It might be argued that no amount of online instruction can replace the power and potential of student-teacher relationships and the learning that happens in this context. For the College, our saviour as we moved towards online learning at a rapid pace was that we had already built these professional relationships.
The College mantra of ‘know every student’ - already a cornerstone of our philosophy and culture became even more important and the five strategic pillars:
stood us in good stead as we went about building remote learning as an effective and engaging platform.
Planning for online learning began weeks before it was put in place. A question put to me, asking how long it would take to put this in place, was answered with ‘a week’ - perhaps slightly less. In fact, we had longer, but it was still a frenzy of training and planning, coupled with the energy and enthusiasm for teaching and learning that our staff displayed at every juncture, that got us over the line as the Federal Government announced the move to remote teaching.
As always, the first week was just the beginning and the Easter break saw more strategic planning as we took what had occurred at the end of Term 1 and moved it to a new level of effectiveness.
We had to ensure that our students were engaged and focused during these remote sessions and needed technology that could play a supportive role with this. One aspect that we wanted to preserve during our transition to off campus teaching was healthy interaction and discussion between staff and students. By using a combination of technology and strategy, for example, the introduction of a ‘live’ component to lessons, we planned ways to accomplish this. The utilisation of Microsoft Teams and its ‘live’ meeting technology was an integral part of this and the advice and support of the IT Department and the Mathematics and English Faculties - who pioneered its use - was gratefully received by many staff at the start of Term 2.
Our students in the Junior School needed to learn new technology to enable ‘live’ lessons, as we had not previously used Microsoft Teams in the younger years. Teachers, students and parents quickly became familiar with the technology and it is with pleasure that we report that we successfully delivered ‘live’ lessons across the College – even to our youngest learners in Prep!
One of the first issues we encountered, was not only the need for teachers and students to learn how to adopt new classroom technology, but also the etiquette that goes hand in hand with using this new expertise to deliver a successful lesson. The Teacher Manual produced and distributed to staff, students and parents was an invaluable asset.
The wellbeing element that dovetails with academics has long been planned for - but not online! We decided to create some ‘fun’ activities that not only helped build creativity, but also maintained community spirit and helped with student wellbeing as we were all rapidly placed in very different learning scenarios by COVID-19. Staff bands playing parts of songs in different locations and synching the music together, virtual assemblies and paper plane challenges - not something we expected to do in January when we returned to College after the summer break!
Research shows that one of the most significant influences on student outcomes is teacher feedback (Hattie, 2013). As we pivoted to online learning, we knew that this element needed to be present in each subject area. Teachers have created various methods to provide feedback that is specific and timely, whether this be through an online quiz, Dropbox, a discussion forum or through the work submitted on OneNote.
As we quickly progressed with online learning, we looked to the technology to help us differentiate the lessons (as we would in the classroom) and create bespoke resources. This has taken different formats across the College, as appropriate for different contexts. Staff have recorded lessons for students to watch and have then made times for students to come online for ‘live’ lessons, where students talk through any questions and teachers can address misconceptions. Streamed maths and reading groups in the Junior School have commenced online, allowing teachers to work with smaller groups of students on specific skills.
We will use this technology as students return to campus - breakout ‘Teams channels’ with interaction between groups of students and the teacher observing and engaging with the students will enhance what we already do. This is the digital equivalent of classroom collaboration - with the advantage of less distraction from the noise of other student groups - making it easier to focus. The feedback loops that have been created will certainly be something that our staff consider when planning Teaching for Understanding units of work in the future. Live collaborative editing via Office 365 and OneNote, already pioneered by the Mathematics Faculty, will be used across all faculties and why not video calls or messaging in the classroom for students who are understandably reluctant to ask questions in front of their peers.
In conclusion, the one thing I would hold up more than the many other skills that we have incorporated so quickly into our portfolio is that staff and students have been unafraid to experiment with different strategies and ideas in their absolute determination to get this new learning absolutely right. The learning of the students is core to what we do. Moving to remote learning has required different lesson plans, different lesson structures and different learning interactions – all of this has been taken onboard quickly – but has been followed by evaluation, reflection and then of course improvement.
We have found that there are some advantages to online learning and in the future, we will use some of the ones that I have mentioned and many more when we return to full campus teaching!
Richard Worsey - Director of Teaching and Learning