Wodonga Middle Years College (WMYC), on the Vic/NSW border transitioned its entire student body to remote learning in response to COVID-19 restrictions, leveraging the full capabilities of its learning management system to get it done.
The initiative has left the school in a good place, as the virus reared its head again this month WMYC has found itself well positioned to flip back to a remote or part remote model.
Staff and teachers had been preparing to deliver the entire learning program online through D2L’s Brightspace learning platform since mid-March when the first cases of coronavirus forced schools into lockdown.
WMYC is a one-to-one iPad school and all its teaching and learning material is delivered through the Brightspace LMS by D2L. During remote learning, the school also used Microsoft Teams to connect with students. WMYC had been using the Brightspace platform since 2016 to create a personalised learning environment and encourage continuous engagement among its students.
“The initial administration training on Brightspace took up four days and then the uptake by teaching staff is as good as the professional learning you provide them. Every school has early adopters and staff with advanced technology skill sets so it's important to identify these staff early, then provide the necessary professional learning in the areas that you want to develop. From there it's about maintaining a clear direction on where you want to be and putting in appropriate milestones to ensure the targets are being met,” Steve Fouracre, Assistant Principal at WMYC said.
Despite the head start, shifting the entire student cohort to remote learning in response to a crisis was challenging.
“We were forced into a situation where we had to enable 900 students to learn remotely, it was unprecedented and we relied heavily on our LMS to make the transition,” he said. “It’s the first time in more than 150 years education has been delivered differently in Australia.”
WMYC saw up to 2000 log ins to the Brightspace platform per day from a student body of 900, showing students were revisiting course content after classes had finished.
“The numbers were amazing to see because it shows that despite being completely remote and independent, the students were actively engaged in their own learning. It’s made a lot of us teachers reconsider our own thinking around how to build courses and use the learning platform to give students more agency over their own learning,” Fouracre said.
The school has structured teaching so it suits remote delivery but can pivot to a face-to-face model.
“The transition back to face-to-face teaching was very smooth for us. During remote learning, we had a strong focus on maintaining our connection and sense of community that we worked hard to establish with our students. Our teachers were in regular contact with their students and providing them with timely feedback on their work submissions. The constant communication ensures that our students still had the access to content through Brightspace and the support of their teachers.
“Our lesson structure is set out consistently across Learning Areas that include an Essential Question, Learning Intention and Success Criteria. After the necessary explicit teaching, the students then have the required tasks to complete and can work through with the support of their peers and teachers. The task will range from writing, inquiry, collaboration and reading that utilise many of the learning tools within Brightspace,” says Fouracre.
“Initially, a lot of our teachers thought students may go backwards during this period as it was so disruptive,” he said. “But looking back at the assessment data, it’s clear our kids weren’t disadvantaged despite not being in the classroom. Numeracy and literacy were our highest priorities and all our students across all our year levels moved forward in their learning during this time.
“Students now have the ability to access the content outside of the traditional learning times and environment. The learning is very transparent and students can take ownership of the quality and depth of tasks completed. Depending on the nature of the task, students can access very prompt feedback from their teachers from work submissions.
“Teachers appreciate the fact all of the planning and refining of content is done collaboratively across all our Learning Areas. For assessment and feedback, our teachers have a consistent platform within the DropBox tool to mark consistent rubrics and then follow our feedback model,” he says.
WMYC used the platform’s Release Conditions heavily for English classes to individualise the lessons. “With remote learning, we didn’t want teachers pushing out lessons if the students weren’t ready. Release Conditions added an element of gamification to the experience where learners need to reach a certain level before they unlock the next part of the class,” Fouracre said.
The Brightspace platform’s ability to build courses including video, audio, image and text meant teachers could experiment with multiple types of content to see what kept students’ attention.
“All our teachers were doing things they’ve never done before, filming videos and voice recordings and sending them out to the students for feedback on what type of content worked best. It’s made students see teachers in a new light – they saw teachers reaching out, connecting with them, and as people who really care about them,” Fouracre said.
There were several factors that contributed to the success during the enforced remote learning period.
“We had a really strong focus on feedback and feedforward models so our students had very clear expectations of what the assessment would be. As Brightspace integrated with DropBox, students could submit their work daily and our teachers would provide written feedback – regardless of whether you’re a child or adult, if your work isn’t acknowledged there’s no motivation to keep going, so for us feedback was critical,” he said.
WMYC set up forums where students and teachers could discuss course content using the Discussions tool in the LMS.
“We wanted our students to build a sense of community online so we used the Discussions tool a lot through our courses. We didn’t just want to continually push out content, we wanted learners to feel connected – both with each other, and the teachers,” Fouracre said.
Photo Julia M Cameron – Pexels