Learning through digital media is nothing new at Alice Smith, just as in many modern schools, our teachers and students regularly interact using email, collaborative documents and a host of educational apps forming a rich, varied and innovative academic experience. However, moving to an entirely remote programme is a challenge fraught with compromise and logistical pitfalls which can inhibit learning if not carefully managed, and doing so in a short space of time without an extremely good reason is particularly ill-advised. But, of course, on March 17th, when the school was forced to close in the face of a rapidly growing Coronavirus threat, a good reason to jump with both feet into the world of virtual learning (VL) presented itself abruptly.
The current programme of VL at Equine Park is founded upon three key resources;
- Google Suite (a collection of collaborative documents protected within a school domain providing an endless array of creative and academic possibilities.)
- Google Classroom (a modifiable learning platform which allows teachers and students the ability to communicate in a virtual class setting.)
- Google Meet (a virtual conferencing tool that allows groups to interact in real time.)
However, these are just tools, and whilst they are powerful and incredibly helpful, they are worthless in the wrong hands. Indeed, at the apex of this learning pyramid sit our incredibly dedicated teaching staff alongside our diligent and eager students using their well-honed digital skills to keep learning on track through these difficult times in which change is currently the only constant. What hasn’t changed, however, is what and how we teach and students learn - the principles of excellent pedagogy remain the same.
At the time of writing, we are only two days into the programme but it is safe to say that the launch of VL has been successful, certainly if parental feedback is anything to go by;‘I applaud you!! Wow! Such a hard thing to do with all these little minds asking all these questions and having to repeat yourself! Thank you! Thank you!!! Thank you!! Your patience and commitment are so very much appreciated. Hang in there!’ (Y7 parent)
'I think it is fantastic. The school has done an amazing job at keeping these kids stimulated and providing structure for the day. My kids are also finding it quite fun - long may it last! I have heard nothing but good things from parents and it's certainly a big step up from what anyone else is doing’ (Y9 and 11 parent)
‘My kids are having very focussed and meaningful face to face interactions and offline study. When I came back yesterday, my daughter said, 'this has been such a productive day, I love it.’ (Y10 and 12 parent)
‘This online lesson thing is genius...kids loving it, I'm loving it! I thought it was going to be a nightmare but it's not, they're just doing a normal school day - you've got it so right I must say!’ (Year 7 and 11 parent)
As time goes on, new challenges will emerge, perhaps as digital fatigue sets in or as the novelty value of VL wears off and the visceral desire to fully reconnect with the Alice Smith community inexorably strengthens. However, with teachers carefully monitoring engagement, progress and well being, and proactively reaching out to students and parents as issues arise, we will, no doubt, continue to adapt to them until such time as we return to campus and, once again, immerse ourselves in the uniquely real Alice Smith experience.
Dave Potts, Vice Principal for Learning & Teaching at the Alice Smith School.