Online Teaching: More tips

Following on from my previous post on remote teaching tips, I thought I would post a little bit more on what works for me and on some of the things I have found in carrying out online teaching of students.

Keep it simple – Likes

I had been looking at ways to get feedback from students and had looked at MS Forms as a solution before I was put on to Polly as a solution.   It was then that Sarah Clark ( @sfm36 ) suggested using the Like functionality in Teams.   In my search for wiz bang and something fancy, I had missed the simple and obvious, being the ability to simply post a comment, question or learning objective in Teams and have the students use the available Like options to respond indicating if they were happy, etc.  

The moral of the story being, keep it simple!

Agility – Use analytics where possible

I have been using Stream to create some little 2 or 3min video guides and other support materials for students in addition to recording the lessons for students to review post lesson or where they missed or had trouble accessing the lesson.   I normally make the recordings available for a week before removing them.

When using stream I can easily see the number of views individual videos have received which can give me a steer on how useful or not they are.   I am always conscious of the need to work Smart rather than Hard, and therefore if particular resources are not being watched by students it doesn’t make sense to continue spending time and effort producing them.   

And this is exactly what I have found with my little additional support video guides; students simply aren’t watching them, and instead are viewing the recorded lessons instead.   As such am going to produce fewer of these video guides going forward, focussing more on guides for difficult concepts or key areas only.

I think Insights within Microsoft Teams is also worth a look, however as yet I havent played much with it so this may be for a later post.

Questioning

This is difficult in an online space, especially where cameras might have to be turned off for bandwidth reasons, or due to school policy regarding online teaching.  You don’t have access to the normal body language info you would have in a classroom to help however I think the tips for questioning in an online classroom are similar to those in a traditional classroom.

I keep a list of the students and record who I have asked questions to and who has responded; That way I can randomly pick students to answer while ensuring I try to engage all students.   I also record whether student answers were in line, exceeded or were below my expectations, which can help me in later questioning, allowing me to identify where certain students may need a little scaffolding of the questions, etc. 

I also acknowledge that some students don’t want to talk in live lessons and therefore I invite them to use the chat functionality in Teams if they prefer this to speaking via their mic (or maybe they don’t have a mic in some cases).   This also works for where the lesson is delivered asynchronously, with students leaving their answers/comments as posts within Teams.

Engagement

I have read a few posts from educators over the years talking about the importance of engaging the students and of the stage craft which teaching inherently involves much like the stage craft required from actors.    In our current world of online education, I think this isnt as easy for reasons similar to those mentioned above in relation to questioning, including the lack of access to body language and other non-verbal communication.     I think it is therefore important to try and find ways to add a little engagement, fun and comedy to lessons.    One of my approaches to this in face to face lessons has been to start lessons with lateral thinking problems; This is something I now plan to restart within my online lessons.   I am also planning to make use of different backgrounds to my video sessions and a “where is he now” style lessons segment.   Overall, this isnt an area I have done much with so far however it is something I plan to address in the coming weeks.

Conclusion

The above are a just 4 more thoughts or ideas in relation to online teaching.   They may work in some contexts, in some classes or some of the time.    As this lockdown progresses it may be that I may change my mind in future and suggest that some of the above no longer work for me.    This continues to be an evolving situation and my experience and understanding of it, of what works and what doesn’t, continues also to evolve.

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Teams: Showing video and a presentation at the same time

When doing lessons with students with Teams I found a couple of little issues which I didn’t like. In a Teams meeting the page divides based on each participant where I simply want students to see me when presenting to them. I also wanted to them to be able to see my content, for example presentations, videos, etc but also to see me at the same time.

I found a YouTube video which solved these problems and you can view this here.  Thanks to Matt Wade for this. So yesterday I set about trying it practically.

Now the main trick here is that we aren’t going to share our video feed directly from our camera via the Teams app, but instead are going to use another app to place our video feed on our screen, allowing us to layer other elements such as a presentation on top, then sharing the whole screen via Teams.

So what hardware was I using?
When I attempted the below, I was using a MS Surface attached to a dock and a 2nd screen with the display set to extent across the two screens. This for me seems the best setup as it provides a screen to allow you to manage the Teams app and any other apps you want to display. This is basically your staging area, while your other screen is the one you will share with meeting attendees and therefore the one used to show your video feed.

So where to start?
First, we need to grab our video feed. To do this I simply used the inbuilt Windows camera app set to video.

Next, I maximised this window so that it was full screen.

Following this I dropped any additional content on top of the camera app video. For example, I could open a PowerPoint in a window and then lay this window on top of the camera app window. This could however be any window and could potentially include things like OneNote or the Whiteboard App.

A key thing here, if using PowerPoint, is to set it to display in a window rather than pushing to full screen when presenting. To do this select the Set Up Slide Show option under the Slide Show menu.

And then select the Show Type as “Browsed by an individual in a window”.

Now start the slideshow; It will display in a window which you can drop in on top of your video feed.

All that is left to do is to start your teams meeting. You may get a warning regarding your video not working but this is due to Teams being unable to access your webcam as it is already in use by the windows camera app.

As such don’t worry about this. Once the meeting is started simply share the screen where you have the windows camera app maximised.

All the attendees will now be looking at your video feed maximised in the Teams window, with your other content overlaid on top.

An alternative approach may be to use split screen in Windows allowing you to have your video feed on half of the screen and your other app such as PowerPoint or OneNote, etc on the other half.    To do this simply dock your PowerPoint or other app against the side of the screen.

Next Steps

The next thing I am going to look at is how the above might work if I have multiple cameras attached; Will this allow me to use the camera app to switch between video feed sources which might be good in switching from teacher view to class view assuming two cameras were attached; I will let you know how I get on with this.

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.

 

 

 

What does a great online learning experience look like?

I think many schools are asking themselves the above question as they look to improve on what they currently offer and as they prepare for what could be a long period where at least some students will be working remotely due to isolation resulting from Covid19 symptoms.

The issue with this question, is that if you remove the word online from the question, you arrive at another question.   What does a great online learning experience look like?  The difference is that we have had decades and even centuries to identify what makes a great learning experience whereas for online learning we have had only a couple of decades, and it has only been with the recent crisis that so many have found the need to give this serious thought.   Given we have been unable to reach a satisfactory answer for general learning I think it becomes doubtful that we will be able to come up with such an answer for online learning.    This, however, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try or that we shouldn’t share ideas or share experiences, indeed I think it is critical we do.   Each idea or experience is another thing learned and another step forwards and closer towards that which we seek: great [online or face to face] learning.

So now for my tuppence worth on great online learning.   Am just going to outline my thoughts as they stand as to things which great online learning needs to contain:

  1. Wellbeing and balance

Am putting this point first on purpose.  It is all too easy to be drawn into the world of students and teachers messaging each other at all hours of the day or night, or spending hours developing content or coursework.   The digital world as many an author has put it, can be addictive.   We need to be conscious of this and set clear boundaries plus we need to put in places structures and processes for all to seek support should they need it.   Above all we must remember the human aspects of learning, of schools, of education and of the wider world.

  1. Sync and async

Am not going to rehash my earlier post on the benefits and drawback of synchronous or asynchronous learning; You can read the piece here if you would like.    This is about balance and what works for teachers and students.   Start with a balance that works for you and then adjust until you find a point where you and the students have enough real time interaction and enough tasks which are self-directed.

  1. Regular check-ins with students

Linked to the above, to decide on the balance, we need to seek feedback from students.   We need to ask them if there is enough self-directed work, enough real time interaction, enough support resources, enough time for the work set, etc.    In a class we have lots of visual and auditory cues as to how lessons are going; We don’t have the same access to these cues when teaching online, so we need to find another method to check in with students and to gather this data.   This could use an online form or be a discussion point for a video chat or be any number of other methods; It isn’t important how the info is gathered.  What matters is that it is gathered and that the learning experiences are adjusted accordingly.

  1. Space for students to chat with peers, to be social and to decompose learning

We so often focus on the learning and this is vitally important however we mustn’t forget the social aspects of learning.  The classroom, the school corridor, the canteen, etc are all a very social experience for our students.   This is where students catch up with the latest goings on, the latest TikTok craze but also where lessons, homework, etc are discussed in passing.   As such we need to try and replicate at least some of this in the environments we create for online learning.   For some this might be as simple as a chit chat space used by the class for general chat or it might be a year group or even whole school online social space.   The important thing is we need to provide such spaces.  It is also the case the staff would benefit from similar spaces whether this be an online Staff Room or a virtual pub.

  1. individuals and Groups

There can be a tendency in online learning towards students working individually; Think the student working on their device at home, working through a task set by the teacher.   This is especially common where learning is asynchronous.    It is important to remember that in face to face lessons we regularly mix individual and group work dependent on the learning, the students, etc.    We need to remember to do this within online learning environments and to be conscious of the tendency towards tasks which are individual.   This may therefore require that more effort needs to go into providing situations for students to work together.

  1. Wider networks and crowdsourcing

Students, if encouraged, will actively seek solutions.   As a result of this there are significant opportunities where students are allowed to develop their own structures for sharing, discussion and other collaborative activities outside the formally create online structures a school will create (e.g. form groups, subject classes, year groups).   Just consider how some students have crowd sourced the exam questions, answers and mark schemes for GCSE and A-Level exams within days of the exam and long before the exam boards release any info.   I believe it is therefore important to give students some flexibility to create their own groups and online structures based on their needs rather than having a centrally controlled structure mandated by the school.  This might be a creating a book club or study group, project meetings for a class project or a group focussed on a civic movement; The main thing being the students are empowered to create such groups as the need and interest arises.

  1. Teachers and student professional development in IT and EdTech

EdTech tools are just that, they are tools.   Like any tool there needs to be support and training so that they can be used effectively both by the teachers and the students.   Only then can we possibly get the best out of the EdTech tools we have available.   A believe a key requirement here is a community and culture of sharing, a culture where it is safe to try things and admit and share where they didn’t work, a culture which is open and continually seeking to improve and/or develop, and a climate of warmth and positivity.

  1. Feedback

One particularly important benefit of EdTech in my view relates to providing students with feedback.    Technology allows this to be automatic in some cases, with feedback instantly given to students based on tests they complete.    Students can also seek support from teachers in-between lessons and teachers can provide guidance and correction where students are going wrong, but at any time rather than being forced to wait for the next lesson.  This all makes for potentially more dynamic feedback and opportunities to address areas of difficulty more quickly.   I will however note that balance is important here and care needs to be taken in relation to point 1 and teacher/student wellbeing where an “always on” learning environment may develop.

  1. Be inventive and seek new solutions, plus put on a show

Innovation is important;  We haven’t had the time to do countless research studies into what works in remote learning with the technology we now have available to us.   Yes, there are studies, but few are current enough to cover the current myriad of EdTech tools available to use in todays lessons and learning experiences.   This reminds me of the phrase, “building the plane while we fly it”.    As we don’t have plans and studies to go on, we need to try new things and to be inventive.   Linked to this is the need to engage and excite students with the learning experience.  This isn’t appropriate for every lesson as some content may need to involve desirable difficulty, however in any period of learning there needs to be something to grab students attention. Aligned with this is the need for a performance;   Teaching for me has always been a bit of a performance with the teacher as the main actor putting on a show.    Teaching remotely, whether live or on-demand, has the same requirement for at least some showmanship albeit it may not look the same as it does in the face to face class. The best online learning experiences are likely to contain at least an element of the teachers character in their structure and/or delivery.

  1. Engaging parents/guardians

Remote learning happens in the home and therefore it isn’t complete without considering parents/guardians and how they can support learning but also how online learning from home might impact the balance and flow of home life.    It is therefore important to build processes for communicating and keeping parents up to date and for involving them in decision making around the online learning experience.   Like with traditional face to face lessons in a classroom, an effective school-home relationship only benefits learning.

  1. Beyond the school

Online learning and the fact students are online allows them access to the vast resources of the wider world.   From websites or YouTubes videos covering maths subject content to skype calls with an astronaut.    In online learning there is an opportunity to reach beyond the curriculum, beyond the bounds of the classroom and give students a breath of experiences which in the past wasn’t possible.

  1. Safeguarding

It isn’t possible to consider online learning without considering the safeguarding aspect where students are online and engaging in lessons through a virtual platform of one type or another.    I am not going to be prescriptive here as to what this should look like as it is for individual schools to consider the risks and their risk appetite, to identify what they are willing to accept or not accept, and to put appropriate mitigation measures in place.   My biggest concern here is overly strict control being applied as I believe the comfort such controls may provide a schools leadership team hides the real world ineffectiveness of such controls.   If learning is online, and the schools platform doesn’t allow students to do what they want to do, then this may force them to other platforms out with school control or monitoring.   I would rather have students on the schools platform where the school can support them when they make the inevitable mistakes.

Closing thoughts

When I set out to write this post it was just going to be a couple of ideas dumped on a page.   As it turns out it is significantly longer than I anticipated and on reflection it still is rather limited.   To do the subject matter any justice I think this post would quickly turn into a book or a whole blog of its own.

For now I am going to leave it here in the hope that there is some value in these roughly put together thoughts.

Sync and async remote learning

cog-wheels-2125180_640I have seen a number of posts on twitter pitting Synchronous and Asynchronous remote learning approaches against each other.   Sadly, this kind of binary viewpoint is all too common, if not specifically catered for and encouraged on social media platforms.    As I have often said, sadly the world is not that simple.   So, I thought I would add some of my views:

Synchronous

If we take the SAMR model and the first element of it, substitution, using live video as a substitute for the classroom experience seems to make sense where the classroom experience is not an option.    At a basic level it looks like a simple swap.   Through live video students continue to get access to some of the visual ques present in face to face communication.   They also have the opportunity to engage in the more social side of learning with quick feedback and two-way communications allowing discussion points or ideas to be explored and clarification to be sought where confusion arises.   I believe the social benefits of video-based communication in particular are very important as learning is very much a social activity so the more similar we can make it to “normal” social interaction the better.

The challenge with the above being access to high speed internet to support video plus issues around latency of sound and video which cause problems as soon as multiple people try to talk or where people try to interject with their thoughts or comments.  These issues don’t exist in real time face to face situations in a classroom, or at least they don’t where good classroom management exists.

Another synchronous option might instead be the use of real time discussion or chat solutions.  This doesn’t have the same issue in relation to a need for bandwidth or in relation to video/audio latency.  That said, I believe that typed comments, thoughts, ideas and questions are simply a proxy for spoken offerings, and as a proxy lose some of the detail which exists with face to face real time communications either in real life or via video.  As a result, you can expect higher rates of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Probably the biggest concern with a synchronous approach is that of workload, stress and strain.   Delivering either real time video or chat isn’t normal when compared with how lessons are generally taught.    This means teaching this way represents a cognitive load in terms of using the technology tools, considering pedagogical approaches and adjusting these, and managing to get feedback from students as an activity or lesson progresses;   Never underestimate the feedback a classroom of students provides through comments, body language, the groups attitude, etc, all of which are more difficult to gather remotely via a screen.  This departure from the current established norm therefore represents an additional load on teachers.

Asynchronous

This focusses more on providing content with students able to work on it in their own time.   From a teachers point of view this is likely to be less stressful as they can plan and develop the required content, including repurposing already produced resources for sharing content.   As it doesn’t put the students directly in front of the students the cognitive load isn’t as significant, as teachers have time to think before responding to students or before posting the next activity.

The challenge here however is that in asynchronous learning the social aspect is lacking.   There isn’t the same interaction between students and teacher or between students and their peers that there is with synchronous or real time activities.    There is also a greater reliance on intrinsic motivation as it requires the students to complete activities in their own time without the teacher prompting in real time.

Sync vs async?

We would never suggest that learning in a classroom, in real time and face to face, was either synchronous or asynchronous.   The teacher might lead a class through some content or a discussion in a synchronous fashion then later in the lesson provide students learning activities to work through in a more asynchronous fashion.   The teacher may then review learning with students back in a more synchronous style.     We would never suggest the teacher just provide resources for students to work through in classroom lessons, or that the teacher and students spend their lessons all working together.

So why is this even being discussed in relation to remote learning?    It doesn’t make any sense to me!

Learning is a complex process best nurtured by experienced educators who know which tools to use and when, who know when they need to work in synchronicity with students or when to empower students to work on their own or in groups in a more asynchronous approach.    It isn’t a question of synchronous versus asynchronous learning.   Its, as is often the case, about finding the right balance between the two extremes, the balance which suits the teacher, the students and learning which is taking place.

