For all the assertions that schools would be up and running as normal this term following partial closure during the last academic year – “no ifs no buts” – for many it has been anything but business as usual. There have been repeated isolations and bubble closures, and even whole school closures in some cases. And rightly so. Schools have worked extraordinarily hard to ensure that health and wellbeing takes the highest priority. Yet still, the challenges have been immense for school staff and pupils who have fought to keep teaching and learning consistent regardless of the impact of Sars-CoV-2. Consequently, teachers have been balancing face to face teaching, home learning, and hybrid sessions in which some pupils are present and some are at home isolating.
It’s not necessarily less desirable to be teaching and learning online or in a hybrid way. As any teacher will know, there are pros and cons to both face to face and online learning. As a way of maintaining some semblance of continuity teaching online can be incredibly effective. But as with any relatively new way of working, we can continue to hone our skills as the term progresses.
Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust, has faced myriad challenges as he leads his schools through this global pandemic. But online learning need not be one of them, he says. He explains, “Edtech is as much about a culture and mindset as it is about resources and devices. Our greatest learning has been that agility and openness can tear down walls for those new to technology. The development of pupil centred platforms has helped to alleviate the anxiety and stress for parents.”
This in no way diminishes the considerable trials some schools have faced with maintaining continuity of teaching and learning during this pandemic. We have been required to face those challenges and work our way around them, learning more about the needs of our communities as we do this. As Morrow explained, “The revealed digital disadvantages in many communities is in fact an opportunity to reframe how we ensure social mobility and justice. The ability to interact through using EdTech during lockdown one was huge in preserving the mental health and care of our children and staff teams alike.”
The phenomenal response in education, from early years through to higher education and beyond, has demonstrated how capable and adaptable the education profession is. And as in time the pandemic becomes less of a focus, our new found abilities to adapt to online and face to face hybrid teaching may be useful at other times, such as pupils’ long-term or chronic illness or hospital visits, and, although it pains me to say it, snow days! As Morrow said, “EdTech has become a “when and how” rather than an “if”.”
If you want to make sure your online or hybrid sessions have an edge, and maximise the opportunity for continuity of learning, these five reflections may help:
- If you are running a hybrid session, have everyone on the online platform (unless teaching the very young). This is particularly useful for when pupils are working together in breakout rooms. If you have your virtual students displayed on your board you won’t forget they are there! It’s also a good idea to blend in person and online students when doing group work. It might be easier for an in-person student to be the spokesperson for the group if you have a blended session.
- Explore all the extra devices you can use to break the sessions up. For example, films, discussions in breakout rooms, polls, quizzes and so on. Make sure that students get a chance to look away from the screen on a regular basis.
- Keep an eye on the needs of pupils who may need adaptive technology at home in order to access the learning on offer. Captions and descriptive technologies will help some pupils, but you, and the families, may need additional technical support in order to achieve this.
- Make sure you are monitoring your workload. If it is causing you undue stress, it is important to talk to your line manager. We all need to be aware of the sometimes-delayed impact of additional workload. Many teachers can absorb the extra work initially, but then exhaustion can creep in slowly. Notice any changes you feel, and discuss these sooner rather than later.
- Never feel you have to reinvent the wheel. There are materials out there that you can use or adapt. For example, BBC Bitesize (on the website and on iPlayer), LendED (a BESA initiative at lended.org.uk), ClickView and Oak National Academy (https://www.thenational.academy/).
It is so important that isolating pupils get a chance to access great teaching and learning. Given that working in this way is new to many of us, ongoing professional learning and reflection on what works for us when it comes to online and hybrid teaching is going to be key. There will always be room for improvement and the sharing of great ideas.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.