6 EdTech takeaways

homeschooling-5121262_640Schools all over the world have had to switch very quickly to remote learning.    This has resulted in all manner of challenges in relation to hardware, software, deployment, use in lessons, staff IT skills and EdTech pedagogy and a variety of others.     Over this short period of time, I feel a huge amount has been learnt.  That said I think once the governmental lockdowns are lifted, a lot of what happens in schools will attempt to return back towards the way it used to be.    This attempt to return towards the previous normal is natural, it is an attempt to return towards what is comfortable, known and familiar versus the current situation which is uncomfortable and unfamiliar for many.   The danger here is that we may lose the lessons learnt from the last couple of months.    As such I thought it appropriate to write a post focussing on the learning points, or at least the 6 key learning points, I believe we need to take from the Covid19 crisis and the resultant period of remote learning.

  1. The importance of wellbeing

yoga-2176668_640During this crisis we have seen communities come together to support each other, for example in the weekly clap for the NHS.   We have seen lots shared online on how to remain healthy and on wellbeing.   There has been recognition of the difficulties and challenges being experienced by teachers, parents and students, plus a real sense of community has become apparent.   The Covid19 crisis has been a turbulent time for many, in uncertainty, in personal loss and in change.   Even when lockdown is eased many will continue to have to deal with these issues and therefore it is important that we continue to be cognizant of the human element of schools and of the importance of community spirit and support.   This includes the health, both mental and physical, plus the general wellbeing of students, staff, parents and the wider school communities.   Before learning, before curricula, before assessment for or of learning, before everything, people come first, adults or children.   We need to ensure we consider them first in all we do, both online or in real life.

  1. More asynchronous learning

Pre-Covid19, learning was largely face to face in classrooms, conducted in a synchronous manner.   The issue with this is all students don’t work at the same rate so this doesn’t suit all.  Some students would benefit from the ability to review and recap learning in their own time.    There is also the occasional student absence to deal with and for independent schools with international students working remotely there are issues in relation to differing time zones.    Use of learning experiences and content delivered in an asynchronous style can help to address the above challenges.   For example, the flipped classroom model which some teachers already use.   As such I hope that the balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning will be readdressed to see greater value than previously put on asynchronous learning over the more common classroom synchronous learning.

  1. Professional development, but also the need to build urgency

Professional development has always been key to the successful use of EdTech and the current crisis has once again proved this to be true.  EdTech tools are after all just tools and to make effective use of them, like all tools, appropriate training and support is required.    Where remote learning has been successful there has been a clear programme of professional development and support often involving in-school resources supplemented by various online support materials including Wakelets, YouTube videos, websites, blogs and many other curated resources.     Going forward beyond the current situation, we need to continue to support staff and students to use the EdTech tools.   I also feel it is important to note that Covid19 has added urgency to professional development and training, leading to school leaders and teachers being more engaged and focussed on developing their skills and experience to manage the need for remote learning.     We need to somehow maintain this urgency where EdTech PD is a key priority rather than something over which lots of other school priorities often take precedence.

  1. Flexibility

Covid19 has seen a number of schools and teachers experiment and try new things, often in terms of using existing tools in new ways rather than introducing new tools.    Where necessary systems where adjusted and tweaked to meet the needs of students and teachers with changes being made on an ongoing basis as we all experimented with what worked and what didn’t.    This is very different from the often rigid and locked down nature of technology use and of school systems prior to Covid19.   Now I will acknowledge that a more flexible and less rigid or locked down approach to school systems, to allowing students to communicate, create their own online groups, etc. may introduce some risks however it also introduces opportunities.   Opportunities to get students more involved in creating their own structures, in peer collaboration and communication, in problem solving together and in other soft skills development as needed for the world we now live in and for the associated technologies.   It is also more closely matched to the world of Universities and the working world our students will go on the inhabit.   As such I think we need to acknowledge the risks which exist, manage them but try to be flexible in doing so.

  1. The Global Educator community

2019 - MS BootcampI have always found the global educator community to be very helpful especially on Twitter, which has been my go-to place for a number of years.    I feel, during this crisis, the Global Educator community has really stepped up its game.   I have heard new voices sharing their thoughts, ideas and resources while existing voices have generated new platforms to share including new podcasts and virtual PD events.   There has also been lots of collation of resources going on, with people trying to make it easier to find what you need by grouping it together in once place, using Wakelet for example.    It is important that we continue this and that we continue to make more people aware of the resources, and in particular the support available from educators across the world through the wonders of Technology.   I always remember Mark Andersons description of twitter as the “best staffroom in the world” and during this crisis I feel the online community of educators has only got better.   I think signposting the opportunities and resources available from the global educator community post Covid19 will be critical.   I think it is worth mentioned that this also links back to point 1 and a source of support, someone to listen, etc, to help with wellbeing where you need an impartial/independent view.

  1. (Digital) Citizenship in this changing world

Most of the above points have been positive in what we can take away from this period of remote learning, however I feel my last point is less positive.   For me the current crisis has highlighted ever more how short we are falling with preparing students to manage the digital world they have been born into.   Online safety in schools continues to fall short.   It doesn’t cover discussions of the potential impact of the data our lives leave strewn across the internet, the cyber security risks at home and as we use ever more apps and services, the potential implications of AI and machine learning or the potential for human behaviour to be influenced by targeted media, including not just fake news but also selective targeting of real news stories.   It also doesn’t cover the potential implications of viewing the world through posts of less than 255 characters or videos of 15 seconds or less, and how such a narrow view can lead to bias or events taken out of context.    The sudden shift to remote working and remote learning makes the need to address (Digital) citizenship learning with our students all the more urgent.

Conclusion

The last 3 months in lockdown and the resulting remote working and remote learning have been a roller coaster.   At the end of February and start of March things seemed normal with daily life experiencing its usual ebb and flow resulting from long established routines.    Then mid-March everything quickly changed and the world of learning and working remotely via online services took over.

My worry is that the return to “normal” could be equally swift and that in this we may lose some of the multitude of things we have learned during this hectic and challenging period of time.    The above highlights the 6 main learning points I currently am taking away from the last few months, however there are many other points which just didn’t make the cut.    I haven’t mentioned safeguarding, IT resilience, data protection, cyber security, online/remote learning pedagogy and many other possible take away points.

The last few months have seen a necessary momentum in relation to EdTech and online learning.   The key now is to grab the bits which matter most and sustain the momentum as things return to a new normal.

 

 

 

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Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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