As we go back to remote learning in Ireland, with our school buildings closed again, there appears to be different expectations on teachers in terms of what is expected of us. In the first lockdown, we all tried our best to try out new tools, some of which we’d never used before, finding ourselves using video conferencing (Teams, Zoom, Google Meet) and learning platforms like Google Classroom and SeeSaw.
The Department of Education came up with some guidance in late May for their own expectations of teachers before creating a circular (74/2020) to set in law these expectations. Unfortunately, apart from this, the Department of Education provided very few other tools for teachers to work with. There was no extra funding for devices, despite the announcement of a €50m grant, which was the regular grant that schools receive anyway! To be fair, the PDST created a reasonably good site pdst.ie/blendedlearning but in terms of ideas for lessons and delivery, it is really up to teachers to figure things out.
On top of this, there is a growing narrative from some parents and some school leaders that they want live video teaching throughout the day. There is a perception that live video teaching is an effective way to deliver curriculum content. Some might agree – what could be better than a teacher sitting on a screen with her class for the regular day teaching the curriculum as normal?
The trouble with this model is manyfold. The first is that whole class direct teaching in real life is not very effective. It is pretty good for introducing concepts and maybe wrapping up at the end, but in general it is a very limited methodology for teaching.
There’s also a major issue with the management of the virtual classroom. If a child is not concentrating or is causing some difficulties in the classroom, in a regular classroom, there are tactics that can be used so that the child remains in the classroom and can continue the learning. In something like Zoom, muting their microphone, blanking their camera and disabling chat are not exactly the types of tools a good teacher really wants to resort to!
Group work is also difficult in these scenarios for obvious reasons. While it may be possible for older children, using breakout rooms with younger pupils is next to impossible to manage.
However, most importantly, is the fact that this only works when all (or almost all) the pupils are directly engaging in the classroom. If you are in a one child family, this might be possible, but any more than that, you need multiple devices and a good enough Internet connection to do it. This is rare.
Even with all this in place, a major problem is that we are wasting huge opportunities that recorded content can offer. For example, families may not be able to access their school at the time that the live lessons are on. Having a recorded lesson gives flexibility.
A recorded lesson is also a lot shorter and targeted to the content that needs to be taught. If one is teaching a live session, the first 5-10 minutes are spent making sure that everyone can hear, everyone is connected, getting everyone settled, and then constant interruptions as the teacher is explaining concepts. A teacher is losing valuable teaching time by being on the screen all the time.
It is much more effective for a teacher to record a 5 minute demonstration of a topic, upload it to a learning platform like SeeSaw or Google Classroom, set a differentiated tasks for their class, be available to answer any questions via this platform or via video chat, if needs be. Students can then work on the tasks set, have them uploaded and checked.
This means that all children can complete the tasks without having to be in the same place at the same time and there are better learning outcomes. And ultimately, that’s the goal, isn’t it?