Remote learning – what we learned in the early days
Independent schools share their tips from the first few days of remote learning
Schools had a short amount of time to put remote learning systems in place after it was announced that schools would close from 20 March due to the coronavirus.
Some independent schools have since shared how they managed to keep learning going for pupils, when they had less than a week to do so.
Ieuan Weir, deputy head academic at Canford, and Tom Marriott, head of enrichment, share some of the key areas which contributed to the successful implementation of Microsoft Teams for remote learning.
- Getting buy in from staff
- Introduce remote teaching to your staff in such a way that shows its power, but in a positive way. Many teachers will be slightly overwhelmed by the concept. The most important thing we did was to introduce it to staff not as how they would see it, but how pupils would see it, and this made it much easier to get buy in and an appreciation of how and why it would work. It made staff curious to try it for themselves, rather than burdened and much of the training happened through natural experimentation rather than formal times.
- Focus on the basic functionality. It’s too easy to get lost in the higher functions of these systems – that will come with time, but at the beginning it is about the basics only.
- We took the time to train the staff in-house rather than using an external IT company. This provided a lot of reassurance.
- We trained a guru for each department who then helped lead the training for their colleagues. This saved a great deal of time and also meant that each department had a colleague they could turn to for support and advice specific to their subject.
- We started a ‘buddy’ system whereby early adopters could help those less confident on the platform.
- Ensuring availability of hardware
- We immediately ordered extra webcams.
- We conducted a survey immediately of staff IT equipment available to them at home to see how much hardware was needed short term from the school.
- It’s fine to say it’s not perfect on day one
- We made this very clear to both staff and pupils. It was a new system, and everyone was learning the best ways to use it together.
- It’s been a learning curve for staff and pupils alike, and it has brought a real sense of collaboration. Pupils have come up with ideas too and it’s been great to see the way they have embraced the new learning environment.
- Strong IT support
- We had a great IT support group in-house who have been absolutely brilliant in resolving problems for both staff and pupils and providing help and guidance.
- IT created a hub for remote learning within Teams with lots of help sheets and guidance (which teachers also helped to develop) to support staff using the platform. This has been a very helpful ongoing resource.
“This is a dynamic project,” said Weir and Marriott. “There was no earthly way we could have covered every base in a couple of days. We hope to familiarise ourselves with the more advanced opportunities the Teams platform and software can offer us as time goes on.”
Teams is now being used by departments across Canford, not just in remote teaching. Support staff are getting their teams together online to run meetings, and the IT team is on hand to help. The school said this will continue through the Easter holidays.
Dr Neelam Parmar, director of edtech, digital learning and innovation at Ashford, has been sharing feedback and advice from the school’s remote learning on a blog, which she will continue to update after the Easter holidays.
Primary years (Seesaw and Showbie):
- Really good idea to stop children spamming a conversation thread on Showbie. Great way to stop this by Pausing Student Post.
- A shortened timetable up to 1pm with an optional online lunch for children overseen by a parent/guardian close by. This timing worked well for our younger ones with extended activities for the afternoon (if needed).
- Uploaded worksheets was really great and the students could annotate on top of them. I think a stylus of some sort would be helpful.
- Visibility is key – more teachers are going to add in voice feedback and video (captured by camera) into lesson starters.
Secondary years (Office 365 suite of applications):
- Older students worked pretty much independently on their tasks and offered peer to peer support.
- Most students worked through either a PC/laptop (of their own) and their mobile phone and connected into our school Office 365 environment. This was more challenging for younger students than the older ones – in terms of keeping up with the pace of technology and submitting tasks.
- Students expressed that they appreciated the pre-recorded lessons and catch up session with students. Helped sustain the connectedness and flow. Lessons where teachers were not available was difficult and not engaging.
- Timetable is relatively shorter. While lessons were still 40 minutes in length, the rest of the day was shortened to avoid an extended day of screen time. This is reflected in setting homework and marking time for teachers.
- A typical approach to teaching online can consist of the following (please adapt to what works best for you): 10-15 minutes teaching/sharing of information/discussion, 15-20 minutes task, five minutes wrap up.
- A really good tool is the whiteboard app in the Windows store within a live session. Great way to collaborate with your students in one place and it’s available to use within Teams.
- Live sessions work the best. Students feel connected with teachers. How we managed to roll it out in one week is incredible.
“As we progress into online teaching, how can we automate our marking?” said Parmar.
“The use of Kahoots, Nearpods, Whiteboard, Forms and Stream could possibly be on the rise. Within the senior school, we are tweaking our timetable to make it more sustainable and looking to offer extended breaks within lessons to offer a chance to relax, unwind and walk away from the screen.
“These are interesting times but we have launched successfully and it will only get better.”
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