Last nights Microsoft TweetMeet focussed on Remote Learning. It was certainly a busy session with my tweetdeck updating faster than I could think; it was a blur of activity. Overall it was an excellent session and probably the best TweetMeet I have been involved in so far. I therefore thought it might be useful to summarise the key messages I took away from the event:
- We are all human
I think this is very important; to recognise that we, teachers, our students, their parents/guardians and the wider school community are all human. This is a difficult time; unlike anything we have experienced before and for many the unfamiliar circumstances we find ourselves in can be very scary. Add to that concerns relating to the health and wellbeing of loved ones, of family and of friends plus for some the actual loss of people close to them and we find ourselves significantly outside our comfort zones. We need to recognise and accept this, and to ensure we consider it when interacting with others. We need to ensure we provide space and time for these concerns to be shared and discussed and we need to support each other. High expectations are great but may need to be considered carefully in the current context we find ourselves in. As we seek to use remote learning to continue children’s education we must maintain our focus that the most important thing in times like this isn’t the curriculum, assessment, EdTech, etc, but is in fact our teachers, students, their parents, families, and the wider school community; What matters most is people.
- We are better together
Related to the above is the fact that as humans we are social animals. We are designed to be at our best when working with others and in this time of isolation this is no different. For me the TweeetMeet was a perfect example of this. There were lots of people involved in the session each individually doing excellent things in relation to remote Learning but by coming together and sharing, discussing and exploring things together we are all the better. At this time of isolation we need to ensure we build the opportunities to collaborate and to share experiences. Where individually we identify things that work or don’t work, we should seek to share this. It may be that ideas shared by others won’t work in your particular context, but by at least considering such ideas you will have gained some insight; Think Edison and 1000 lightbulbs. The more we share the better. My favourite phrase in relation to this being “the smartest person in the room is the room”. And thankfully we live in a time where we largely have the technology available to achieve this through blogs, vlogs, podcasts, video conferencing, webinars, etc. The world is a pretty big room!
- Technology is here to stay
For all the discussion about whether EdTech makes a difference or not, whether we should embrace technology in schools or ban it, we often miss an important fact. Technology is here, and it is here to stay. Social media, on-demand TV, sat nav, video conferencing, artificial intelligence, user tracking and many other technologies all exist now and they aren’t going to disappear, in fact they are likely only to continue to evolve and to take an ever greater place in our lives. Given this world how can education avoid technology; I don’t believe it can. Technology provides us many tools which can allow us to do new and exciting things and we need to seek to use it. Just think where we would be in this current crisis without technology. How would learning work without it? So, if technology can act as an enabler of learning in a sudden crisis like the one we find ourselves in now imagine what we might be able to achieve with a bit of time, planning and people working together. This is what we need to consider in relation to life beyond Covid19.
- The Digital divides will be our biggest challenge
I have written about this already and you can read my post here. Our biggest challenge is likely to be the lack of parity which exists in relation to technology. It isn’t just about access to devices such as laptops or tablets for use by students at home, or access to the internet at home. We also need to consider the many other divides. Parents at home may have differing abilities to support their children in using technology at home plus students themselves will have differing abilities. Schools will have different amounts of IT support available to help out staff, students and parents with issues and problems. Additionally, schools will have different amounts of professional learning and training resources again for use by staff, students and parents. There will be different levels of IT equipment in schools with some schools having 1:1 devices while others might be limited to a single IT lab or less. Experience with the pedagogical aspects of using technology to support learning will also differ across schools or even within schools across departments. Confidence levels and motivation to experiment, plus the school culture with regards technology is another factor which is inconsistent. If we are to achieve equal opportunities for all students in relation to the opportunities to use technology in learning, these and many other divides will need to be considered.
The final point that stuck out for me from the TweetMeet related to safeguarding and the need to keep students and staff safe during this period of remote learning. This is an issue which in my view is very complex and is for individual schools to reach a decision in relation to their own context. That said I have a particular view on this and in particular on the use of video to allow students and teachers to interact. I am aware some schools have disabled the ability for video calls to be used citing safeguarding concerns, with the view that by turning off video within the schools technology solution they are protecting their students. If we accept that we are human and we are social animals, then students will seek personal contact independent of our actions, so by disabling video we force students to use other non-school platforms to achieve the personal contact they seek. I believe this represents a risk. I also think we need to consider the fact that learning is a social experience so the more social we make remote learning the more successful the learning will be. Removing the use of video complete with the various visual cues it presents reduces the impact of learning. I will acknowledge that there is a clear safeguarding risk where video is enabled, however life is never without risk. For me, it is about engaging parents, students and staff about managing the risk as much as is reasonably possible while still enabling the best learning opportunities possible.
When I started writing this piece my plan was a short summary of the TweetMeet session; Failed on that one as this isn’t exactly short. I also must admit this post also only covers the highlights of the session as I saw it and most likely missed loads of other excellent points or discussion threads. That said, and in acknowledging point 2, I thought I would share. I hope the above is helpful and look forward to reading any thoughts or comments people may have.