Establishing a new normal – how to keep learning during a pandemic

Sam Blyth, senior director at Instructure EMEA, on how to maintain educational quality when kids are physically away from the classroom

With more than 1.4 billion learners now out of school due to the coronavirus lockdown, the attention of government bodies and charitable trusts around the world has understandably turned to how students can keep learning from home.

In the UK, the Education Development Trust has outlined a series of steps for policymakers to prevent learning loss in children who can’t go to school during this period. Its recommendations range from immediate priorities, such as promoting quality and accessibility in remote schooling, to wider concerns, such as how to involve teachers and promote cross-sectoral responses to COVID-19.

Maintaining a connection with students

For almost everyone, the school day has become a lot less structured, with many students being given work to complete whenever (and however) they’re able. To cope with this, many teachers are setting a time once a week for a live lesson, or check in, with students, either as a full class or in smaller groups.

Video really helps to maintain a personal connection here, so that teachers can see how students are reacting to their learning, how well they’re engaging with lessons and how they’re feeling.

It also helps students keep connected with each other, giving them a chance to see their classmates in a formal setting, and work together on projects.

Providing feedback is a vital part of how teachers make and maintain connections with their class.

When feedback is given remotely, it can be hard to have the same kinds of conversations as would happen in person, and even harder to gauge if a student has really been able to understand the concept they’re working on. This is where two-way feedback and chat functions embedded in VLEs like Canvas or other online education tools can be important, together with ‘virtual office hours’ which harness the power of video chat.

Maintaining a connection with fellow educators

VLEs give teachers a range of tools to share lesson plans, ideas and best practice, both with their immediate colleagues and with teachers in other schools, colleges or universities. Indeed, it’s this broad approach to collaboration that will prove vital in this unprecedented time – as industries team up to face their challenges together.

However, technology is only as good as its users.

And during this crisis, it’s imperative that all teachers have access to the right tools and the proper training to use the technology that enables remote learning.

Many institutions are running online training resources, virtual professional networks, and even online collaboration with younger teachers who are more at ease with technology. And IT staff are also being deployed, to troubleshoot and provide assistance.

Where school closures are needed, we can work together to mitigate their impact for learners, families and educators

Learning for everyone

For many, this pandemic has highlighted the inequalities we face in the education system, where not every family has access to the solutions or tools to learn away from the classroom.

Again, this is where teamwork is essential.

Where school closures are needed, we can work together to mitigate their impact for learners, families and educators – particularly for those in marginalised groups who don’t have access to digital learning resources, or lack the support to learn on their own.

We can all agree that we face extraordinary challenges in the forthcoming weeks and months. But by harnessing the opportunities provided by technology, and by ensuring that collaboration is prioritised, we can ensure that students all over the world are given the best chance of success. We’ve seen first-hand how hard teachers are working to look after their students until they can get back into classrooms again, and we can learn lessons from those who are already succeeding.

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