Will students move out of lock-down to return to locked-down school culture?

This week, I was in a web conference listening to the speaker talk about the educational Covid-curve. I wondered just how much external non teachers could have possibly learning in six weeks to come up with that, but apparently it’s a thing. This then led to discussions about practice, or rather to apparent jump to hyperspace some teachers (who presumably did not use the Internet) – and the ‘new tools’ in play.

Obviously e-learning isn’t new or the preserve of an elite band of technocrats. I have zero interest in people who claim they have been too busy in the last decade to engage with it – even though they are on social media, use online banking etc.,

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I’m sure this has been a conversation many classroom teachers have had this week – the pro’s and con’s of hyper-leap to online. Sure we’ve all been using Google Classrooms, VCs and other bits of software more – and that is harder and more time consuming – but trying to work out if it’s better or worse denies the fact it has been different and necessary.

We cannot begin from the premise of some universal expertise on non-digital learning or e-learning. We can’t honestly say that every child was engaged in school, or that every child even wanted a conversation with their teacher or peers.

The one thing I’ve learned over decades of being in e-learning is that FEEDBACK and CONNECTEDNESS is the killer-app. If you set a single thing online as a task and didn’t give kids feedback to clarify and improve – just close the door behind you. You know if you did this well because you will have had an exponential increase in learning conversations with students though whatever application you are using.

Imagine keeping that going and having IRL conversations. What could be more important – and more disruptive to ‘school culture’. If you’ve experienced that, then you’re part of the cyber future, where all the rules of ‘school’ can be questioned.

The next question people seem to have is the degree to which anyone needs to practice anything order to become an expert  – ground well covered a decade ago by Gladwell and Godin.

The upshot seems to be that teachers are being encouraged to ‘practice’ this as though it’s a new hyper-life and bring bits of into the ‘normal’ classroom. If you’ve had some wins of late – it’s because you have created hyper-feedback loops and not sat about moaning about the lack of physical classroom interaction – which as optimal for everyone.

I’ve also noticed that those students attending school in the last two weeks were largely governed by bells and room allocations and not on what they needed to de-code and clarify from their teachers in order to improve their work at home.

To cement the divide between physical and hyper,  it has been decided that schools now  ‘ban’ on online teaching and only deal with IRL classroom.  This means that any learning kids have done (massive new cognitive load) to be more independent, develop digital workflows will come to an abrupt holt – and if kids are not at school, its game over.

Normal means modernist, industrial age normal and the political agenda of what school is reverts to it’s old shape – and issues. The first signal of this will be the banning of YouTube and a return to people moaning that ‘kids spend too much time online’ and ‘banning phones’. This brief moment where digital proved itself more than worthy, will once again be resigned to the same old debates.

As children move out of lock-down, they are going to be returned to lock-down.

I transitioned to a blended learning approach years ago and there is nothing wrong with mixing the old and the new. What is important for me is shift in the physical space. I’ve ditched the computer room and booked the soft-space with lounges, because I’m more interested in putting in the cyberculture of ‘home learning’ than returning to the computer room. I think changing physical space is as important to the return to schools as Zoom was to leaving it. While people are wondering if there will be any future changes; this seems the wrong question – there is no doubt there will be future cultures, once which emerge from catastrophic events.

I don’t for a moment think the ‘return’ to normal will be made more real by ignoring realty. This might be what the government wants, but it isn’t what students need. The crisis isn’t over – so why not try an meet them in the middle.

Clarifying and Probing the Covid-Classroom

This post is about making the most of the one day a week with students. Given we’re not teaching ‘normally’ I see this as an opportunity to ask questions in what is going to be a very short window of opportunity. I know some teachers have moaned this is “baby-sitting’ etc., but I think that might be because of the ‘return to normal’ nonsense the media is pushing. So here’s what I’ve been doing this week and why.

Politicians make daily comments about the return to normal and the easing of restrictions. School is often used to signify safety and order, despite some schools working under the direction that recess and lunch doesn’t require distancing under ‘the advice’ along with classrooms. Most schools, I would assume are working this week and next on a 25% population, one year group at a time. It’s important to note that these guidelines are demanding any distancing, despite politicians insisting that there is an increase level of risk which requires citizens to be more aware of distancing than ever.

