Due to the timing of the NSW lockdown in the school year and the learnings from 2020, Barker’s approach to online learning in 2021 has taken on a new look. With much uncertainty surrounding the length of the lockdown, the following principles have formed the basis for decisions that have been made in relation to online learning and will continue to guide decisions into the future.
1. A sense of normality
In a world where a pandemic leaves many things out of our control, school can be a safe place and provide a sense of normal. Therefore, keeping things, within reason and where possible, familiar, gives reassurance to students and their families.
2. Routine and Structure
Humans are creatures of habit. Schools operate through timetables and routines. For students to succeed in an online environment, clear structures and daily routines need to be established and clearly communicated. This becomes even more important for students who struggle with organisation.
Relationships are key in student learning. The minute by minute interactions with teachers, peers and other staff is what makes a school, not just a place of learning, but a community. Regular live online interactions are essential in keeping people within schools connected and the impact of this on wellbeing cannot be underestimated.
4. Learning online
There is an undeniable time challenge in teaching online. Whether synchronous or asynchronous there is an added complexity in teaching knowledge, skills, and depth of understanding without the subtle feedback a teacher can receive from the verbal and non-verbal interactions in a face-to-face classroom setting. Checking for the understanding of each student in a whole class live forum, small groups in a breakout room or from learning activities such as written submissions or quizzes takes a lot longer. For teachers, designing tasks, providing effective communication, and giving feedback to online tasks provides, at times, an insurmountable workload. It is also commonplace yet well-intentioned, for teachers to overestimate the work that students can do in the time allocated. This puts substantial pressure on students. Therefore, workloads need to be managed by considering what is essential, adapting what is taught, how it is taught and what the students are to do. Quality over quantity, efficient and effective.
There is a balance required between the importance of continuing learning, keeping connections through online platforms and the need to move. Research from the Australian Government Department of Health, the Heart Foundation and other individual research papers have highlighted the risks of being sedentary. Sitting for too long increases risk of chronic health problems and has a negative correlation with Mental Health. Claims have been made that sitting is the new smoking due to the similar effects it has on the heart. Therefore, opportunity to move beyond the screen needs to be part of the daily routines established as well as included in learning activities wherever possible.
Barker Online Learning Phase 1 – Structure for Online Learning 2021
- The school timetable remains - The day and week is structured by the regular school timetable.
- Live Meetings - Teachers begin each lesson with a live meeting in Microsoft Teams. They then teach / explain work via this mode for a maximum of 30 minutes of the 60 minute scheduled lesson.
- Time to complete tasks -The remaining 30 minutes of the lesson is allocated for students to complete learning tasks.
- Streamlined communication:
- All work to be submitted is communicated through the homework section in Canvas to streamline a student work task list for all subjects that is in one place for students and parents to locate.
- All class and individual communication with students take place in Microsoft teams.
- Dress code: Students wear school or PE uniform and staff wear professional attire.
- Extended lunch break: The 30 minute timeslot between 12:00pm – 12:30pm was allocated to allow for a 90 minute lunch break.
Professional Learning Structures
- Pre-online learning - The professional learning day on July 12th was designed to support the transition to online learning.
- Initial and ongoing professional learning support - The existing Canvas Professional Learning course stores resources that support teachers in the delivery of online learning. This includes short instructional videos on the essential digital learning tools used to deliver online learning as well as written information / cheat sheets and links to further, more advanced resources.
- Immediate daily support - An Online Learning Channel has been established in Microsoft Teams for all staff. Here, staff post questions which are answered within minutes by the digital learning team, the curriculum team or by other teachers. This has been enormously successfully in the support of online teaching, creating greater confidence in teachers as well as enabling leaders to adapt quickly or address any wider school issues.
Possible considerations for an extended period of online learning
- Compulsory blackout periods from technology.
- A break from online learning to refresh eg: early finish or late start.
- Whole school initiatives to connect more widely. Eg House Competitions, Barker Olympics.
- Re-establishing the 30 minute time slot for more holistic year group connections.
- Managing workload for students and staff. eg streamlining communication in blocks, reducing amount of work set.
- More sharing of effective online learning strategies.
The routine of a timetable, live synchronous interactions with classes, the balance between 30 minutes of personal lesson delivery and 30 minutes to complete learning tasks, has in the first instance seemly achieved the principles in which the decisions were made. There has been a general feel of positivity surrounding this manner of online learning from students, staff, and parents. It for these reasons, the structures have been retained for Phase 2 of online learning, a period of 2 weeks until July 30th Friday. Whilst we are in the honeymoon period of online learning, we will be watching carefully and be ready to adapt quickly when and where needed.
Director of Professional Learning