Remote learning is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the first remote learning service was delivered by radio in Australia almost seventy years ago. But remote learning on a nationwide scale – as prompted by the global coronavirus outbreak – is entirely new, and some institutions will be more comfortable with this new reality than others.
Matthew Setchell is an IT Services Lead at Lourdes IT, a not for profit IT team that helps schools and academies embrace and make full use of IT. As you can imagine, he’s been very busy recently, but he made time to talk to us about the challenges that UK schools and academies are facing right now, and how they can respond.
This crisis has accelerated the adoption curve
Conducting all lessons from home will feel new and unfamiliar for students and teachers, but the adoption of IT in the classroom is something that has been happening for decades. Coronavirus has accelerated a process which was already underway.
"This process was happening anyway, but it was probably quite slow" Matt says. "So the first thing that organisations have to do is make sure they understand what this shift is really about."
"It isn’t just about giving people a laptop to work from home. It’s about giving them a solution which is going to enable them to work at home, in school and wherever they need to in the future."
"Obviously, at some point we’re going to go back into school and what you don’t want are two separate systems. You need to make sure that whatever solution you put in now, you understand how it can move back into the physical classroom."
Once new technologies are adopted, they are rarely put back down. Adoption curves tend to move in one direction. The systems, processes and tools that schools use during this crisis are likely to become part of a new norm for education. So it’s important to build for the future, as opposed to creating stopgaps.
"I’m already saying to our partners that we need to start thinking about how this crisis ends. Staff and students now have time to learn how to use online tools, and they’ve got no choice but to use them. So we’re going to see a massive explosion in the use of online systems and then we’re going to get people coming back into school without the hardware or software that they’re used to. That’s something we need to prepare for."
"Teachers will be used to saying ‘use Teams or Sharepoint to do this or do that’, and then they’re going to realise that they don’t have that technology in the classroom. Another example, at the moment kids are using their own devices but most schools have a policy where you can’t do that in the classroom. So do they change that policy? Or do they start providing devices for students to use in school? These are the kinds of questions they need to consider."
Don’t try to replicate classroom learning
Since there is little official guidance and no one-size-fits-all solution, schools and universities are having to quickly design and implement their own approaches. In some ways, the next few months will make an excellent proving ground for new ideas and approaches, the most successful of which will probably be adopted across the board in the future.
"It’s interesting sitting in on meetings across different schools at a strategic level, hearing the board-level discussions and what the educators want to achieve and then seeing it unravel a bit as they realise what’s possible and what’s not."
"For example, one of them wanted to follow a close timetable, but you can’t do that with children learning remotely. The question they were asking was, do the kids have devices and internet access? OK, great. But the question they should have been asking is: how many devices do they have and how many people are there in that home? If you’ve got a mum, two kids and a dad and they’re all on just two devices and one internet connection then they won’t be able to use those devices all day, every day - they’ll be having to share."
"You need to ask the right questions. You can’t expect people to follow a normal school day so what do we want to achieve? We want to get them doing set tasks and getting support where they need it. So let’s distribute tasks to students and then set up scheduled drop-in sessions with specific teachers and small groups, so teachers can work on a rota and give all of the students the support they need to complete the work.
How to help teachers and students
Finding the best ways of working and learning is only half the challenge. IT teams also have to help teachers and students get to grips with the solutions that they’re putting forward. It’s important to build solutions that are not only effective but that are also easy for people to adopt.
"My advice is to focus on things that they already do and how you can extend that to working from home. That’s the main reason we push Office 365 over Google as an organisation because they already use Word, Excel and Powerpoint. So on a basic level allowing them to use them from home and share things quite quickly from there is a simple extension of what they’re already doing. It’s about making sure that they recognise things.
There are plenty differences between using Microsoft and Google software, we outline the four key differences between Microsoft Office and Google Classrooms.
Does your school or university need hardware support?
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