As much of the country is yet again thrown into lockdown and stay at home orders, remote learning is back on the agenda for many households across Australia. The increased use of online learning presents many challenges and opportunities for students, teachers and school systems. The skill, experience and ability of teachers to engage with and frame learning whilst managing COVID anxiety is now part of society’s expectation on the teaching profession. Whilst lockdowns and working from home offer some benefits in managing health and wellbeing, they do not create a viable solution in replacing the value of face-to-face teaching; that is the relationships between a teacher and students and the benefits they have on enhancing student outcomes.
Technology literacy is cited as a 21st century skill. Successful implementation of online learning is evolving but its overall effectiveness is not yet measured. The past eighteen months has taught the profession and many parents, that many students do not have the tools nor necessary skills to access online lessons in the same way that they would activate learning in person. It is also clear that many teachers do not have the skills nor access to professional development to support optimal online learning.
To navigate this challenge and to ensure equity for all, teaching materials are sometimes photocopied and delivered to students in an attempt to offer all students the opportunity to engage in learning during a lockdown. For those embracing ZOOM or other online technology, lessons vary in their engagement. The differences in skill, access or need, sees some teachers reading and working from photocopied work pages, while others successfully access support and use many of the varied online teaching tools and platforms.
At these times, it would be easy to become overwhelmed as an educator, concerned about whether students were connecting, engaging, learning and feeling disconnected from not only students but the peer support networks. Social media is flooded with either the delight or distress of parents sharing posts of either appreciation of teachers or their annoyance at having to “home school” due to lack of personal engagement.
Whilst it may be difficult, the educator can navigate and adapt classroom practice online by continuing to frame a lesson, provide part instruction, and encourage student led learning and completion of a learning task during an allocated time all whilst being present, available and engaging will have remote learning success. If they can follow this by asking students to upload, take photos or show working via platforms or email, then they will also successfully be able to navigate formative assessment of students, and hopefully be able to ascertain which students may need additional support or guidance to stay connected and on track.
This of course does not consider the vast number of students that may not have the ability to engage in learning this way, nor the teachers that also may not have the skill, ability or time. It takes access to the tools of technology; a teacher’s exceptional and reflective practice to weave the skills and craft of instruction, to ensure meaningful, successful online learning. Every teacher needs to work hard to maintain the classroom connection with students and their families, with the connection going far beyond the new look classroom and extending to phone calls and emails to maintain the relationship with families.
The current pivot from face-to-face learning to lockdown learning looks like it will continue, with teaching and learning impacted by COVID. Perhaps this could be the stimulus to affect the pedological change to a practice that is inclusive of the digital delivery of education and support to equip all students and teachers with skills to access a 21st century curriculum.
There is no argument that the face of education is changing, however we are yet to establish what meaningful and engaging online learning looks like and because of this, it is difficult to measure its success. The maintaining of relationships between student and teachers is being disadvantaged and the uncomfortable reality is current models of online learning reinforce socio-economic disadvantage. They offer limited acknowledgement that if all student outcomes are to be met, then we need to ensure students, teachers and parents have the skills, ability and desire to build connections and engagement in new ways, and that they are supported in every way to do so.
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels