Sun 03 May 2020 4 min read

#16 A new shape of schooling – what is working?

Kai Vacher

In the last three months there has been a revolution in education. Or is it more accurate to say that there has been a temporary paradigm shift? What we do know is that teachers have had to transform their practice, often overnight, from supporting students’ learning in school to supporting them at a distance in their homes. What have we learned so far about what works and what doesn’t in this new educational paradigm?

For many parents, students and teachers one of the obvious applications of technology in this new shape of schooling is that teachers should be live conferencing with their students all lesson and every lesson, or at least for part of each lesson. But what should be the place of live conferencing in this new style of teaching?

In a previous article, I explained how my school would be using pre-recorded video lessons as the major part of our plan during the shutdown. We’d been given less than 12 hours to close our school. We reacted quickly and the results have been as good as expected. We wanted to check their effectiveness so we undertook a parental survey right before spring term break.

We had over 400 responses to our survey amounting to over half of our parental group. A consistent 80% found our online learning platforms easy to use, which is an excellent result, and now in the summer term we will be working to raise that figure to nearer maximum. No-one must get left behind.

We’ve learned five main lessons from our survey and experiences so far.

1. Technology is now capable of supporting anytime, anywhere learning. Cloud based platforms such as G Suite for Education and Microsoft Office 365 are easy to use and do what teachers and students need them to do wherever they are. They are much more intuitive than their predecessors and most of us feel comfortable with how they work. Without the quality and support of these highly developed edu-tech resources we would not have been able to make the rapid transition to online learning.

2. We need to avoid too much screen time. The balance struck between screen time and other activities was judged to be in the 55-75% satisfaction category, with the higher levels of feedback being achieved for our older students. We are now aiming for a better balance, meaning less screen time, and we’re also reducing formal homework to help. Teachers are also much more productive if they aren’t online all day.

3. Communication is important. Our satisfaction ratings averaged 75% with many positive comments, but we’ve picked up that students have even more guidance of where to turn before getting behind, and that teacher/student two-way feedback must be an integral part of the school day. We are also maintaining regular parental updates.

4. We must combine video lessons with creative tasks. Our survey showed that ‘creative tasks’ set by teachers were the most popular part of distance learning, followed closely by staff created video lessons. Students, just like in traditional classrooms in school, like being actively engaged in stimulating activities which challenge them and have purpose.

‘Creative tasks’ can be characterised as setting a challenge with several ways to succeed – for example in drama the design of a boat for a stage set to be drawn, or made out of cardboard or Lego. In geography it could be preparing an entry for the Royal Geographical Society’s Young Geographer of the Year competition, where students are being asked to explore the human and physical geography of places that exist beyond their window. For younger students, making a sculpture, doing some baking, or keeping some form of diary have been popular examples.

Making videos to support lessons has been enormously rewarding for teachers and their use is both safe, repeatable, and can be done in parts or to a certain extent to suit the student. We have ensured that our teachers who have previous positive experience of this skill have helped those new to the technique, and we are producing even more effective lessons now every day.

Using recorded video enables more children in busy families to access the learning content at different times. The flexibility of pre-recorded content, with the ability to replay and review inputs and verbal feedback, and other user friendly options, is a real plus. This is particularly useful for busy families.

5. Live lessons are still on the agenda. Currently, Zoom has been banned in Singapore schools and the teaching and headteacher unions in the UK strongly advise against the use of live conferencing. However around 10% of the respondents to our survey are asking us to introduce live conferencing. We are conducting further research including taking soundings from other international schools and those based in the UK. Our main concerns are the level of security and safeguarding for students and teachers alike; how to manage and control bigger classes; and how to make live lessons more effective than all we are currently doing already. We know that live-time teaching will become a feature of this new shape of schooling, but at my school we are not ready for it yet.

For more than thirty years, visionary educators have been re-imagining how education might look like in 2020 and beyond. A common theme in these redesigns of schooling is how technology could help. It’s now 2020. Easy to use online methods, the ingenuity of teachers, the tech savvy nature of students and the support of parents has enabled the global education community to make substantial strides towards a new shape of schooling. Anytime, anywhere learning will become a reality very soon.