Due to COVID-19, many Australian schools are coming to terms with what will be required to deliver effective remote teaching.
When students are confined to home for what could become an extended period, finding ways to provide interactive contact with teachers will become paramount.
The situation can be likened to Australia’s School of the Air where remote students are schooled by teachers over radio or satellite links. This concept is about to become much more widespread.
For some time, teachers have relied on Learning Management Systems (LMS) to support their day-to-day activity. LMS helps them to organise content and collaborate with students.
However, while LMS are invaluable, they were never designed to provide the kind of support that will be required in this new environment. Students will need new topics and materials introduced and reinforced through questions and discussion. LMS are not able to deliver lessons in this way, and so teachers will need to rely on other options.
The key challenge faced is one of scale. A teacher in a typical school may, for example, usually conduct four English classes each day. If there are 20 students in each class, that teacher ends up giving the same lesson four times.
When remote teaching is introduced, that same teacher is likely to end up delivering each lesson just once to the entire group of students. However, students learn at different rates and it will be difficult for the teacher to tailor the content and presentation to suit everyone.
While LMS can enable collaboration, there will still be a need for one-to-one communication with each student to ensure content is understood. One way to achieve this is by using an online video classroom.
Such classrooms go beyond LMS and offer the ability to both present material and take questions from students. Having a video link makes the experience much more engaging than an audio-only service and enhances the learning process.
As well as video applications, there is a range of other tools that teachers and schools can deploy to assist with remote teaching initiatives.
For example, there are social networking tools such as Class Dojo that help parents gain an understanding of how their children are performing in classes and whether they might need some assistance.
There are also a number of cloud-based communications tools that can open up new channels for student and teacher interaction. Examples include apps that enable teachers to use their personal phones, but connect with parents and students using their school profile and work number.
More than technology
While considerable attention is being given to the technology platforms and tools needed to support remote teaching, there are a number of other issues that should also be considered.
One is the home environment in which students will be expected to work. If they don’t have a suitable location and a structure to their daily activities, maintaining attention and making progress could be challenging.
There is also the challenge of teaching very young students. While those in later grades are likely to have the self discipline to attend virtual classes and complete work, those in the early years of schooling may not. Support from parents and care givers is going to be important.
Also, there is the social aspect of school life that will be missed by many students and teachers. Significant learning happens outside the classroom, and this type of interaction is tough to replicate when classes are dispersed.
The world of remote teaching will be a new one for most Australian students, but one that will likely be needed for many months to come. Careful preparation and consideration of all related factors will ensure it’s a success.