers will not want to be seen on video, so they should be trained on screen sharing or delivery through slides with a voice over instead.
You may find the following links useful if you use, or plan to use, MS Teams or Google for distance learning:
If you have yet to set up Teams in your school, Schools ICT can deploy and configure your Teams Distance Learning solution including user account setup, configuration and creation of Teams and Channels, this service is chargeable at £45 per hour.
Microsoft schools, i.e. those using Office 365, have the same benefits as Google schools below and in addition, Microsoft has a tool called Teams which can be used for collating learning resources and directing learners. Teams also includes collaboration tools such as chat and video calling which can be switched on in preparation for co-operative learning experiences from remote locations.
OneNote is a shared notebook which does not intrinsically have the communication tools of Teams, but it can be used in a collaborative way to both distribute, assign or review work. There are online videos by Microsoft about these tools, as well as the online shared drive of Sharepoint. It’s worth watching them to raise your awareness before you need to use them. Of particular note are the maths tool and immersive reader.
Again, ask Schools ICT if they can help you set this up. A full school set-up is a long-term project, and not a quick fix, however this may not be needed if your school already has access to Office 365 through its licencing agreement.
Microsoft also has a tool called Forms, which we will discuss below.
Schools using Google (which is free to set up for education) have access to many tools which would enable groups of children to access an online learning environment. Teachers can then upload class resources and direct pupils to websites for learning, Youtube videos, and share presentations, worksheets etc. Google provides a great range of introductory videos to get you started, or ask Schools ICT if they can help you set this up.
Please note, the timescale for a full school set-up for Google classroom is something which is achievable as a long term project. However, once set up, a ‘Google school’ can continue to be of use for learners and teachers in a myriad of ways, which can benefit learners in less disruptive times too.
In the interim, you could be delivering online learning content using Forms, as detailed below.
8.Teaching using Forms and existing lesson plans as a templateOnline feedback via MS Teams or self-marking forms
What if you don’t have pupil logins? Well, if your teachers have access to Forms - the Microsoft or Google tools for surveys and questionnaires, you can use these to distribute a structured lesson to your learners without the learners logging in as individuals or interacting with one another.
How? Create your form, and use the text areas to lay out a lesson, along with video links, attached files and text information. Once this is done, you can add a variety of questions at key points. You then have a lesson anyone can access at any time. Publish this form so that anyone can fill it in, so long as they have the link, and share the link via your contact list for your classes.
This can be a quick solution which requires comparatively little time and enables online learning to occur quickly. Read this Schools ICT article to learn more about using Microsoft Forms with Office365 , the lessons are easily transferrable to Google Forms too.
Online feedback can be immediate and useful via online self-marking forms, or it can be in depth via a digital response through tools such as OneNote, Google Classroom or Teams. In each of these environments, the teacher will be able to manage the feedback and marking as they would in their real-world lessons, however they should set expectations for their class so that they can manage their own wellbeing and work life balance.
Despite the inherent disturbance caused by working and learning remotely it should be realistic that a teacher can maintain a work-life balance and not be expected to be on call 24-7 just because the technology would allow it.
If your school has a Virtual or Managed Learning Environment (VLE/ MLE) you should prioritise enabling teachers to get resources online and accessible to pupils. It will also be worth checking out if any suppliers are offering free access to their resources during this time, at the time of writing, Innovate My School have curated a definitive list of home learning solutions and promotions on EdTech Impact - they plan to update this every hour.
Over 1,000 curriculum and whole school solutions are available for comparison on https://www.edtechimpact.com/products (including over 67 "school closure promotions"), each categorised by:
- Product type
- Age group
- Educational impact (across different school contexts)
- Downloadable offline
- Downloadable to mobile
- Requires parental supervision
- Tutorial available for parents
Note that this is not the only list, however it is a starting point and other organisations may offer services too if the UK follows other countries in their actions.
For other sources of support, you may find answers and updates at https://homelearninguk.weebly.com/ , a freshly created and curated website to support all educators as we prepare for and establish home learning in the UK.
Will you monitor engagement during or after a closedown period? How will you moderate behaviour or engage with learners or teachers who are struggling with accessing or creating/using content?
This may be the first foray into EdTech as a primary route for learning, however it could lead to flipped learning success in the future, or highlight the benefits of some purchased software over other tools. Take this opportunity to reflect as a leader and consider the short and long term impact and effects for your school and community.
Phone: 01609 536086 (Option 1)