Your School Online – Key considerations for school leadership
For everyone in leadership positions in the school sector, the current pandemic has posed significant challenges. Not the least of which is how to deliver continuing education to learners who are working remotely from the physical school building. EdTech is obviously in a key position to support schools in delivering a continuing educational offering, but doing this effectively, is more challenging than some would make out. In an effort to support schools the EdTech industry and EdTech community have been buzzing with “Free Trials” and copious amounts of links to documents and suggested activities. How should schools safely and effectively respond to this need and what might be the key considerations for school leadership?
Developing an effective online vision and strategy that matches school values
Before launching into multiple sign-ups for online services – consider pausing and working out what your school wants to achieve with the online school presence that you are developing.
It might seem obvious, but begin with the core question – “What type of technology-enhanced online presence do you want to your school to develop? And what are the core functions that are needed?” Then work out a plan to achieve that. Avoid knee jerk responses to “Special offers” and quick fixes – develop a longer-term strategy.
Do you want to recreate as many functions of your school as possible online or just provide specific content and activities for pupils?
Make sure that you audit your current online provision - even if you have very little or if it is there but underutilised. This will give a context to the development of a realistic strategy. Identify existing effective use and build on that rather than hurriedly sign up to lots of new services .
Schools should make it absolutely clear that their aims and values and curriculum intent in the real world should be central to any virtual presence that is created or brokered by the school. If a service does not live up to this standard, then do not sign up to it.
Virtual school or Remote learning?
School leaders should decide if they are going to work virtually with the whole of their school community or just focus on specific members; such as providing remote learning for a limited group of pupils/students. Consider what provision is going to be made for working with: -
- Staff - not just teaching but all staff including – site staff, non-teaching, admin and support
- Pupils/students - are all pupils/students to receive the same entitlement or is there a focus on particular age ranges or subjects?
- Parents - How will parents be contacted and kept informed of not just general information, but of Pupil/Student work set?
- Governors - How will governors be kept informed – Can meetings still go ahead?
- Wider School community - provision for letting the community around the school know what is going on
Decide on how deep the involvement will be with each group of the school community. With answers these questions resolved then appropriate and effective choices can be made on a strategic basis.
Aspects of school life best suited to EdTech delivery
Here is a list of the school functions that can be readily supported by tech.
- School organisation - The continued day to day running of the school community - functional
- Communication and Collaboration - Keeping the school community informed & enabling communication
- Information management, Finance and Admin - Making key management functions accessible.
- Learning and Teaching - Enabling learning to continue beyond the school environment. Teaching too?
- Broadcasting and Showcasing - Storing, sharing and showcasing pupil/student work.
In the event of an extended school shut down, the school leadership will need to systematically address each of these school functions in turn and develop EdTech strategies and enabling solutions to suit.
In terms of communication, it is worth noting that email is a very easy way of communicating but not always the most effective. A review of the school email policy may be a great starting point. It would be useful to revisit the protocols for using CC and the number of emails that particularly senior staff are copied in to and are receiving. The use of staff emails with pupils/students is a very contentious area and digital safeguarding advice would be that direct communication with pupils/students in this way is not recommended, other less personal methods via a class or school-based system should be explored as a means of communicating with pupils/students
The element of Learning and Teaching – may be the best catered for out of this list. Begin by auditing the online solutions and content packages that the school currently has and identifying which staff have taken a lead on these – enable these staff to become specific digital champions don’t expect the Computing lead to do it all.
Remember that what might not be desirable with people physically on site might have to be considered for remote working. Accessing key Admin systems via secure VPN (Virtual Private Network) may not be considered as suitable in day to day usage but current circumstances might make this the only viable solution. Great care should be taken to work with your IT technical support service to establish the best solutions.