Did you know: Updated

DidYouKnowI have updated my Did you know guide to include more tips and suggestions including more in relation to Microsoft Teams which continues to be my favourite tool during this period of Remote Learning.

You can access the updated Did You Know guide here.

Remote Learning TweetMeet

school-3765919_1280Last 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.

  • Safeguarding

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.

 

5 tips for remote learning

ipad-1721500_640 (1)As we head towards the end of the Easter break and into the new term and for a lot of schools, a period of remote learning, I thought I would share my thoughts and tips on remote learning.

The first point I would make is that there is no one solution to remote learning.  It depends on your context including the age of your students, previous experience using technology and online learning platforms, individual subject requirements, teachers confidence with platforms and their own personal experience of those that are available and the equipment available to teachers and students, to name just a few factors.

  1. Seek feedback from students: Be clear and open with students, for most the use of technology in this way is new, and for all the current pandemic is new.   As a result, things may not be perfect and issues/challenges will be experienced however if we accept this we can then all work together to review, revise and improve, and to get to the best possible use of technology.  It is therefore important to seek feedback from students often in order to then revise how remote learning is delivered.
  2. Use video conferencing to regularly check in with students learning: A key part of teaching and learning is the interactions between teachers and students. Video conferencing is a key method to achieve this however we should not simply seek to substitute classroom teaching with video conferencing sessions of the same length as traditional classroom-based lessons.  We should however ensure that at the minimum there are regular check in opportunities for teacher and students to interact, discuss and share by video conferencing however this could be at the start of each lesson, once daily, at the start of a short unit of work, etc.   We need to experiment to identify which works best for the teacher and each class taught.
  3. Set clear expectations for video conferencing: Video conferencing presents challenges in relation to background noise, interruptions, talking over each other, etc.   This can clearly be seen simply by watching the use of video conferencing technology within BBC news broadcasts.   For teachers this is no different from working in a classroom, albeit the challenges when interacting virtually via video conferencing are different to those which occur in the traditional classroom where working with students face to face.   Like in the classroom it is therefore important to establish clear expectations as to how students should behaviour while on a conference call as part of the class.   It is also important to review these expectations via feedback from students, especially in the early use of video conferencing to support remote learning, to ensure all, students and teachers, share ownership of these expectations and that they meet the needs of the teacher and learners alike.
  4. Set personal boundaries for responding to students: Remote learning, the use of video conferencing, email and other online platforms can lead to teachers feeling they are always working, and even more so in international schools where students may live and therefore interact with the teacher from different time zones. This is not good for teacher wellbeing.   Boundaries need to be set as to during what times a teacher will interact, how quickly responses can be expected, etc.   I find a useful technique to address this is to have a dedicated workspace meaning the rest of the house means I am not working.   It is also important to consider what devices emails and other platforms are installed on plus how notifications are presented on devices.   On my phone, for example, I have do not disturb enabled for the evenings to stop me from instinctively responding to emails simply by suppressing the notifications outside normal working hours.
  5. Find your balance in lesson delivery: Learning can be delivered in a variety of ways both in real life and via remote learning. In remote Learning you may choose to create video content in advance similar to flipped learning, or you may do live video sessions.  You may provide students presentations to work through, or links to videos online or even worksheets or workbooks for more self-study style learning.  You may ask students to work collaboratively in groups using video conferences or you may ask them to complete questions where you can provide remote live feedback, such as via OneNote.  I do not believe any single of the above approaches to be correct as each has strengths and drawbacks with some requiring significant prep time.  You need to experiment and seek a blend of these and also other approaches I have not listed.    A point that I have seen multiple teachers state is that this is a “marathon not a sprint” so we need to be careful to not burn ourselves out by creating lots of content and exciting learning experiences in the short term, only to find this quickly used up in lessons.

The five points above are the key suggestions I would make in relation to remote learning.   You will notice they are inter-related in a number of ways.  They are purposely not over specific, as given the different contexts of teachers across a single school never mind across the globe, I don’t believe it is possible to be specific and precise without either ruling out some learning opportunities that would work or proposing approaches which in some contexts may detract or damage learning.

To all engaging in remote learning, good luck, and please do share your thoughts, successes and what hasnt worked as together we can get through this, and together we can learn a lot from this experience which may help us start to reshape the educational experiences of the students yet to grace our classrooms.