There’s little point is resisting this reality if you work in schools. What is obvious is that many students are not travelling to and from school on public transport. Many are being picked up and dropped off as parents attempt to reduce risk. Some students seem completely at ease with spending time with their friends, debating the usual important teen topics. Other groups are anxious and critically aware of the risks to themselves and their family – but this is not a topic classroom teachers are advised to address in classrooms.

The week has been interesting. Students appear to have spent most of it engaging in social groups; working on online activities, supervised by a roster of teachers. Aside from senior subjects, student have largely been left to choose what they want to do – but not where they are going to do it. I would think for many schools and teachers, this arrangement is quite a novel experience.

For me, this has been a opportunity to get some feedback on the ‘online’ I’ve been doing and to respectfully attempt to visualise the spectrum of methods and expectations they have experienced over the 2-3 weeks that ‘online’ has disrupted over a century of ‘how school is done’.

I didn’t see it as time to chase down the odd student who didn’t hand things in, but to try and find some patterns in what students were doing each day. Just observing what is happening in the room when the normal rules are disengaged. From that I’ve been trying to find a new balance for the forced return of everyone. I have absolutely no intention to discontinue the drum beat and patterns of what I’ve been doing for the last month or so, because it is WORKING. Right now, most students are not acting in their previous ‘student-mode’ or wearing their usual ‘masks’ around me. I’m not sure if that’s true in other classes or for other teachers … but I’ve found it quite refreshing to see them hang-out, set their own pace etc.,

There has been NO decline in learning or the quality of work. Many students have reported less ‘distractions’ and that social engagement (digital based) which is normally ‘banned’ at school – has flowed into their day via FaceTime etc., and they have stayed connected with friends. I’m also aware, some students with school-connections have been disconnected by ‘digital’ – often as parents believe that they need to put the phone away and keep away from friend-networks when ‘doing school work’.

I don’t think we’ve furthered the idea of students being a ‘community of practice’ just yet – and I don’t see politicians or educational leaders interested  in the idea. Students, as usual, have not been asked what they think. It’s mostly been about counting heads and checking up on students who have not ‘done the work’.

For me, the two weeks has been about finding out what works and didn’t – clarifying and probing … it’s easy when talking to students and online, I’ve been using FlipGrid because its so easy and slides into Classrooms and Teams. It’s a great opportunity to ask questions in order to see new patterns – which might be good or bad.

  • Is this what you said…?
  • What resources were used for the project?
  • Did I hear you say…?
  • Did I understand you when you said…?
  • What criteria did you use to…?
  • What’s another way you might…?
  • Did I hear you correctly when you said…?
  • Did I paraphrase what you said correctly?

and …

  1. Why do you think this is the case?
  2. What do you think would happen if…?
  3. What sort of impact do you think…?
  4. How did you decide…?
  5. How did you determine…?
  6. How did you conclude…?
  7. What is the connection between… and…?
  8. What if the opposite were true? Then what?

All of this is provocative and I’ve not seen all students because of the rooming and roster in place – however, I have talked to enough to get a good idea of what works – and what I will keep doing … not that I’ve ever been one for teacher-up-front type teaching anyway … but to me it’s been a good opportunity to understand more about how they learn, what they like and hate etc., that otherwise would be hidden behind the ‘student-mask’ and the un-changing modality of the school day.

The battle for time online

Australia’s media reports about the relative success and failure of what it describes incorrectly as ‘home schooling’. This almost always focuses on parental opinions. As news media is propelled by advertising revenue, it is unsurprising they amplify messages of a ‘return to normal’.

The corona virus pandemic has resulted in rapid, unprecedented changes in consumer behaviours and their preferences across Australia. Consumers are spending vastly more time online and watching TV. Brands are focused on showing images of how they are supporting customers and staff and messages intended to make people feel happy through funny and positive content that distracts them from what’s going on.

School is a problematic story. On one hand, parents are first hand experience as ‘home school’ has disrupted family life. On the other, political messages falsely accuse teachers of refusing to return to school and do their job. It’s no great surprise that TV media avoids any in-depth debate about schooling as it fails to create the kind of content that consumers want – and therefore impacts their advertising revenue. This revenue has changed in response to the pandemic. Almost half are not in a position to spend and the rest have had to adopt the messaging that the current broken-consumer wants.

At home, parents are causing disruption to their children’s learning. Most stories orbit the difficulty parents have in ‘being teachers’. I’m yet to see a story which asks children directly for their experiences and so ignores any possibility that children can create their own agency over time. Time is the issue, for most households ‘home schooling’ has been two or perhaps three weeks.

