In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown, technology has played a crucial role in ensuring the continuity of teaching and learning for pupils who suddenly found themselves studying remotely at home with only virtual contact with their classmates. Not to mention the teachers who were faced with the challenge of adapting in just a few weeks to remote working, on-line collaboration and a whole plethora of new technologies to enable them to deliver the curriculum and support their pupils. All this at a time of huge anxiety and stress about the relentless spread of the Coronavirus across the globe.
In just a few weeks, teachers switched from conventional face-to-face teaching in the classroom to livestreaming their lessons, creating video blogs and feedback, communicating via on-line chat, using new digital tools such as Flipgrid and Edpuzzle and attending Zoom or Microsoft Teams meetings. The pace at which this happened and its ultimate success was completely dependent on the existing digital framework in place, the level of IT support, availability of hardware and software and to the fact that digital technologies and training had already been incorporated into teaching practice at Downe House making the transition to virtual teaching relatively smooth.
We introduced our Digital Strategy four years ago based on the Microsoft Office 365 platform and implemented comprehensive staff training and a phased roll-out of the MS Surface programme to all year groups so that every pupil and teacher had their own Microsoft Surface. Never did we dream that our digital capabilities would become so critical or that we would have to take the whole School online and deliver entirely on-line teaching and learning due to a global pandemic!
In the face of the first lockdown, we were in the fortunate position that everyone was already very familiar with using on-line tools such as Teams and OneNote. So much so, we were able to continue to give our pupils a full timetable of lessons taught by their teachers and livestreamed to their homes across the globe both in real time, and as recorded lessons. Microsoft Stream provided a simple way for staff to record and share their lessons, which can now be used as a further resource for future pupils.”
Nevertheless, our teachers have worked hard to adapt to a completely new way of working and to find creative ways to engage pupils on-line whilst taking into account safeguarding issues. Whilst research is ongoing to assess the effectiveness of remote learning, anecdotal evidence shows that it does work and many pupils have thrived on the alternative learning experience, enjoyed acquiring new digital skills or found it helpful to go back and watch a recorded lesson again.
The second lockdown brought a hybrid situation with the vast majority of girls at school in face-to-face lessons, but we had around 40 on-line learners who stayed at home for a variety of reasons and so all lessons were recorded and we involved our on-line learners in as many activities as possible – in the boarding houses, you would often see a screen propped up with a girl taking part virtually in whatever was going on from book clubs to dance classes. Both teachers and Housestaff kept in close contact with our on-line learners through regular tutorials.
I believe that there is an urgent need for debate about the way forward for digital teaching as the importance of equipping pupils with digital skills and tools for the workplace cannot now be disputed. A cultural shift has already taken place in digital literacy and many teachers across the country have embarked on their digital journey with more confidence than ever before. Investment is needed across the board in hardware, connectivity, staff training, dedicated support and resources as well as a careful approach to ensuring the perfect balance between face-to-face teaching and utilisation of digital technologies.
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