I think at this point most of us are just happy to see the back of it and look towards the promise of vaccination and some semblance of a return to previous normality in 2021.
Throughout the trials and tribulations wrought upon the education sector over the last 10 months, educators around the world demonstrated incredible resilience, patience and determination to ensure that learning did not stop. They also learned a lot in the process. So to round of this “annus horribilis” I thought it would be worth reflecting on some of the things that have been learnt as schools navigated the uncharted waters of distance, blended and hybrid learning.
1. Equitable access is crucial when students access learning from different locations
If there’s one thing that became top priority when educators suddenly found all (and later part) of their classes learning from remote locations, it was equitable access. Some experiences, devices and projects had to be shelved whilst others needed to be reformatted but no matter what, it was clear that making sure all students had fair and equitable access to learning was imperative.
2. Just because a school had deployed Office 365 or G Suite, it didn’t mean that staff were fluent with these tools
This year really was a digital wakeup call for a lot of schools – especially those that considered themselves to be well-provisioned in terms of digital learning solutions. Many schools quickly realised that some proportion of their staff were not as fluent with these core tools as they perhaps thought they were. The silver lining of this was it led to a raising of the digital baseline – in many cases through extensive support and PD – as schools needed to make sure that learning did not stop. This puts schools in a much better position moving forwards and will allow them to explore and begin to integrate more innovative digital tools and platforms in the future.
3. The digital tools needs to meet the needs of the learners
Seesaw really was “the little engine that could” in 2021, standing shoulder to shoulder with Google and Microsoft - the giants of the edtech world – as one of the most essential tools for online learning. It’s child-friendly, multimedia interface made it a superior option for younger learners and a huge number of schools used it as a foundation in the lower years before moving the more mature students onto more advanced platforms. The tool always needs to meet the needs of the learners and Seesaw was the answer many primary and elementary schools were looking for.
4. Child protection becomes even more crucial when learning moves online
From “Zoom-bombing” to educators being caught with inappropriate content open on other browser tabs to parents accidentally interrupting online lessons with NSFW language, the simple fact became clear: teaching online could be a minefield of child protection issues if not monitored and mitigated closely. At least it did provide plenty of relevant content to feed into digital citizenship classes!
5. Assessments are easily compromised when they take place online
Another genuine challenge that many schools are still seeking the answer to is assessment. Educators faced parents and guardians providing too much support to their children during assessments, students not adhering to time limits or using online sources to find answers and in some cases, complete lack of access to the platforms used for assessment. I wish I could tell you that I knew the magic answer to this but there really isn’t one. Several new platforms have emerged to support remote assessment but sadly no system is flawless and truly capable of replacing a closely proctored in-class assessment.
6. Relationships are the heart of the learning experience
Teachers missed their students and students missed their teachers (and don’t believe them if they tell you otherwise!) and everyone missed their friends. The shift to distance learning really did go a long way to highlight the importance of relationships, human connection and communication. Schools went a long way to try and maintain these - through everything from 1:1 pupil conferencing to staff quizzes and whole school online events like talent shows. These were also crucial to the overall wellbeing of adults and children alike during the most testing of times.
7. Teaching online needs a different kind of delivery
Teaching through the “black mirror” took some adjusting for a lot of educators. It simply isn’t the same delivering a lesson when you are staring at a computer screen (likely showing your own content rather than your students). What teachers soon came to realise is that teaching online works best when you go BIG. More expression, more energy and more volume were all key to effective online delivery.
8. Involving parents in the education process really is important
Obviously the role of parents in education changed dramatically in 2020 as kitchens and dining rooms around the world simultaneously turned into classrooms and offices. Schools that fostered positive relationship with parents and guardians, through open lines of communication, workshops and other forms of meaningful support were able to use these relationships to bolster distance learning. Parents in turn were able to engage both with their child’s teacher and the child’s learning as a whole in a more meaningful, consistent way than ever before.
9. Educators are a flexible and innovative breed
We saw teachers bringing online learning to life dressed as fictional or historical characters, PE teachers finding unique ways to keep kids active and even competing with other schools and even whole school community events being transposed online. Without a doubt ne of the most powerful side effects of the pandemic was to highlight more than ever the imagination, creativity and sheer brilliance that teachers have to offer.
10. The online education community is truly remarkable
Just as educators were going above and beyond within their classes and schools, the online education community elevated to new heights of comradery and collaboration in 2020. The slogan “We are all in this together” really hit the mark as educators supported each other from every corner of the globe, not only in terms of resources and ideas but also providing emotional support where needed. Truly inspiring stuff.
So there you have it folks. We have come so far in such a short space of time and learnt so much in the process. We often talk to students about the importance of being life-long learners and 2020 has really made us put our money where our mouth is!