What have we learned about moving education online?

8 Feb 2021, 5:00

After the initial buzz of moving our curriculum online, the new lockdown is slowly revealing the pedagogical approaches we need to keep our students engaged, writes Amy Curtis

Twelve months ago, terms such as ‘online learning’ and ‘virtual schooling’ were virtually unheard of and held no importance in school improvement plans. However, with the turn of a new year and a return to remote learning, it’s safe to say this is no longer the case and is never likely to be again.

For nearly a year, ‘remote learning’ has presented numerous challenges for the profession. Beyond the challenge of access to devices and an internet connection, once students are attending their virtual classes the key challenge is to hold on to them. Online learning requires pupils to take additional responsibility for their learning. Teachers can no longer ‘control their classroom’ in the same way and this puts an onus on supporting students to self-regulate.

At Shotton Hall as everywhere else, it was evident through the first lockdown which students struggled with their new responsibilities. Some logged on and didn’t complete any work, others cherry-picked the lessons they would attend, and a small minority didn’t engage at all. What’s more, levels of disengagement matched levels of disadvantage.

The current lockdown is different. Teachers have become more proficient as a blended learning approach remained the norm from September. And with teachers tasked with ensuring students receive a similar experience across all subjects nationally, students can access resources easily and work through remote lessons with relative consistency.

Three key factors underpin the development of successful learning behaviours to learn online

So now that our online curriculum is building and becoming more resilient, the focus must shift to the new learning behaviours online learning demands. Our students will need new ways to ask for help and avoid distractions, to monitor their understanding and make use of support. Getting this right is vital for online learning to be successful.

In my experience, three key factors underpin the development of successful learning behaviours to learn online: motivation, self-regulation and IT proficiency. Insights gleaned from local teachers have been invaluable in helping me incorporate these elements into my approach to remote teaching.

First, the shift from ICT to computer science in the national curriculum has merit, but we need to also ensure pupils can do the IT basics. Naming and organising files, using software packages proficiently, saving work and accessing email.

We spend the first fifteen minutes of each day registering students and showing them a new computer skill. This includes, but is not limited to, the use of different Microsoft Teams functions. Students are then expected to complete a task demonstrating the new skill. Through explicit instruction, IT proficiency has vastly improved, giving students and teachers alike confidence in their abilities.

Next, motivation is essential for self-regulation, which is harder for pupils at home when there is necessarily more independent study and less access to teachers for support.

Evidence already offers multiple tips for how we can foster pupil motivation, and it is really no different online. Telling students why they are doing a particular activity and how it fits in with the syllabus; providing them with the scheme of work / syllabus at the start of each topic; referring back to it once you have completed a topic. We can’t afford to assume students will begin to do this themselves because it’s on our website. As with IT proficiency (and as we would do in our classrooms), we must continue to make this explicit.

And lastly, just like in our classrooms too, promoting and scaffolding metacognition and self-regulation matters. This is harder remotely, so we need to support pupils to monitor their own learning and help them understand how to draw on available support. To build metacognitive skills within online learning, teacher instruction needs to be explicit. It needs to be in small chunks and all information needs to be modelled. Students then need independent time to hone their learning.

The temptation of online learning is to assume because we’ve published a resource it will have been read and understood. The danger is that time restrictions lead us to succumb to that temptation. As the initial shock of this transition recedes and our own skills develop, we can begin to see that good teaching is just good teaching, online or not.


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