20 May 2020

The steep learning curve of remote learning

Vikki Hawkins, Primary Computing and Ed Tech Leader, UAE
The steep learning curve of remote learning

“Schools are closing.  We need to get our remote learning in place yesterday!” When the rumours became an announcement, there was instantly lots to sort out and fast. It’s a good job I thrive on challenges!

I am officially the Primary Computing teacher in school, but am also responsible for EdTech, so my job was to plan and implement how we were going to teach.  Seesaw was the obvious choice. We have been using Seesaw for many years now, but different teachers have used it in different ways and some members of staff, such as our PE teacher and our learning assistants hadn’t needed to use it at all. So, training sessions had to be done quickly to make sure that everybody knew how to set activities and give some ideas on what they could do.  Because our school has a very strict privacy policy and work cannot be seen by anybody other than that child’s parents, we had to set up an individual class for each child and add each teacher.  This was a long job and, in the end, totally pointless because the week before we started remote learning, Seesaw, being the amazing company they are, introduced home learning codes meaning there could be a single class and complete privacy providing we posted work in the right way. Phew!

Our 240 1:1 iPads had to have anything that could violate our privacy policy removed.  Cue the Year 6 children being supervised to do this with the help of class teachers and my learning assistant. Laptops had to be prepared by the network team for the teachers to borrow. iPads for the staff that didn’t usually use them and for children who didn’t have them at home also meant our shared ones had to be repurposed. It meant weekend work and the first day of remote learning (a training day), I found myself in an eerily quiet school standing 2m away from management talking to them about how I envisaged things would work and what we needed to do.

That first week of remote learning, my phone nearly buzzed off the table every minute of every day with messages in our tech support chat group asking for help as our teachers got to grips with everything. I made so many short videos showing people how to do simple things like adding links, using google drive and even how to do a screen recording on an iPad with and without sound. I had to make a video on how to use Seesaw for verbal and written feedback as many members of staff had never needed to do that before. An additional challenge is that some of our Arabic teachers have limited English and my Arabic stretches to hello and thank you!  Everything I made to support had to be visual and I spoke to sons and daughters of the teachers when needed and got help from interpreters.  Nobody gave up. Everybody wanted to do their best.

At the end of the first week, myself and the lady in charge of the network at school were physically and mentally exhausted.  And it didn’t stop, as our dedicated teachers continued to learn and prepare fantastic learning experiences for the children.

By week three, I noticed my phone was still buzzing, but the messages were different.  It wasn’t panicked voice messages because they didn’t know how to do something.  It had become more “I want to do this, can you help me find a way to do it, please?”  It was so wonderful! They became more adventurous in what they were trying and it was really working.  My videos became more ideas based and chats were thrashing about ideas to try.  I’ve seen a teacher prepare a Kahoot mental maths quiz using a YouTube video she made so she could time the questions and add the right sections of the video in the quiz setup. Another teacher, who didn’t usually embrace tech, took part in a virtual staff meeting teaching others how to mirror an iPad in a Zoom lesson. I found some excellent ideas on the Seesaw Facebook group and suddenly teachers were producing scratch and read activities using Google slides. Just this morning, I sent a link to a video I had found using ordering shapes and a spotlight to make words appear.  Literally an hour after I sent it, one of the Arabic teachers sent me a video of the one she had produced to share with the children! The PE teacher who really wasn’t techy is now adding Bitmojis to the marking she does, has learned how to use iMovie and Clips and is producing incredible videos to motivate the children and keep them fit.  She got the staff involved in doing dance videos with their own children for the children to enjoy. There have still been enormous challenges, like when we had to remotely update the Seesaw app urgently for all the children so the home learning codes would work and when Kahoot put out an update meaning a lesson couldn’t be done without doing that update so we had to do each iPad individually during the lunch break! And then there was the introduction of Zoom and the support needed for the children and teachers to get them confident using the platform including the admin team live calling the parents in Arabic while I gave instructions so we could get the children logged on safely.

I’m actually getting goosebumps writing this! It has indeed been a mammoth task getting remote learning up and running, but I am so, so proud of all the teachers and support staff in the school. They are awesome and their resilience is limitless! I can’t wait to see what is next.

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