In that time, parents have been running the agenda. In high school at least, this has created in-equity in what they spend time working on. Maths, Science and English are widely seen as ‘the most important’ subjects, regardless of the quality of what children are asked to do with their time. Other subjects are allocated the remainder of available time, and appear to involve more child-choice. In high school, I’ve heard of Maths teachers pumping out time-tabled Zoom lessons, setting worksheets and even demanding homework (yes, at home). In schools, few appear to have considered the behaviour of some teachers who are simply looting time for their at the expense of other subjects.

It may be that the news stories are adding pressure for teachers to be seen doing something – perhaps amazing, perhaps not – towards easing parent anxiety. Even if this seeing some students working several hours a day more than usual. My own experience is that students are zoom-choosy: leaving a class for one they think is more important; not showing up at all; or pretending to be engaging. Within a few weeks it soon became apparent that synchronous learning was the domain of subject parents believe are most important – and in many ways, the re-assurance of Jimmy being in a Zoom Meet with Mr Fletcher’s Maths class meets that ‘comfort news’ story.

I adopted a simple methodology. It seemed obvious to me that any notion of flipping, pivoting or porting to ‘online’ could not be approached as if society wasn’t in the grip of a pandemic which is largely experienced through online and television news – which as I have said is distorted. More worryingly, information is hidden from the audience. In part, political interference, which even the ABC seems to have not escaped and the obvious change in content and themes to prop up a decaying advertising income. If the media messages don’t meet the needs of the consumer and brands, people simply binge streaming media services.

My argument is that it is currently impossible to put forward a binary argument about good/bad education online, as it cannot be based on previous incarnations of how learners engage with online learning. It can at best be looked at in terms of time and within that, what is the most purposeful use any remaining time parents give to subjects outside of the holy trinity of maths, science and english.

At a time of heated angst, political messaging is promoting the nonsense of a COVID SAFE society. Media messages orbit terms such as ‘out-breaks’ and ‘soft-spots’ to soften the truth that the LNP is pursuing the mythical ‘herd immunity’ goal and there is less safety when teachers and students are forced into full schools, shops re-open along side cafes and restaurants.

For the next two weeks, children will return one day a week. Schools will not remove bell-times. Instead, children will sit in a room with 10-12 others and supervised by a teacher (not their subject teacher) as they complete the same online work as they did at home. These teachers are also required to support online learning. This may ease the concerns of parents as they pack their children off to Covid-Safe schools, but it creates yet another paradigm for students – and doesn’t address the current issues of some subjects dominating others. The problem here is that some schools are going to measure every teacher and every subject equally. They will ignore the discrepancies being created though parent’s belief about what subjects matter (and the ongoing issues therein).

So if you are a teacher outside the big three; perhaps it’s absolutely fine to ask for an hour a week and to simply accept that the next two weeks will not happen outside the current media-frenzy and altered news messaging.

It’s a matter for parents to determine the health risk vs the ‘learning benefit’. The PM and the media it appears to direct have two arguments: open for learning and open for business. The benefit of schools being open for either seems marginal whether private or public.

Allowing more people to meet is problematic, but for children, meeting to play is always going to be better for their welfare than to sit in a supervised room for the day. Any notion of continuing education online, pivoted, ported or whatever is already corrupted by belief and competition around time … and ultimately, whats a few weeks going to matter …

Under Pressure

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Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

The conflicted state of education is a power contest between compliance and leadership. It’s far too simplistic to see this as another home vs campus debate or a traditional vs digital skirmish. This a boss fight at the highest level between federal and state authorities in which ‘learning’ is little more than scenery. Decisions about closures and their timing and length involve a series of trade-offs between conflicting factors.

There is massive federal pressure on teachers to ‘get back to work’ which is widely distributed by government media sponsors and supporters .

Today, this manifested as the State admission it is using the federal ‘suppression’ plan and is aware and accepting of the known risk to staff and students

It’s not just a battle for online verses classroom learning but one in which federal politicians are unilaterally attempting to reshape public perceptions of schools, systems, teachers, unions. This has been framed in evocative war-time language for weeks in concert with faux admiration for ‘teachers’ while  ruthlessly demanding submission.

Over several weeks, the federal government has tested and re-tested unions, school leaders and staff on the thinnest of evidence. It has made outrageous allegations which challenge the authority of the States to run schools independently.

