The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Hamish Mackenzie

Reimagining learning: how Covid-19 can change our approach for good

Hamish Mackenzie explores the gains that remote learning has brought in terms of choice, collaboration and productivity and makes the case for locking in these benefits.

Now this cog has turned, it is important that the rachet comes down behind it to lock in the gains

What have we learned from Covid-19 and what should persist in the new normal?

Many of us are asking this question with the summer holiday looming and thoughts moving towards September CPD and the new academic year. There are lots of elements to consider, from the logistics of safe operating, to the wellbeing of staff and students, and the delivery of remote, hybrid and in-person teaching.

Schools have changed their approaches but education has not stopped. Virtual meetings have replaced face-to-face, Teams and Google Meet have allowed for digital collaboration and many teaching pedagogies have been digitised effectively to allow for remote delivery.

Many schools have rapidly moved to the big cloud providers (Google and Microsoft), ditching clunky VLEs along the way. There has been an increase in the deployment of tablets and Chromebooks and a surge of online teacher training to upskill staff in using the technology effectively.

So how many of these new ways of working are here to stay, and what efficiencies can be locked in from September onwards?

More celebrity teachers

There will be a rise in the number of highly-engaging celebrity teachers who offer streamed content to thousands of live students – think Joe Wicks, Rob Biddulph and Colin Hegarty. The idea is not new – Khan Academy started in exactly this way – but the technology is now ubiquitous and in the hands of students worldwide.

If lockdown PE lessons attract over 300,000 willing live participants, why wouldn’t schools want to continue this? This may start to be timetabled in as schools recognise the value of these characters, or perhaps they will start to highlight their own home-learning heroes who will broadcast to internal audiences via Microsoft Stream or YouTube channels.

Tailored and personalised learning journeys

Adaptive platforms such as CENTURY, Sparx Maths and Seneca allow for tailored and personalised learning journeys for students to progress at their own pace. By providing content based upon previous answers and using interspersing/circular learning, students can make far quicker progress than with traditional linear approaches.

Productivity gains

Teachers are required to spend significant time inputting data, filing reports and managing inboxes. Much of this is lost time that could redeployed to teaching and learning or developing more meaningful human connections with students.

A big win of lockdown has been the development and adoption of ‘unified platforms’. Schools that have migrated to Microsoft or Google clouds are realising the benefits of the myriad tools that work together once the data is up there. Examples of productivity gains include:

  • delivering cover lessons from anywhere
  • automatic recording and subtitling of lessons to allow asynchronous delivery
  • scheduling video meetings
  • planning and resourcing collaboratively
  • setting and marking of work using digital ink and voice
  • improved formative and summative assessment
  • curating and delivering multi-media content
  • broadcasting assemblies, staff meetings and on-demand content
  • digital parents’ meetings
  • live dashboards on student progress and attainment.

More choice and agency in learning pathways

For students, lockdown has shown how learning can be more personalised based upon their choices, interests and needs. The growth of micro-assessments and ‘badged’ courses that can be published on LinkedIn allows for far more diverse and relevant learning portfolios than the current standardised GCSE collections and a traditional CV.

The increase in choice and agency in learning pathways is something to be harnessed rather than returning to a rigid and retrospective curriculum

Student centred learning environments provide young people the opportunity to develop a coding qualification through a gamified environment, or an Adobe qualification for Photoshop or InDesign skills. Microsoft have a dedicated learner centre where students (and teachers) can earn points and badges whilst Apple and Google offer similar approaches. Music and movies produced on tablets are being already published worldwide without the need for expensive recording and movie production facilities. Students have access to digital tools to allow them to express and share their creativity.

If young people see the relevance in what they are learning it is far more likely to sustain their interest. The increase in choice and agency in their learning pathways is something to be harnessed rather than returning to a rigid and retrospective curriculum.

Can tutors be redeployed to mentor students along individualised micro-assessment pathways rather that running a one-size fits all approach? Schools could utilise free courses offered by the likes of idea.org.uk, academyclass.com and techwecan.org to provide relevant courses that teach employability skills.

Consolidating systems and removing the pain points

Perhaps the most important gain is to strip out systems in schools that place a burden of admin time on staff but have little impact on students. Schools can use this period to reassess whether the balance between accountability and productivity is correct.

Outside statutory registers and safeguarding, how many tasks are staff asked to complete each day that require multiple system credentials, or are a result of the tail wagging the dog? Having the opportunity to rethink how and why things are done enables schools to remove common pain points (e.g. PC login time, dead time at the start of lessons, printing) and land on better solutions – for example could OneNote or Evernote be used as a solution for paperless teaching in secondary schools?

Reimagination is what is now required

Business as usual will not resume for everyone in September; there will be a degree of hybridity as social distancing restrictions persist. This is as much an opportunity as a challenge and potentially opens the door to far better educational provision as schools evolve.

Schools have coped with immense disruption and the transition to remote learning. Now this cog has turned, it is important that the rachet comes down behind it to lock in the gains. Reimagination is what is now required.

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