What just happened?

I published this over on LinkdIn, and thought I’d archive it here too:

What just happened?

As we all prepare for the for the transition back to face-to-face it’s hard not to look back at what just happened, from an education perspective, with a mixture of astonishment and pride.

streams2020-05-20_13-35-21

In the space of a matter of weeks, educators across the country have made a radical change to one of the cornerstone foundations of education; what a classroom looks like. We’ve all been subjected to PD sessions where the presenter has put up a picture of a Dickensian classroom and then a ‘modern’ classroom and provoked, ‘So, what’s changed?’ Maybe we even squirmed in our seats a little. But something just changed in a way that few workplaces have changed so quickly.

I don’t buy too much into the ‘hero’ memes for teachers that have been circulating online, but there’s no doubt that teachers, so often criticised for their students’ failings in this international science competition or that, have demonstrated extraordinary capacity and resilience as they have kept playing the game while the goalposts were not only moved, but were in two different places depending on which but disappeared entirely.

While every school and system have their stories, I couldn’t be prouder of the way Balcombe Grammar teachers have responded during this time. We put in place new structures and frameworks (‘This Week’s Learning’ communicated out to students and parents’, two-part lessons structures and live lessons using Microsoft Teams, OneNote and our Intranet all in a week, with no lead time. We’ve seen teachers building and sharing in Microsoft Streams and students taking up the opportunity to replay lessons and concepts as they wished; who would have thought that ‘CAS Linear and Quadratic Graphs’ would be trending in our own little YouTube? We asked teachers to keep learning going and they did that, and more.

The students I’ve spoken with over the last few weeks have appreciated the effort teachers have made in transforming practice; some have even enjoyed the change. Others can’t wait to get back to see their friends, but all of them acknowledge that the teaching and learning has gone on.

We surveyed parents twice during this process, at the start as we ran an ‘asynchronous’ week, and again only a week ago. The results were encouraging: parents felt that students were engaged and productive, that learning was progressing and that teachers were modifying courses appropriately. Parents saw the greatest challenges for students as the lack of social connections for students, and the amount of screen time. For parents themselves, the challenges were mainly around trying to balance their own work requirements with supporting their children’s progress.

After postponing the original planned Parent-Teacher interviews, we also took these conferences online for the first time, using Microsoft Teams, with parents logging in and being admitted from the ‘Lobby’, in order to facilitate feedback for parents of our VCE students, with very positive feedback from parents and teachers. It’s something we’ll do again.

The biggest challenge might still be ahead; a staged return to school involving some face-to-face and some online teaching is not going to be straightforward. However, there are some practices we’ve introduced in the last six weeks that we’ll want to continue on with, even in a post-pandemic world, and I couldn’t be prouder of the way our teachers (and students) have adapted and evolved their practice so successfully.

 

Online learning: it’s not Plan B any more

The premise of this panel worried me; that online learning has been characterised as what you do when classrooms aren’t possible (bird-flu!) Really? Okay, let’s be tolerant. It turned out to be an interesting session, if a little narrow definition of online, and I’d like a bit more about blended approaches. EG> Why are we talking off-line and online if they are mutually exclusive.
It was interesting to hear about student and parent anxiety and asking questions like ‘if you could take this course face to face would you prefer that?’ (mostly, yes) and ‘Did you learn something about yourself at yourself as a learner’. (mostly, yes)  Here’s what the panelist said:
Matt Harris –  Head of Learning Resources, German European School, Singapore
Synchronous and asynchronous learning (German and Dutch offered to replace self-taught learning) using video conferencing primarily. What we’ve learned: pedagogy matters.
Edward Lawless – Principal – Pamoja Education
James McDonald – Head of School, Yokohama International School
Giving students access to subjects they can’t offer internally, but the world is changing.
Glenn Odlund – Head of School, Canadian International School, Singapore
Challenging the notion that online courses are for a ‘certain kind of kid’. Thinking of making it mandatory for students to take up 1 course online and hoping that students will engage in an online experience that  was so powerful it would leverage the more conventional bricks and mortars classes. They decided to offer one subject, ‘Economics’ as an online course only (and they had a good teacher on campus) They expected ‘push-back’ from parents and maybe teachers, but some has come from students. He describes the advantage of online: time and distance but also described the fact that MYP students had been circulating a petition asking that the Economics course be taught conventionally.
Denise Perrault – Head of Online Learning Devp, IB
Denise talked about ‘why bother’ and the four stages of online learning – substitution, augmentation, modification, redefinition. What is the desired outcome? she asked.
Dennis Stanworth – Head of Academics, Yokohama International School
Dennis made some provocative statements; ‘are schools that don’t offer online courses going to be swept away by those that do?’, should an online subject be compulsory for all students?
Photo: Apple for the teacher, virtual apples? Photo: Warrick