Opinion Piece | June 2020
What we can learn from the remote classroom
LONDON, 16th June - As schools and Academy Trusts begin to reopen for a number of pupils, now is a good time to reflect. Lockdown has undoubtedly been a difficult time for teachers and senior leaders who have worked tirelessly to maintain the same level of education for the many pupils who have not been able to attend the classroom. It is an opportunity for everyone – whether it be governors, head teachers, teachers or parents – to take a step back and learn from this period of time.
What have we learnt?
Firstly, it has proven how amazing our teachers are. When the Prime Minister stood up and announced that schools would need to at least partially close earlier this year, teachers shook themselves down and – despite being faced with unprecedented challenges found new ways to deliver lessons to millions of children.
Secondly, we have discovered that contrary to what some felt about the benefits of technology beforehand in this RM research - technology really can be an enabler in the classroom. Faced with new challenges brought about by social distancing measures, technology soon became a lifeline for schools – helping them to deliver most lessons remotely. From staff meetings, to student collaboration, to delivering assignments, technology really has enabled schools across the country to continue delivering high quality education.
The question now is what happens next? Will we permit teachers to put their Microsoft Teams logins and Google Classroom chats into mothballs? Or will we encourage them to build on these new found skills and bring them into the day-to-day delivery of education in our “new normal”?
One of the biggest challenges teachers faced was the ability to share learning resources and information. Cloud systems such as G Suite for Education and Microsoft’s Office 365 were ready made to do just this – for sharing, collaborating and editing between pupils and teachers. The problem was that few schools had understood the need to learn how to use this technology before the outbreak. The good news is that many of these cloud-based educational platforms are intuitive to use, and can support teachers and pupils with their day-to-day study in an engaging way and in real-time.
Technology has also helped to alleviate teacher workloads; both by helping to automate the more mundane tasks, leaving teachers free to do what they do best, and by keeping resources and work in one central place. And as a result, an overnight revolution has occurred in which the education sector has digital transformed in a way that few could have predicted – and not only that, but has done so in a matter of weeks.
In order to make the most of remote learning platforms, it is critical that your staff and students have access to appropriate hardware – the computers, tablets and other devices in the school – and that what they have is is modern enough to handle this new form of teaching delivery. Whilst moving servers to the cloud gets rid of some hardware, the equipment that your staff and students need to access those cloud services needs to be there, and needs to be fast enough to make working online enjoyable and not a chore.
It goes without saying that one of the challenges is ensuring that all students – no matter what their background – have access to the necessary online resources during lockdown. Any child without a device or the connectivity to use it, is effectively offline and without access to the educational resources that all should expect as a given.
In fact the UN's educational agency revealed that worldwide roughly 826 million students have no home computer and 706 million cannot access the internet to undertake "distance learning". In the UK alone, it has been reported that 700,000 children are without laptops or tablets.
Now that technology is no longer a luxury and has become a necessity, Schools need to ensure that staff and pupils are well equipped to work from home as and when is needed. From access to a reliable internet connection (broadband or via a dongle), laptops, tablets or similar devices, schools and staff need to feel empowered to work remotely. Although this can be a challenge in terms of costs, there is support available for those in need.
In fact, in April, the government set up an emergency “digital access fund” to help schools provide their pupils with what they needed to continue their education remotely – with laptops and 4G routers to help families connect to the internet; followed shortly by a fully funded offer to provide a digital education platform that supports remote learning for every school in England – with either Office 365 Education including Microsoft Teams or G Suite for Education.
Talking to many schools who have coped reasonably well through the crisis, it is clear that those who had prepared for some kind of disruption – even if not a pandemic – were best able to respond when the announcement to close, came.
For those who didn’t, the last few months or so have shown that a school needs to have a plan in place for how they can effectively function in the event of a major disruption. Whilst it may not be a pandemic next time, it could be a flood or even a severe winter. An educational continuity plan is a must to enable a seamless and ongoing learning experience, and almost certainly needs to have technology at its heart.
Training and support strategy
Having the plan in place, the software platform to deliver it, and the hardware to access it, is all well and good, but you need to ensure that your staff and pupils (and in many cases their parents) know how to use it. For schools to implement such educational continuity plans ultimately requires a well thought out training strategy.
This year, research by RM Education revealed that only a quarter (27%) of teachers were confident using the technology provided by their school. On top of that, when schools first closed, C3 Education undertook separate research that suggested that barely a fifth of teachers were coping with learning from home and almost half of pupils were struggling.
As the need for distance teaching continues and will for some time, all staff need to know how to provide the best possible remote learning. To fully embed any new technology, whatever the organisation, training is always essential and the value of training for new technologies, such as the cloud, cannot be underestimated.
High quality learning, wherever
Under challenging circumstances, it is vital teachers are able to do their job day to day but this is only possible when they fully understand the tools at their disposal. With the help of all the necessary infrastructure, a robust training regime and a robust continuity plan, along with a support mechanism in place when needed, educators can be confident they can deliver the same high quality of teaching - both in the classroom and remotely.
About RM Education
RM Education helps schools save time, save money and improve the impact of technology on teaching and learning. It is a market -leading supplier of software and services working in partnership with thousands of schools to improve outcomes for all learners. rm.com/education
About RM plc
RM Education is part of the listed company RM plc – the £221m turnover British business, with c. 1,936 employees globally, established in 1973, specialising in providing information technology products and services to educational organisations and establishments. Its key market is UK education including schools, colleges, universities, government education departments and educational agencies. rm.com
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