Only Victoria seems to have offered any lasting opposition which resulted in a the federal minister attacking the Premier in a TV interview,  largely unchallenged by the interviewer.

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The NSW state premier stated that she fully expected there to be COVID-19 cases in schools and used the term ‘suppression‘ when asked about whether schools were safe. There is a desire to see all staff on site next week and all students the week after.

Weirdly, private schools seem to be in front here – asking students to return and discontinuing online education, which is apparently a reason public education should follow suit and a large part of the message being sent to teachers – this is the way.

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com

All teachers are working hard to create an effective way for classes to come together successfully though digital channels. No ones bothered to ask what is working and what is not. The focus is on kids in the classroom as a number rather than any other factor.

The evidence for the effectiveness of school closures and other school social distancing measures comes almost entirely from influenza outbreaks, for which transmission of the virus tends to be driven by children. It is unclear whether school measures are effective in coronavirus outbreaks—for example, due to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and, most specifically, COVID-19, for which transmission dynamics appear to be different.

The Lancet

Where is the expert education advice?

It’s clear that there has been no Chief Education Officer advising Federal or State Government with evidence based educational-updates on what is happening. Instead, puff pieces about how students might fall behind are published in the media.

It’s difficult to see how school systems are able to operate both independently and in the best interests of the community. It seems the only thing that matters is to force teachers and students into confined spaces and onto public transport NEXT WEEK.

The opportunity to improve educational practices and improve collaboration between schools and bureaucrats has never been a goal,. The last few weeks has seen political acts successfully reinforce authoritarianism though ‘temporary’ arrangements and while private schools are offered billions to ‘try’ and get 50% of students back – public education simply being send back – knowing that infections will occur.

They both willingly ignore the reality that there is no vaccine and that community transmission is low because people have stayed home. Under this new landscape, the virus is not a flooded road preventing parents taking kinds to school – but that is essentially how it is being managed – with day to do dipping of the water level – death/infection numbers.

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Creating effective online work-flows requires some level of consistency. It is impossible to achieve this when politicians shift their discussions and language every few days. Despite every teachers efforts – we have seen 7 weeks of ongoing disruption which prevented anyone creating sustainable ways of working online. This doesn’t feel accidental – but intentional in order to create anxiety and uncertainty among parents.

It is parents who will ultimately decide whether schools are full. It would be nice if they were asked for consent and be informed of the significant risks.

The future is here. Please restart your classroom.

I’m about a week into ‘online’ classes officially. Working online isn’t new to me and much like riding a bike, it’s mind shift more than anything. I recent years, I’ve gone about my classrooms in my own way. I endure PD about the bleeding obvious and can’t remember the last time anyone checked what I can do already or what I might like to do.

It’s little wonder schools maintain limited skills sets,bounded by eduware policy. When a pandemic explodes in front of us, schools are no more ‘ready’ for online that the high-street was for the Internet itself. The result is a dogs-breakfast of well intentioned delivery though mega-brand agendas.

Example: Google Classrooms is not an Learning Management System. It is a storage service with apps loosely built upon Microsoft Office. It has poor workflows, it requires work arounds, it delivers zero learning analytics and a ‘stream’ scroll of death that even Backboard and Moodle can snigger at.

But this is now ‘the platform’ for kids aged K12.

The rationale is: at least we have this, what else do you want us to use?

My point is simple: it’s not an LMS and it’s not a classroom – so be critically aware of the TIME it takes for everyone to work-around its short comings. Work around solutions should not be the ‘norm’ in ‘quality education’.

I am not saying don’t use it. I suggest you use it within the time and functionality limits you and it have, especially around learning analytics. A central argument about physical vs virtual classrooms has been a lack of human experience and connection. It’s very hard to know you student if they are just an icon set to away.

If you have used Canvas, you’ll get what I mean. Canvas pivots because it was designed to. It also incorporates Google Suite along side many other third-party apps. In a time of isolation, learning analytics – even ‘who logged on today’ is essential, base line data.

Google Suite was designed to be a Microsoft Office rival. Classrooms is just a wrapper and allowed Google to compete in the educational space with a plus one offering. That is neither good or bad, it’s just not an LMS.

Canvas is the choice of many rich private schools and further highlights the gap. Canvas is simple better at online delivery, feedback analytics and integration. It gives private schools a significant advantage – and I’d argue private school staff have better laptops and sideline hardware.

