Although the amount of time this might continue for is currently undetermined, it has certainly given schools much food for thought. As well as the immediate operational challenges, schools must now determine which (if any) of these elements will have continued benefit for their education models moving forwards.
As well as the day to day practical issues, there are several persisting challenges which stakeholders in education should be aware of. Once the iPads are charged and the software downloads are complete, here are some of the difficult considerations schools are working through.
One of covert challenges facing schools is their agility in terms of transferring from classroom learning to distance learning at short notice. Previously, there was two-week holiday period which was essential for many schools in designing and implementing their provision. This time, if a move to distance learning comes, it might be without warning.
Most schools who are implementing distance learning now are operating a modified system which brings students into the classroom in real time. Although technology is present in almost all classrooms, schools are also picking up workbooks and pencil and getting back to develop some of the key skills and competencies that were hard to implement at home.
In order to be prepared for all eventualities, distance learning solutions need to be set up and left in a dormant state, ready to accept all members at a moments notice. The work needed to facilitate this is substantial and can’t be underestimated.
This essentially requires schools to be running (or ready to run) classroom learning, blended learning, small number distance learning and be set up for distance learning for all students.
As schools advanced their understanding of technology, it has become increasingly possible for students to join lessons in real time. Using Bluetooth headsets, conference microphones and multiple devices, students have successfully been able to join lessons from home in real time. However, the road ahead for specialist subjects is less clear. For example, students who have selected to study practical subjects find themselves in a difficult position. While their peers might be using equipment in design technology or performing with instruments in music, their peers at home simply can’t access this. This leaves schools having to consider the viability of running two curriculums simultaneously, hoping to achieve the same outcomes.
While many schools have successful ‘Bring Your Own Device’ policies in place, some schools are moving to this model for the first time. In other schools, the expansion of this practice has extended further down the school. The practical implementation of this is not as simple as just bringing in a device from home. Schools have, or many need to, make significant upgrades to their internal networks, ensuring they can cope with an increased user load without sacrificing system speed. With students connected during lessons and teachers relying on stable connections to deliver dual location learning, fast and reliable Wi-Fi is essential. However, ensuring this is in place and there are no black spots can require significant investment as well as a high level of in-house expertise.
Long Term Use vs. Short Term Solutions
In some cases, schools are literally building the plane while they are flying it. There can be temptation to adopt software or practices that provide an efficient and cost-effective solution to short term issues during distance learning. However, they must also ask themselves about the long-term implications of using some of these. There will be moments of challenge further down the line as schools attempt to transition out of some modes of learning which may have been popular with families or with teachers which have become commonplace. Even in the most challenging moments, there must be time and thought to, how does this fit into our pedagogical vision and digital strategy?
As we continue to search for answers to these questions, there have also been several victories. Schools are actively engaging in technology and continue to be incredibly innovative in their adoption of solutions. Teacher communities have become closer knit and sharing of best practice on social media and beyond is abundant. Although I’m not convinced that some of the current solutions will usher in a wave of educational reform, it’s certainly a positive that professional dialogue on this level is taking place.