Two weeks of remote working

workAthomeIts now been 2 weeks of working from home so I thought I would share how I am getting on.

For some time I have discussed with my IT team about making us of opportunity to work from home more often however few have taken me up on this, and personally I haven’t taken up my own offer very often either.    I found myself wondering why would team members come in to work, travel to and from work, when they could actually sit in the comfort of their own homes and work from there?

The last two weeks have given me some answers to the above question with two factors in particularly sticking out.

  1. Work has an ebb and flow about it, be that the specific meetings, the movement of students between lessons or the school bells. There are also the longer term ebbs and flows and sports events on Wednesdays, weekly assembly and head of department meetings on Mondays.   There is an inherent structure in these ebbs and flows.   Now I am working at home I am finding it difficult to keep track of where I am within each day and also to keep track of where I am in the week.   The last two weeks have disappeared plus I have often found myself wondering, “what day is it?”.    I suppose the answer to this challenge is to build a new structure at home, however I don’t think this is as easy as it sounds given the previous structure for me personally was built up over 20 years working in schools and colleges.
  2. Humans are social animals. We want to be around other people and to interact whether this is formally in meetings or informally discussing the football results in the morning or as you pass someone’s desk.   Now video conferencing helps in allowing us to communicate but it simply isn’t the same as real life face to face contact.  It also needs to be scheduled whereas our normal day to day interactions include many incidental conversations as you walk to the staff room or to a meeting.    These meetings and discussions were never planned but their existence added to the rich colour and uniqueness of each working day.   Working from home doesn’t quite have this same social dynamism.   I am not sure how we might address this issue, and I think randomly video calling staff across school might be a little strange or even creepy.

Now it may be that as more time passes and I become more used to working from home that I miss the issues above less and less.   Or maybe I will find solutions to allow me to address these challenges while still working remotely.

Would be interested in how everyone else is finding this work from home experience?

 

EdTech beyond Covid-19

I believe things will never quite be the same again following Covid-19.    These unprecedented events have the potential to act as the catalyst for a number of EdTech changes in particular.   For example, I have read a few comments over the last week where EdTech initiatives which have been slow to progress, often being discussed in schools over a number of years with little movement, have suddenly been quickly progressed due to Covid-19 and the immediate need for online remote learning.   Due to this I thought I would share some thoughts as to what might change beyond the current crisis:

Flipped / Blended Learning

ipad-1721500_640 (1)Over the last week or so since schools closed teachers who previously hadn’t had much experience of creating video learning content have suddenly found themselves creating content.   Some of this video has been live through Zoom, Hangouts or Teams, or has been posted for on demand access through YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, FlipGrid and even TikTok or through school Virtual Learning Environments.    Although discussions of flipped or blended learning have been ongoing for some time, Covid-19 has led to a peak in interest plus to a rapid upskilling of teachers driven by a specific and immediate need.    With this greater interest and skill level I would predict that we will see greater use of video, and in particular pre-prepared video which can be used or accessed on demand within schools and learning, similar to the lecture capture concept which has become more common in Higher Education.

Digital Skills

work-2866381_640

The current situation has required the rapid upskilling of teachers to facilitate online remote learning.   Lots of resources have been quickly pulled together and curated by various groups of individuals and organisations.    The importance of a teachers digital skillset has become never more apparent and with this it is likely to see increasing levels of importance beyond the current crisis.  Schools will need to asses what their strengths and areas for development are in relation to the use of EdTech by staff, and how they might address the identified needs.    I should also mention that infrastructure and IT support are also likely to need to be considered as these are cornerstones of successful EdTech usage.

Remote / Distance Learning

The benefits in the use of video to engage remote learners, allow for remote teachers and also provide on-demand learning materials has become clear to a significantly greater number of educators during this period of lockdown.    It may even be that parents and our students are now more aware of what is possible, and therefore are likely to have greater expectations as to what schools should provide once we progress beyond the current crisis..    As such I believe the student absent from school may no longer be excluded from the days learning in the way they have been in the past, and we may see students accessing learning remotely becoming more common.

