In the past two weeks life in the UK has changed dramatically for everyone. The reality of this for many teachers has been a hard lesson in online teaching technology.
Two weeks ago after much speculation and with short notice, my school of 2500 students and 300 staff closed its doors and the following Monday it opened online for the first time. Despite a progressive Senior Leadership Team who had long championed using online tools it was still a daunting prospect.
We are now completing our second week of remote teaching. I’ve taken the opportunity to reflect on the positives and negatives that we have been experiencing as we navigate this new space and reflect on what lessons there are for both tech development and teachers alike.
The key benefit so far of online teaching is the way it individualises the learning experience for each student. Distracting behavioural issues no longer take the attention of the entire class and because of this students can progress at their own pace and with customised guidance. I can use Google Classroom to set assignments and enforce deadlines, create quizzes and post reading material. This content can then be straightforwardly bookmarked and managed into specific areas which students can access easily. The function to co-write documents in real-time on Google docs means that I can provide immediate feedback to my students on their work and can have tutorials using Google Meet - I don’t have to spend extra time outside of teaching hours marking work and sending comments via email. Google has also allowed more connectivity between staff who use Google Meet and Hangout for weekly faculty meetings. There are also benefits for teachers. Google Classroom allows teachers to directly email parents/carers of all the participants of a Classroom using gmail. Additionally, if a teacher has a smart device they can instantly upload multimedia.
There are however challenges to remote learning. The user experience feels geared more towards student’s usability rather than teachers’ and as a result has some issues from the teacher’s perspective. For example attendance data, assessment and tracking still happens through school in-house software such as 4matrix and SIMS which do not communicate with the software we are using to teach remotely. There is potential for safeguarding issues here if attendance data is not collected automatically. However, marrying cloud software like Google with current school software has implications and concerns for possible GDPR breaches.
More interoperability is needed to enhance the student and the teacher experience and there are definite market and development opportunities in the education sector for tech companies. For example the development of a system which could consolidate all these separate providers into one centralised teaching and pastoral care platform. This would help enable differentiated teaching and cater for complex students’ educational needs.
The ideal outcome of this would be to make remote teaching not feel so remote!
Programmes like Google Meet and Zoom have already made a start with this and teachers can use these apps to integrate live video streaming in order to support practical work for hands on subjects such as Design Technology, Food Tech and Physical Education. We need to support greater creativity with other tools and access methods such as styluses, voice, and software such as Autodesk Sketchbook. There are lessons here too from social media and an opportunity for teachers to capitalise on current trends like video calling, tik tok and vox-pop style teaching “bites” to make learning feel relevant and current.
It is impossible to discuss the use of new tech without mentioning the elephant in the room.
Not all teachers are up to speed with emerging technologies and there is a skills gap here. Shifting to online teaching needs to be rewarding and intuitive, otherwise less tech-savvy educators will be put off by long-winded professional development sessions and constant updates or how-to guides. Online methods can be used for upskilling teachers but this creates a further burden on those teachers who are already up to speed on remote teaching and may not want to become the go-to tech expert for those having difficulties. Tech in education has to be as seamless as possible from the initial rollout so that it does not negatively impact other responsibilities e.g childcare, mental health and on many occasions still physically attending school to look after vulnerable children and the children of key workers. We also need our digital tools to cover the whole school landscape including digitising examinations and certification. If only we could offer that to our current Year 11 and Year 13 students!
Although the current situation is far from ideal is presents us with a great opportunity to change the way we deliver teaching and develop young people’s capabilities in tech. Technology has the potential to optimise the learning experience for students and there is no need to be either all online or all in-person. Using education technology will benefit both teacher and student, and the lessons we learn now can transform the classroom of the future.
Miss Francesca David
Deputy Learning Leader Technology KS3 & KS4