In early March, the School's leadership recognised that a period of online learning would be required as the public health crisis deepened in Australia. To best prepare for this, students from Year 3 to Year 11 participated in an at-home, online learning trial on March 18. While this placed an additional burden on some families, it was invaluable in preparing both teachers and students (and possibly even some parents) for what was to come.
Results from around 2000 parent, teacher and student surveys were analysed by The Barker Institute and feedback was delivered to both academic and pastoral leaders throughout all levels of the School as they made decisions about online learning which formally began on March 23.
Evidence from the surveys demonstrated high capacity of the outstanding students and staff at Barker, along with the IT systems, to continue to learn under trying circumstances.
Student attendance and participation was high across all year levels. With the students returning to class for over a week after the trial, teachers could debrief with all students and offer guidance to students who completed less than their usual amount of work. Engagement did slightly decrease later in the day which was one of the influences in the decision to reduce the number and length of classes that students would attend during ongoing online learning.
Effective online learning tasks
The trial was an opportunity for teachers to test various types of online learning tasks. Students, parents and teachers identified the need for increased differentiation (assigning different work which could be completed in a way that is most appropriate for the academic abilities of every student). This was a goal for teachers as they prepared for further online learning. In addition, both parents and teachers noted the difficulty in supporting sustained learning through the day for students in the Junior School.
What they wrote - the student voice
Secondary School students identified examples of excellent online teaching from every one of our teaching departments. Analysis of positive and negative stories from students reinforced for us the importance of:
- clear instructions
- easy to locate resources
- real-time assistance from teachers (73% of students believed that this was done effectively during the trial)
- opportunities for interaction with teachers and peers
- providing variety in learning activities throughout the day
This rich data set meant department and grade specific feedback was being given to teachers and course coordinators to encourage and challenge them to consistently meet the needs of students in these ways.
It was also encouraging that even after one day students described how they missed, and now more greatly value, their face-to-face, personal relationships with their teachers. This new-found self-actualisation and appreciation of the classroom and school community will bear fruit in every lesson going forward throughout their time at Barker.
Taking action on parent feedback
The School is deeply thankful for the 437 suggestions that the parents made to improve the online learning experience. The responses were coded by using a systematic process using qualitative analysis software NVivo.
It was found that:
- Parents highly value direct connections between Barker teachers and students. While online videos from external presenters are helpful, live classes and video recordings of Barker teachers were most highly valued.
- Parents (and teachers) wanted to ensure that online learning was not the same as what in the past has been given as homework (e.g. only revision and note making). We aim that online learning is something different, an adaption of regular learning through alternative mediums and methods. Already, our experiences of online learning are shaping how teachers and students view homework even during full face-to-face teaching times.
- Parents are concerned about social isolation and wellbeing of their children with less interactions than on a normal day. Teachers have sought to engage students in collaborative tasks, even while learning from home, as well as tasks that take students away from the screen.