Personalisation rather than differentiation

Remote learning has shown us how students can actually access learning in their own time, space and also personal way.    In addition, some of the tools such as Microsoft’s Accessibility tools, for example, also allow for the language to be changed or the font size or background colour, all customizable to meet the end users, the students, needs.   This customization at the point of consumption, as opposed to differentiation at the point of delivery, is likely to significantly increase.   As such teachers are likely to need to think about how the learning they design, deliver and facilitate will offer sufficient flexibility to allow for students to personalise.

Work from home

When we talk about schools we immediate think of the physical buildings, same as when we talk about work, there is a physicality about it.   I saw a great tweet referring to school being the students as opposed to the physical building.   What covid-19 has taught us is that this physicality is in our heads, an illusion, and that in reality our school or place of work isn’t as reliant on the physical space as we thought.    Our school or work can, to a greater or lesser extent, exist virtually and online.    This is likely to be a significant challenge as we are, as humans, creatures of habit and therefore not travelling to a physical place of work, or to a physical school, may be a difficult change for us to adjust to however I think we will see increasing consideration around flexibility.    Workers may be allowed work from home days and some schools may adopt timetables or schedules including virtual school time or virtual school days.  We may also see a growth around online only schools.

Online socialising

twitter-292994_1920For me our students online social media habits have to date been seen in a very negative light, being thought of as being anti-social or changing in their behaviour or attention spans.   The last week has however shown how the online world can provide opportunities for socialising as much as the real world can, albeit in different ways.    We have seen virtual pubs, lots of online Karaoke, community groups and much more form quickly online to overcome the challenges of social distancing and the potential harm of individual isolation.   Thinking about children, and how parents may be overprotective and concerned of the dangers in the real world, therefore leading our students to be more isolated than they would have been in the past;  For me I remember parental comments about returning home “before the street lights come on”.   This kind of freedom to socialise in real life isn’t afforded in anyway to the same extent for the current generation of children.  Is it therefore any wonder they would look to use the online world?    I think going forward there will be a greater acceptance of the benefits of the hyper connectedness which our students already experience through the many apps they use.

The Bigger Players

We have seen over the last week a number of school services overwhelmed by increasing demand and traffic as schools and workplaces across the globe shifted to remote learning and remote working.   Even the big players like Microsoft and Google have had some issues in this period of unprecedented demand.     In looking at these issues, although the bigger services were negatively impacted by demand they also tend to have greater capacity to upscale and recover quickly, greater resiliency, where need arises hence I think we will see a number of small EdTech companies disappear as they loose out on business to the big players.   This shift will have both positive and negative implications.  We may lose some interested and useful solutions to a difficult financial climate while homogenising on common functionality which will be seen across all schools.

Data Protection/Cyber

legislation-3231548_640Although most of the above is positive I do have some concerns.  I am worried that as people rushed to find solutions to overcome isolation, maintain social connection, etc, that they didn’t show due care for the protection of their personal data and for the resultant cyber risk.   Great communities may have formed overnight using free services but what data did we give away regarding these groups and the individuals within them.    It worries me that when things do settle down, we may realise that some decisions made have negative consequences.   I suspect the pendulum which swings between individual privacy and public good, and which previously tended towards individual privacy may have shifted somewhat and may now tend more towards the public good.   In some ways this may be a good thing, but what may be a good thing in a crisis may not be a good thing when everything returns to normality or near normality.

Conclusion

It may be possible that I am wrong about the above and that the world simply acts like an elastic band and springs back towards the normal which existed prior to Covid-19.  It may equally be that Covid-19 acts as a catalyst for wide ranging change and a new normal, distinctly different from what existed before, is established.   The likelihood is that the world will find a position somewhere between these two possibilities, with some schools embracing change and others not.    It is also worth noting that the world education sector is likely to see some significant change especially around fee paying schools operating internationally.  I know from my own experience working in the Middle East that some of these schools rely fully on fee income and that this period where parents may be unable to afford fees due to job losses will result in significant uncertainty and some difficult decisions.   For ex-Pat teachers this will be a period of great concern.   My thoughts go out to these schools and their staff, and in particular to the schools and staff I personally worked with.  My thoughts are also with those who have lost loved ones, and to those who will likely lose loved ones on the weeks and months to come.

The above represent my thoughts on what might change following this crisis.   Only time will now tell how close or far I am from the truth.

 

 

 

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