It seems that not a day goes by without some company out there offering free access to their product until July. Don’t get me wrong, I know that for the most part they’re doing this in all good faith.
But the reality is, the market is getting saturated at the moment as teachers, parents, and children all prepare for this thing called remote learning.
No doubt, many of these tools, programmes, and software will all help provide learning opportunities for your students while they’re stuck at home.
But maybe we need to just take a step back and think about this for a bit.
The world faces a pandemic, of the likes none of us have seen before. The Spanish plague at the end of WWI is listed as the last time this happened. Everyone is affected by it, and everyone reacts in different ways. For most, being cooped up inside is stressful enough in itself, let alone the threat of a virus. Students and children are no different. And yet, for some reason, we’re expecting that while they’re at home, they focus on furthering their education?
At this stage, we are on lockdown for four weeks. Many of us know this will be a minimum, with many of us thinking it will likely be 6 weeks, if not more. Yet we are putting pressure on teachers to get their whole class online, prepare a programme, and develop competence in a range of different software, apps, or systems, many of which we’ve never used before. All this compounds the stress teachers are feeling at the moment to do the “right thing”.
Then you have the education elite, specialists, and experts, who are all asking the big questions like whether your plans for online learning and remote tasks in the digital realm align with the latest pedagogy and add any educational benefits to our learners. Suddenly, I’m not so certain of myself, my abilities as a teacher in these times, despite the fact I’m one of the more technologically inept teachers out there. The reality remains though, that these are very big questions for what will hopefully be a very short amount of time. If (God forbid) this lockdown heads into several months, then we can begin to contemplate those questions further.
I know that for many people, routine is important. It’s why much of my class programme follows a regular schedule when we’re at school. And during this time where there is so much uncertainty, providing my students with that same routine becomes even more important.
So where does this leave me?
How Much is Too Much
Well. I return to the question at the top. How much is too much?
Let’s face it; students are not in our care for the six hours we usually have. It is unreasonable to expect that we get six hours of “work” out of them. Therefore, we shouldn’t be providing six hours of work. Less is more.
We don’t need to go out and use every and any software and system out there. Keep it simple. Less is more. In the four days I had with my class between the closure of schools on Tuesday 24 March through to Friday 27 March where “School Holidays” were brought forward to, I managed to continue with a basic programme with my class, of which 10 students regularly participated in. During that time I made the learning work using five main apps. Five. That’s it. Less is more.
- Google Classroom: Everything went through this. I scheduled material to be released at different times of the day so that students didn’t rush ahead and get everything done in an hour and then be mucking around for the rest of the day.
- Google Docs: Students are already used to how this work. I turned chat back on for everyone, and this allowed us to collaborate on a topic brainstorm that we continued from the Monday. Add to this, I put our a daily advanced organiser or “Day Overview” for the students which had the times and activities they had to do that day. This also helped me to schedule things on Google Classroom at the right times.
- Youtube: I pre-recorded a series of videos, from reading chapters of our class story to mini-lessons around Reading strategies. I did not dabble in any live streaming, and didn’t really see the need to.
- GoNoodle: These are a bunch of videos that I’d already been using in class for various uses. In this remote learning phase, I used GoNoodle for fitness activities, and for mindfulness sessions.
- Google Meet: This is a video conferencing software which Google has made available to all educators during this time. This is really the only one I hadn’t used before, but works quite well, along the same lines as Zoom which has become popular lately. We used this once on Friday to touch base with each other. We are also having a Board meeting with it this week!
That’s it. That’s all I used, and all I felt I needed to use. Three of these apps, the students had already had experience with. Google Classroom was relatively easy to pick up, as was Google Meet.
New Apps, New Opportunities
But could signing up for all these flash apps and programmes make it better? Video conferencing, collaborative whiteboards and presentation productions all sound brilliant. They could add another level of connection with our students that we’ve yet to experience, and maybe they will make this whole teaching from home thing a lot easier for teachers. They might enrich the learning, and make better use of the wide world of technology that we currently have at our disposal. What if they have the answer to our problems we’re running into with delivering remote learning? What if they revolutionise how we teach? What if there’s something they do that we hadn’t considered before. We don’t know what we don’t know.
Or maybe they will just complicate something which at its very essence, needs to be as straightforward as possible. For two reasons. One: because it needs to be realistic and manageable for teachers in order for it to be sustainable if this lockdown lasts longer than 4 weeks. And two: because it needs to remain accessible for students who may not have much experience using these new apps, and may not have much ICT support at home if things go wrong. As it was, the hardest things my students struggled with were those apps that we hadn’t used in class much – Google Classroom, and Google Meet.
So if you’re at home, getting bombarded with emails of various systems who are now offering their latest product at free costs for the next two months, or you see posts from educational experts imploring you to consider the learning benefits and pedagogy behind your learning. You don’t actually need all the bells and whistles just because they’ve been made free to use. Remember: Be brave. Do less. It’s a mantra I use when teaching in my actual classroom, and I stick by it when thinking about this remote learning. Make it sustainable for you – this means set up a system that you’re comfortable with and works for you (not you working for it!). Make it accessible for your students – this means using apps and software that students can not only access, but are familiar with so that there is less stress around getting it working or not knowing what to do. Stick with what you know. Stick with what your students know.
Less is more.