How resiliency is key in the current climate, including our Education system.
Even before the formal announcement, teaching staff had been brainstorming their online learning strategy and developing content. But the method of how this content is published and distributed depends on infrastructure. Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) are back in favour, and rightly so. Some schools are augmenting this with streamed teacher-led lessons being delivered using video conferencing tools such as Zoom. Other schools who had already invested in Google's education facing tools are using Hangouts. An excellent option is to use Office 365 tools, including Teams, because as a cloud-based application, the likelihood of a bandwidth bottleneck is reduced.
Student users are invited to these lessons using their existing login details, generated through Active Directory. Groups can be easily set up whether it be by year group, by class or by subject. Requiring a log in provides a safer online environment in which students and staff can interact. It also allows schools to monitor attendance which will become invaluable in the next academic year when teachers are seeking to address gaps in learning. That being said, not all content has to be hidden – removing this barrier increases up-take. Show My Homework makes tasks available without requiring a password, whilst Team Satchel's SMHW app strikes a really good balance between accessibility and offering the option of password access and the personalisation it brings.
Exponential-e is currently advising a number of MATs on how to manage their IT infrastructure over the next months – whether it be to make best use of existing tools, increase bandwidth or bring new features on board. If you need a hand configuring systems, or want a no obligation chat regarding the options, please get in touch as we want to help.
It is hard to imagine but equally quite possible, or even likely, that schools will remain closed until the end of the academic year. Year 11 and A Level students, as well as their teachers, are "gutted" that all the hard work of the previous two years will not now result in an exam. We await clarification from the Education Secretary, but it looks like student grades will be a combination of mock data, teacher assessment and some form of external moderation. It also seems likely that the conditional university places offered to date will be converted to guaranteed offers.
As we have seen, the COVID-19 crisis is incredibly fast moving. The government is understandably focused on 'flattening the curve' and ensuring resources remain available. Schools will have to wait for clarification, but questions will need addressing. Exactly who is a "key worker"? How will schools know which students are children of key workers?When will teachers get access to virus testing? How do school leaders decide which staff should be on-site teaching? How will virtual teaching work? Geoff Barton (General Secretary, Association of School and College Leaders) has called for a conference to address these, and a myriad of other questions, which I am sure will take place in due course – albeit virtually.
Whatever the costs of the virus, by the end of this crisis schools will be experts in delivering content online, which I believe will change the education landscape forever. I am not suggesting in-class lessons will become obsolete; however staff, students and parents will be well used to remote working; and this will provide new opportunities to manage homework, clubs, revision sessions and parent teacher meetings utilising remote working tools.
Exponential-e, in providing critical infrastructure to the UK, will continue working even if London becomes locked down. Although school leaders and IT managers are currently very busy rolling out phase one of their online learning programmes, this will evolve over time, and we're here to help.