The onset of the Coronavirus pandemic has few positive aspects about it. However, it could be argued that, in a matter of weeks, school use of online learning has moved on a generation as they try and respond to maintaining continuity of learning during school closures.
It is going to be interesting to see if this is a temporary phenomena or if, in terms of either learning resilience, or a newfound commitment to online learning per se, this momentum is maintained.
Of course, the facility to move learning online has been with schools in the UK for almost two decades. The wholesale purchase of Learning Platforms as advocated by the Blair government, and overseen by BECTA, was happening in the early years of the new millennium. Having been involved in the process as both a purchasing teacher and a platform vendor I experienced the mismatch between technology and educational application first hand.
The government at that time was forward-thinking in trying to get Learning Platform technology into schools, but unfortunately, the schools did not always have a clear conception of what this new technology could achieve for learning. The result was patchy implementation by enthusiasts, whilst many teachers actively avoided what they saw as an additional burden over and above their existing workload. Learning Platforms were seen as ‘as well as’ rather than ‘instead of’ certain elements of current teaching so the productivity bonuses, as well as the opportunity to do things differently, were missed.
The training process hardly helped things. Too often a technician was sent to show the teachers what the buttons did in a whistle-stop tour of the capabilities of the platform. There was scant time to explore, to work in a cross-curricular way nor develop some generic techniques to develop learner engagement or learning outcomes.
These same problems were re-visited with the adoption of interactive whiteboards, which is why today, so many of them remain glorified projectors doing the same old lessons, with all the content stored electronically, thereby avoiding having to use the traditional blackboard/whiteboard to write up notes. Too often this means that the lesson content is formulaic, promotes teaching and not learning and does not divert to engage student interest or difficulties. There is too much temptation to teach the lesson, and not the students.
I’d be interested to hear about how your school has reacted to the challenge of bringing a significant amount of your learning content online within the timescale of a fortnight!
A number of content and platform vendors have generously put platforms and content at the disposal of schools for free, or at significantly reduced rates. However, using the content of others has drawbacks. It is the equivalent of working exclusively from a standardised textbook, to which you have had no input. It provides content for students to digest, but whether that content is meaningful and challenging is another question.
Is your teaching team busy transposing their lesson plans into digestible online formats? If so, are they taking the opportunity to review and re-shape the learning provided? Perhaps the critical nature of the current crisis precludes this. If this is the case then, when will such review and development opportunities occur?
Clearly, a massive increase in the volume of learning placed online is no guarantee of the quality of the learning experiences of students.
For my part, my advice would be to work with the lowest common denominators of technology, and those which are most widely available to students. I have examples in my recently published book, Re-Examining Success, of how to use Microsoft Word for online marking and evidence analysis and critique. I also show how to set up an online library for student learning collaborations for examination and wider learning purposes.
There are templates to help you set up these assets as well as to create an online CPD library for staff. Last year’s book Future Proof Your School develops further the strategic considerations in developing online learning for schools.
You are welcome to include a link to my CPD blog at the Learning Renaissance Here you will find over 1400 free assets in the form of infographics, articles, research references, specialist content on leadership, school improvement, cultural change, neurodiversity and pedagogy/heutagogy and myriad other themes, all meta-tagged for easy reference.
I’d be interested to hear how your school has reacted to the challenge of placing much of your curriculum online as part of my research for a new book on learning transformation internationally. Obviously this will be a longitudinal study which might take a number of years to compile as we complete the before, during and after elements of the study. I’d like to make an early start and begin discussions about the scope of the study, and templates for capturing data in the interim.
Contact me at my email if you have experiences to share, or want to have a clear picture of the management of change in this significant element in learning.