Computer Science teachers have been at the forefront of helping their schools switch back to remote learning in this latest lockdown. We asked CAS members to share their top tips. Claire Penketh reports.
Primary and secondary schools had little time to plan when the government announced that lockdown was to resume, schools were to close and remote learning once again, was to become the main way of delivering lessons. Chris Hillidge director of STEM at The Challenge Academy Trust, which runs schools and colleges in Warrington, said it was challenging: ‘The short notice of the school closure led to real problems in the distribution of hundreds of devices that we are loaning out. It also meant teachers had to quickly switch to online, which they have done admirably.
‘Luckily, we were ahead of the game because I’d already introduced Google classroom in 2019 across the school. The first lockdown accelerated our use of online resources and remote capabilities. Since September we have seen some amazing innovative practice from teachers of all subjects. Necessity is the mother of invention!’
Adrienne Tough, Head of Computing, E-Safety and Digital Learning, at the Bolder Academy, Isleworth, London said their teachers were prepared for the switch: ‘I don't think the reintroduction was a particular surprise to us. We have a strong set-up from previous experiences and lots of support from the Senior Learning Team, such as a day of department time to prepare resources and upskill; to hold meetings and set up laptop distribution etc. I think we were in a good position and the school community is trying to remain positive.’
Martyn Soulsby from the Leadership team at North Lakes Primary School, Penrith also echoed those sentiments: ‘We were well-placed to deliver remote learning with our Frog Learn platform which was highly successful during the first lockdown with 90% engagement from pupils. Parents were clear about our school offer during isolation and confident in how to use it.’
Keep it simple
For Adrienne, the key is simplicity, with few websites and therefore passwords: 'All of our content is delivered through Microsoft Teams and EdPuzzle, with just one login and one website they need to be familiar with.
‘If support is needed - there's one generic email ‘work@...’ for all pupils and parents to email if they need support. The home-learning page of our website is updated daily. This means key messages aren't lost among waves of previous content or instructions.’
As much care, if not more, goes into designing online content said Adrienne: ‘There's a need for a rigorous online academic curriculum. The delivery of live or pre-recorded video lessons has been supported through a carefully planned timetable, allowing staff the time to prepare and resource lessons, and time after the lesson to answer questions or queries.’
Support for teachers
Adrienne said she has a new role and is now responsible for online learning and E-Safety, including delivering training to staff ‘My timetable includes a set weekly period, where staff can drop in and ask or email questions on specific issues that they encounter relating to online learning.
‘Staff were also given choice about lesson delivery - e.g. live or pre-recorded - which helps staff remained comfortable and confident whilst still providing a high-quality curriculum.’
For Chris, sometimes it’s trying to find a way to keep on teaching, despite the pandemic: ‘If a teacher is isolating without symptoms then they will teach live from home as if they were in school – it helps to keep an air of normality for the students in a year when it has been anything but!’
The aim of all of this is to keep children learning – and this has needed close attention when it comes to the digital skills of some students said Adrienne: ‘Year 7 and 8 have a timetabled lesson called Study Skills and I have had some input into this delivery.
‘This has included a focus on upskilling students to prepare for lockdown events. This, in my opinion, has been invaluable as it helps develop student's digital literacy without heavily impacting the computing lessons.’
Adrienne said the pastoral team closely monitors the attendance of students too: ‘Despite best efforts to encourage personal responsibility for logging on and engagement, some students still require a nudge to get started.
‘To overcome this staff are deployed to contact home to help resolve any practical issues and encourage students to engage. Parental contact, combined with praise through virtual postcards and house points has appeared instrumental in achieving a positive impact for online attendance and helped us achieve a strong online presence.’
Praise for the teachers
A little bit of appreciation for the teachers goes a long way said Adrienne: ‘There is a need for staff to feel appreciated as they grapple with this new way of delivering content and praised with how they have sometimes had to juggle regular teaching in conjunction with online planning and delivery. This cannot be lost in the quest for improvement.’
Computing at School
The advice, resources, and support shared by Computing at School, has been invaluable said Martyn, a CAS Community leader.
"I must admit I've been busy managing remote learning through school, advising colleagues across my locality and teaching full time since September," said Martyn.
"Every day is a challenge and it is difficult to keep up."
All three schools we spoke to for this article said they carried out regular surveys to keep track of the situation. BCS meanwhile has asked for all educational websites to be exempt from mobile data charges to help the poorest families during the lockdown.