At the moment many schools across the globe are faced with trying to put together plans to deal with a possible closure that could last two or more weeks during term time due to Covid-19 (Coronavirus) .
So, what can be done if you are a school that is totally unprepared for this eventuality?
There are 2 areas broadly speaking which can help a school or individual classroom achieve some form of continued education while the physical building is closed.
System(s) & Practicalities – and getting it communicated to parents.
Teacher, parent, school engagement.
There are many school offerings available, such as Microsoft for Education, or G-Suite for Education etc.
However, where you need to deploy something in a hurry, you may not have the choice of what ideally you would want. Here are some that are ready to go, at a relatively quick turnaround:
Google have made a lot of their G-suite tools FREE until 1 July 2020. If you are already familiar with google products etc, you could quickly use this as a springboard to get a class up and running.
OBS Studio is a FREE open broadcast system which allows you broadcast 1:Many, and either link to Facebook page or website.
This is a Free and fee based meeting tool which can allow you to run classes or short tutorials. The PRO version can allow you to run a class (at relatively little cost) for a month’s subscription. The controls are pretty good, so it allows the teacher to control the class better.
Books and Materials
Often pupils may be encouraged to leave some books in school. If it is likely that the school will be closed for a period of time, it is worth asking the class to take home their books. (If there is a book rental scheme etc, the school may have to send a note home first to ensure parents take responsibility for them etc). This can be done over a day or two, or- have an extended pickup on the last day of school to allow parents collect them.
Broadband or No-band.
The above systems (and others not mentioned here) all require internet connection. If you are delivering an online lesson it would be best practice to record key components of it, and make them available on a shared system such as G-Drive or Dropbox. That way, if a pupil cannot follow the lesson live, their parents can at least download the content for viewing the following day.
Likewise, if the school is in a rural area, record the lessons in short 10-15 minute bursts to the laptop or phone, then load to a shared drive that all pupils can access. Ensure that the definition is SD (Standard Definition), or that the resolution is set to iphone or 4.5″ screen. Again, the pupils viewing the content the next day isn’t as big an issue if you have it planned that way from the get-go.
Most schools will have email and contact details of the pupil’s parents. A once-off exercise is to ensure that all parents are able to receive school emails and that their addresses are correct. Again, a short note home, or text can confirm. The onus should also be on the parent to check for school related emails each day (and to mark them safe in the spam folders etc).
Teacher’s Presence in the home.
One of the KEY things with Tele-therapy that makes it work, is the presence of an adult or other person in the same room as the child, to effectively ensure proper participation. The same applies here.
A parent or carer should be in the vicinity of the child when attending the virtual class at all times. (I don’t mean sitting beside them, engaging in the class, however close enough that the child knows switching to YouTube or similar will likely be caught).
If you have a few kids at home all taking their classes at the same time, headphones may be required and sitting at their desks or a kitchen table etc will help.
For junior Primary School classes, the parent will often have to take the place of the teacher with essentially extended homework exercises, and feedback the pupil’s learning either via the established discussion forum (if using something like G-Suite) or old fashioned email.
Teamwork makes the dreamwork.
If you have several classes in the same year in your school, consider splitting the lessons between the teachers. Either one teacher takes a day, then delivers the content to all, or you split it by subject. This is especially helpful if you are recording the lessons for offline delivery the following day. It can be much harder to prepare for online viewing than when you deliver something in person.
If you are in a smaller school, consider reaching out to neighbouring schools to try achieve similar.
On Twitter, check our the #edchat or #edchatie hastags to engage with teachers who may already have solved the problem you are facing.
Allow Q&A – Immediate, or follow up email.
If you are using a basic videoconferencing system to deliver lessons, then you will need to encourage participants to ask questions during the class, or via email. The more ‘homework’ you get back from your class, the more you can understand how well they are doing. (For infant or younger classes parent participation would be strongly needed – as above).
In summary, some schools will already have been dabbling with remote learning technology. These will possibly be looking ‘forward’ in some way to giving it a proper extended field test.
For a lot, this will be a first time situation. Especially with smaller rural 5-7 teacher schools where they may not have traditionally great access to broadband infrastructure. In these cases, common sense is everyone’s best ally and can allow things to progress as best as possible in the circumstances.
I have left the comments open, so any tips, links or notes on what your school is doing that you don’t mind sharing would be helpful to others.