Rushi Millns is an IT professional-turned-teacher. She was candidate for Knowsley in last year’s general election.
With companies encouraging their employees to work from home and schools closing across the country, the worlds of remote working for parents and remote learning for students are about to clash.
Imagine the scene: you are about to hold a meeting over Zoom but both your children have commandeered the kitchen table for their timetabled online lessons on Teams, or you are trying to get an important document finished but you have to locate your children somewhere in your home as they are taking increasingly extended breaks. You have to get them back to work; the head teacher made you all sign a remote learning contract.
Technology is revolutionising the world as we know it and teaching along with it. Anyone who talks about IWB – interactive whiteboards – has not been in a classroom for ten years.
Giants like Microsoft and Google have successfully diversified their online collaborative business services to encourage schools and other education institutions to adopt their office tools for learning. Cloud-based file repositories like OneDrive and Google Drive are just as likely to be used by schools as by businesses.
If schools add bolt-ons like Office 365 or G Suite, students then have access to their school work via any Internet connection. Not only is it OS agnostic, with minimal demands on the device’s processing capabilities, it is kept updated with security patches, auto-saves work as you go and all the student’s files are backed up!
You can see the appeal. Instead of employing a number of network and system managers, whose skills come at a cost, schools simply need to provide Internet access and the rest is taken care of by Microsoft and Google.
Schools that have deployed these services are justifiably relieved. With the Government’s announcement that all schools across the country must close a week or two before the Easter break, there is pressure on teachers to continue teaching their classes online.
Public examinations might have been cancelled for years 11 and 13, but other year groups cannot afford to fall behind or lose valuable teaching hours either. Across the country, teachers have been making sure their resources are available online and accessible to students, as well as rapidly learning how to use video conferencing on Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts or Zoom to name a few.
This global pandemic will allow teachers, students and parents to see how effective these business tools are up against specialist Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) when it comes to facilitating learning. Does the glamour of video conferencing a lesson compare to a VLE designed with teaching at its core?
Can this work in practise for any length of time. Has technology removed the need for the classroom teacher? With school age children?
Anyone who has experienced the joy of “encouraging” their child to sit down for half an hour to complete their homework will blanch at the thought of having to do this for a whole school day.
Depending on your child’s school, that could be anything from six to seven hours a day with an hour for lunch. Oh, and all this while you yourself are working from home.
Given that the vast majority of children are not as motivated or engaged as someone who studies for career advancement, how will we make children sit at the kitchen table and work through their lessons and then do their homework afterwards? Younger children will require even more support in accessing their learning and completing their work.
It may come as no surprise that the few studies that have looked at school children when learning online have found performance and attainment has significantly lagged behind face to face lessons.
Aside from the fact that schools and teachers do so much more than pass on data – teaching social skills, providing ad hoc counselling, social worker, morale booster – the social interaction of teacher to students and the students amongst themselves is an important part of learning.
Finally, why do I keep referring to the kitchen table when your child may have a perfectly good desk in their room?
Well, for safeguarding reasons they cannot participate in video conferencing from their bedrooms. If you are lucky, you may have an office you can hide in and pretend your child is not on SnapChat or TikTok, otherwise, guess who is video conferencing from their bedroom?
So, come the end of the Easter holidays, parents will be queuing up to return their children to school with a greater respect for teachers who keep scores of children engaged in learning for six or seven hours a day, five days a week!
Next time you stumble across an article about teachers being replaced with online learning, remember Covid-19, and scroll to the next article.