• James Harding

SCHOOLS' ADAPTATION TO VIRTUAL IS ONLY THE BEGINNING

Spring 2020 found most school heads around the world grappling with an immediate need to propagate their lessons and curriculum online. The relative merits of Zoom, Teams, Google Meet and other types of online video-conferencing were hastily assessed, and decisions were made.

Suddenly, every school became an online school of some sort, with many schools attempting to replicate online as much as possible of their on-site provision as students were obliged to remain at home.


Here in the UK, the independent sector proved resourceful in adapting to the existential threat to fee income posed by the closing of schools during lockdown. Schools in all sectors were forced to become active experts in online learning and to develop new ways of delivering their core activities.


VIRTUAL AND BLENDED LEARNING

For the duration of Covid lockdowns, students all over the world became home-schoolers, and the provision of schools was subject to unprecedented scrutiny from parents supervising their children’s online learning at home.


All this has, as we know, changed irrevocably the way that education is provided. New ways of providing curriculum have become known and experienced. Flexibility has been possible, as schools have been able to deliver content in varied circumstances, often to classes where some students are present in person whilst others were present virtually.


Here in the UK, recent stormy weather meant that heads were able to shut schools and continue to provide teaching, due to online capability. Pupils stayed at home without detriment to the taught curriculum, providing that families had the IT in place to connect to the online provision.


TEACHERS AND STUDENTS ADAPT

Rather as with the relocation of work in favour of working from home, the pandemic has changed schools’ relationship with online capability. All school teachers now have experience of delivering lessons online. Many school teachers have become active experts in good or best practice online teaching.


Students too have become used to engaging with online content and teaching, working collaboratively in real time, working in online ‘break-out’ rooms and so forth. Online learning has started to change the way in which schools operate, but this is only the beginning of the story.


Post-lockdown, as different cultures and economies emerge from restrictions, students and their families will be keen to have as much back of the ‘old normal’. Students thrive in the communal atmosphere of school, benefitting from the interpersonal dynamic which fully functions when we meet face-to-face. But it is certain the ‘old normal’ is already part of history. There are all sorts of ways in which the experience of online learning over lockdown will re-cast the experience of on-site learning.


THE PARENTS' EVENING EXAMPLE

We can see this in respect of a simple, conventional activity, conducted by schools across the world and across the sectors: the parents’ meeting. Virtual parents’ meetings have proved advantageous for many schools, improving the quality of dialogue and fitting such occasions much more effectively into the lives of busy parents.


Schools have been able to minimise the impact of teaching staff absence due to positive Covid testing by allowing absent teachers to deliver lessons remotely; the same principle has mitigated the chaos of students testing positive minus serious symptoms, as students have been able to follow lessons from home.


In my next blog, I’ll focus on some of the many developments in online learning emerging post-Covid.