Since the possibility of school closures first arose, we have been providing advice to schools about how they might continue to educate children and young people using remote tools.
Many of the teachers we have spoken to make the assumption that remote teaching would be conducted over video and the usual classroom experience would be replicated using webcams and real-time conferencing tools.
Picture this; a teacher and 30 children, each in their own home, using different types of devices ranging from smartphones to X Boxes, with internet connections ranging from 3G to fibre (or no device or connection at all), trying to take part in a meaningful learning experience. It’s not impossible, but it is a great challenge and requires a lot of management. To give one example, unless everyone is muted, the background noise from so many participants can hugely detract from the experience.
Working in this way is an example of what is known as synchronous learning. The lesson takes place in real-time, as it would in a classroom, but in this case over the internet. We would suggest that for whole-class remote teaching, it may not be the most practical or effective approach, although it may work for smaller groups.
Importantly, some of the tools commonly used for video conferencing, for example Google Hangouts Meet, work on an ‘all participants equal’ basis, which means pupils/students could ‘push’ each other out of the meeting, and continue to use it even if the teacher leaves the virtual room. [ Update: Google have rushed out an update which gives teachers more control when using Meet. Find out more, here: https://gsuiteupdates.googleblog.com/2020/03/hangouts-meet-edu-updates.html?sfns=mo ]
Webinar tools such as LiveStorm provide a greater degree of control, with clear leader and participant roles, but these limit verbal discussion and feedback. Either way, synchronous learning is probably more suitable for older learners.
The alternative to synchronous learning, and perhaps better for the majority of digital teaching during temporary schools closure, is the asynchronous approach. Here, learners access teaching materials at their own pace. Teachers can provide materials, videos, links, sound recordings, screencasts and more, via a platform that is accessible online. These platforms are generally device agnostic and will be less dependent on the quality of broadband/wi-fi in the home.
Tools that support this approach include Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams and Edmodo. Primary schools might use Purple Mash and the ‘to dos’ that teachers can set for pupils, using the platform. These have a built-in recorder for audio instructions, and a deadline function.
Of course, teachers could develop a hybrid approach where the learning is not completely asynchronous, but neither is it entirely synchronous. Across a school day, they might post a video or sound recording of themselves explaining something, and a task to follow, which is to be returned by a specific time. This might be an hour later or a week later, depending on the situation, but there is still some control over the pace and timing. Most asynchronous platforms support deadlines and even scheduled posts, where an activity is posted automatically at a given date/time.
Alternatively, they might base their teaching on the asynchronous approach but incorporate elements of video-conference based synchronous discussion, perhaps in smaller groups where it might be more effective.
No digital approach will account for the fact that some learners may have no access to a device/internet connection. Clearly at this challenging time there is a risk that the disadvantaged are further disadvantaged and meeting the needs of all learners must be at the forefront of our minds. In a future post we will discuss resources for supporting learning without technology; recommending a blend of each.
Further blogs to read