How to help schools and universities shift to home learning

Start thinking about how this crisis ends: How to build future-proof IT for schools and universities

Remote learning is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the first remote learning service was delivered by radio in Australia almost seventy years ago. But remote learning on a nationwide scale – as prompted by the global coronavirus outbreak – is entirely new, and some institutions will be more comfortable with this new reality than others.

UK schools and academies are facing right now, how can they respond?

This crisis has accelerated the adoption curve

Conducting all lessons from home will feel new and unfamiliar for students and teachers, but the adoption of IT in the classroom is something that has been happening for decades. Coronavirus has accelerated a process which was already underway.

This process was happening anyway, but it was probably quite slow, the first thing that organisations have to do is make sure they understand what this shift is really about.

It isn’t just about giving people a laptop to work from home. It’s about giving them a solution which is going to enable them to work at home, in school and wherever they need to in the future. At some point we’re going to go back into school and what you don’t want are two separate systems. So, make sure that whatever solution you put in now, you understand how it can move back into the physical classroom”

Once new technologies are adopted, they are rarely put back down. Adoption curves tend to move in one direction. The systems, processes and tools that schools use during this crisis are likely to become part of a new norm for education. So, it’s important to build for the future, as opposed to creating stopgaps.

We do need to start thinking about how this crisis ends. Staff and students now have time to learn how to use online tools, and in many cases, they’ve got no choice but to use them. There will be a massive explosion in the use of online systems and then we’re going to get people coming back into school without the hardware or software that they’re used to. That’s something we need to prepare for.

If teachers are used to saying ‘use Teams or SharePoint to do this or do that’, hoe does that translate to a classroom? At the moment kids are using their own devices at home, but most schools have a policy where you can’t do that in the classroom. So, do they change that policy? Or do they start providing devices for students to use in school? These are the kinds of questions to consider.

Don’t try to replicate classroom learning

Since there is little official guidance and no one-size-fits-all solution, schools and universities are having to quickly design and implement their own approaches. In some ways, the next few months will make an excellent proving ground for new ideas and approaches, the most successful of which will probably be adopted across the board in the future.

The strategic level questions are interesting, is what the educators want to achieve supported by what the technology can deliver?  For example, following a close timetable is very difficult with children learning remotely. Asking do the kids have devices and internet access is great, but the question we should ask: how many devices do they have and how many people are there in that home? If you’ve got a mum, two kids and a dad and they’re all on just two devices and one internet connection then they won’t be able to use those devices all day, every day – they’ll be having to share.

We need to ask the right questions. You can’t expect people to follow a normal school day so what do we want to achieve? We want to get them doing set tasks and getting support where they need it. Perhaps let’s distribute tasks to students and then set up scheduled drop-in sessions with specific teachers and small groups, so teachers can work on a rota and give all of the students the support they need to complete the work.

How to help teachers and students

Finding the best ways of working and learning is only half the challenge. IT teams also have to help teachers and students get to grips with the solutions that they’re putting forward. It’s important to build solutions that are not only effective but that are also easy for people to adopt.

Focus on things that they already do and how you can extend that to working from home. That’s a good reason to push Office 365 over Google because they already use Word, Excel and PowerPoint. So, on a basic level allowing them to use them from home and share things quite quickly from there is a simple extension of what they’re already doing. It’s about making sure that they recognise things.

We don’t know when students will be fully back in classrooms, but it likely that it will be some time before things return to normal.  That leaves educators with a lot of time to test approaches and see what works.

However, it’s important to remember that this is a temporary situation. The best solutions will be those that work both online and in the classroom, plus are easy for people to adopt.

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