Useful to consider that a blend of digital and paper and physical alternatives which give the most balanced home learning experience. Find advice from the NEU here – they are focusing on time spent undertaking remote learning and the importance of having alternatives to digital learning…
Synchronous v Asynchronous
Sounds complicated, but is in reality, simple –
Synchronous - Does the EdTech service work in real time to provide live interactive access?
For Example – live streaming of a video meeting - Skype, Teams, Zoom, Hangouts
Asynchronous - Does the EdTech service provide access to communication content and information left to be utilised at the time convenient to the user in a relatively passive way? For Example – email communications and files left to be worked on in a document library.
Synchronous EdTech - requires more thought in terms of timing, security and bandwidth to deliver. It is immediate and can put pressure on less tech savvy staff, Pupils and Governors. However, users benefit from a more interactive nuanced experience.
Asynchronous EdTech - is much easier and less “Risky” to use as it doesn’t require a specific time for all participants to be available – it also is less “Personal” in that it enables messages, plans or work etc. to be pre prepared and then refined.
School leaders will need to match the ability of staff and pupils to the style of tech to be used. Jumping straight in with live synchronous lessons delivered by teachers would not be recommended. As it requires a massive amount of training, support and safeguarding advice before tentative use could be contemplated. The twitter community and the hype around certain software solutions can make schools feel behind the curve – but it is essential that schools deliver what will be acceptable, safe and effective for them and their learners in a planned thoughtful way.
N.B. There is (relatively) more control over Synchronous use of tech with Staff than with Pupils/Students.
Schools will need to find out the range of access to both broadband connections and appropriate hardware such as Laptops, PC’s or tablet. This information is important for all staff, pupils/students and governors. If schools have been engaging with online learning beyond school as a matter of course then they will have up to date information identifying Pupils/students and staff with limited or no access. Alternative provision will need to be made. Key questions for school leaders include.
- Do all of my Staff have a current email address? Can they Log on?
- Does our school currently provide an email address for all pupils/students? Can they Log on?
- Do all Staff have access to online facilities at home?
- Do all pupils/students have access to online facilities at home?
- Are home devices suitable for extended (i.e do they have a keyboard?)
As the majority of pupils/students are now learning from home – data around log on’s to services can inform school leaders where access has not been possible. Follow up by phone or text may be able to resolve individual issues. Schools may consider setting up a dedicated messaging service to detect those with no access. Where log on’s are an issue then consider setting up a specific email address for help such as “firstname.lastname@example.org”
Provision for providing paper based access to learning may have to be considered for some Pupils/students.
Train your staff and keep safe
I know that this might seem obvious; but once more, this is often overlooked or added as an afterthought. If you are supplying new online services or content, then make sure your teachers have access in advance of the pupils and that they know how to use them. Train them in private - in advance on any software or cloud-based systems. Give them time to adjust to this new way of working before launching it to pupils/students.
Have a planned roll out of newly discovered resources to avoid staff becoming swamped and stressed.
Please keep everyone in your school safe online. In the current situation it is really important for Staff to feel safe and secure and for pupils/students to comply with any accessible use policies (AUP’s) and digital safeguarding policies. Before signing up to any online service please make sure that it is safe and GDPR compliant. Treating the online presence of your school with the same values and behaviours as expected on the physical site is a sensible way to remind everyone of the safest and most respectful ways of working. Remember to update your policies and check your Government guidance
Remember, just because your main school presence is online and using EdTech, the main focus for school leaders should still be their vision for education, curriculum intent and the highest standards that all schools aspire to, in terms of safety, pedagogy and personal integrity.
David Whyley is an experienced EdTech leader. He was co-author of the national guidance for online learning platforms and advised the UK’s largest technology home access initiative. Internationally recognised as one of the pioneers of Mobile Learning, David specialises in technology change management and developing innovative approaches to teaching and learning. He is CEO of his own successful technology consultancy company and currently works with a number of UK and Global clients, including schools, educational establishments and multi-national tech companies. Amongst many other accolate David has won two Bett Awards! www.whytekconsulting.co.uk