Learn how to keep the balance with your digital strategy, with Corrine Latham.

The past 18 months has catapulted us into a learning world that would have seemed foreign to many previously. Our teachers have had to adapt to ensure the learning needs of our pupils were met. Many, for the first time, had to upskill and learn to teach young people from home.

Moving into the blended world

In Northern Ireland, many of our schools were in a fortunate position because of the network capabilities of the C2K interface. This platform is a gateway to a range of cloud-based functional tools that can be accessed from one user login. Many schools had the opportunity to engage with training in both Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom long before the pandemic. Many teachers were able to seamlessly move across into a blended world with ease in March 2020. Others who had not focused on developing educational technology did find it challenging but help was at hand, mainly from teachers themselves.

New ground-up teacher-led groups started, with Twitter handles like @Learn_ni and @BlendEd_NI. This was soon followed by a range of Facebook subject-specific groups, through guidance of the team behind NI Collaborate. Collaboration encouraged teachers and school leaders to share what they knew to help others who had little or no training in remote teaching.

Making adaptations

Schools had to adapt to new models of online learning whilst balancing childcare responsibilities for key workers. Those parents who began home learning in March 2020 were surveyed by Stranmillis University College.

“The past few months have been utterly remarkable. They have: forced parents/carers to assume a greater role than ever before in their child/ren’s education; tested schools and teachers to their limits in terms of adapting fast to providing (mostly online) resources for home learning; and thrown children into a new, confined online learning environment at home”. 1

Through this research, school leaders and wider society realised that a digital-first model would not fit all the demands of education. The research highlighted the lack of access to education because many households did not have access to adequate Wi-Fi or printers. Therefore, a new model was adapted in many schools throughout Northern Ireland: digital-first but not digital-only. This saw many schools supported by the Government who gave out laptops, Wi-Fi vouchers and prepared paper packs of learning to support children and young people.

Round 2

In a second survey of parents that reflected on home learning during the period January to April 2021, Stranmillis launched its follow-up online survey. This highlighted that young people from low-income homes were also more likely to have to share a digital device and/or wait to be able to go online. The geographical analysis also revealed that internet connectivity was worst in the most rural areas.

Interestingly, almost two-thirds (65%) of parents felt that the quality of learning resources was better or much better than during the first lockdown. This demonstrated that schools were better prepared for remote learning. It also noted that more than 50% of schools had moved to live online lessons. 2 Despite the study showing that the provision of live online teaching is still not universal, teachers are more confident in using Google Meet and Microsoft Teams to facilitate learning.

What’s next?

As we move forward to the Autumn term, schools in Northern Ireland will need to reflect on what we will keep from our experiences. As a school, we have reflected on our ‘COVID keeps’. Moving into a new term, we will be considering all aspects of a digital-first but not digital-only model.

A revised homework and assessment policy will be in place to ensure that teaching time is used more efficiently. The access to online reading schemes and maths activities has ensured a more personalised and diagnostic approach to differentiation. The use of parental engagement tools and consideration of how we share information with parents is also under evaluation.

The era of the ‘school note’ may have left the building but the need to ensure that parents and pupils have equity of access to school-based information and learning in times of lockdown still remains paramount.

References

  1. Walsh, G., Purdy, N., Dunn, J., Jones, S., Harris, J., and Ballentine, M. (2020) Homeschooling in Northern Ireland during the COVID-19 crisis: the experiences of parents and carers. Belfast: Centre for Research in Educational Underachievement/Stranmillis University College
  2. Purdy, N., Harris, J., Dunn, J., Gibson, K., Jones, S., McKee, B., McMullen, J., Walsh, G., and Ballentine, M. (2021) Northern Ireland Survey of Parents/Carers on Home-Schooling during the Covid-19 Crisis: 2021, Centre for Research in Educational Underachievement: Belfast

Author

  • Corinne Latham

    Corinne is interim director of curriculum for The Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA). She has over twenty years’ experience of teaching. She is passionate about the use of educational technology to enrich the curriculum experience of children and young people.

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