No matter what you use online, it takes TWICE as long to prepare materials for online – so be aware of your contact hours.

This is a trap for the unwary. It’s easy to put in 12 hour days if you haven’t had time and help understanding how digital works. Replication is a time consuming chore – and has little to do with a ‘revolution’.

Distance learning is not neatly arranged into 50 minute slots. As this crumbled, so did all the other organisational apparatus used to mange location-based education. In fact, the whole purpose of having location-based places for children to go is in free-fall. This doesn’t mean everyone accepts this – so we’re seeing schools trying to replicate school.

For example, this week, I heard about a class where the kids signed a Google Form at the start of time-tabled lesson time. They then worked for 50 mins, handed it in and  issued homework for the next day. I assume at 3pm they also changed out of their school uniform. Not that the teacher used a VC.

This is terrible, but unlikely to be a unique experience. The vast majority of teachers do not engage with eduChitter etc., so the true picture of what is happening is about as transparent as the governments willingness to issue ‘virus modelling’ to explain themselves at the daily presser.

There is no way to tell what time students are being asked to spend ‘online’ but I suspect it’s more than the two hours recommended by the countries health experts.

Should an eager beaver decide to head online and then find that what they planned is torpedoed (policy or simple in-school power posturing), it will take 4 times longer to get back to square one. Now is not the time to rush in, just because ‘chitter-heads’ are talking about ‘a window of opportunity’ or ‘now is the time to reform’. Don’t be an idiot. The system is a) very resilient to change b) also uses events like this to double down and c) is over capacity.

Today, Morrison announced Free Childcare. What if he’d given every teacher $3k to buy the resources needed to work at home – doing a great job. The questions about working from home do not address quality: I can’t afford a fancy ergonomic chair, my house is small and I’m camping in a bedroom. I’m using extension chords and can’t have the window open as a truck driving past would drown out any VC. My provided laptop in unable to run the applications I need and with 5 people in the house, our rural internet is flat out.

So we might all have gone online: but plenty will be in a cycle of crash and restart for social, technological and economic factors. For the life of me I can’t work out why the Minister of Edumaction hasn’t already given teachers direct funding to support a necessary, but ambitious reaction to this terrible virus.

 

 

 

5 Team Tips to manage online meet-ups

Announcements

Just a few tips for the new-presenters out there.

  1. Hosts can’t end a meeting and kick students out. It’s more of a democracy, so you need to show them out and then end the meeting. Don’t leave students alone in the room for a wee chat.
  2. Allow 2-5 mins before you start your meeting for reals. Long meeting: post a slide to say what they need to have/do (Learning Intentions) and allow them time to get it. Short Meeting: Side (Today’s date, main topic) and 2 mins to chat.
  3. “This will be recorded”. Let them know when you start the recording and when you stop. Do not ‘record’ the questions at the end. This is weird. People need time to ask questions and probably don’t want that recorded. Allow time at the end. Allow more time if this is a NEW topic/concept/process. Avoid indulging participants who pay little attention in the meeting and assume they will have their special-me-time at the end. Make sure you leave ON TIME.
  4. Poke participants: Until Teams has rolled out the hand/thumbs up button to check if there’s anyone still there – use the Chat .. [?] ask them to use this if they have a question and {kk} if the understand or agree. You can also pose your question in the chat and ask for votes. I tend to encourage voice over passive button pressing.
  5. You have to SHARE your recording. Use MS Stream for this, it’s pretty good and saves time. If you don’t SHARE before getting the link – it will only be available to those who attended. For students who didn’t show up, you will need to SHARE it first – HOWEVER place a deadline on this practice – if they know they can just get it later when they feel like it – they are less likely to show up. Make sure you record the elements you feel are MEET SPECIFIC and add value to participation by giving time to additional topics or questions that pattern non-attenders won’t see.
  6. OH SHIT VOUCHERS – Things happen and we don’t need to hold an inquisition if students don’t attend or drop out. Let them know that it’s okay to have issues. Make sure you’re paying attention to on-going issues (connections/attendance) and make that an off-line conversation later. Don’t replicate roll call arrangements, because things are different now: allow every student at least ONE “oh shit voucher” no questions asked. You don’t know why – and you probably don’t need to.

Peace:

Managing #teacherlife in the pandemic

Education systems have come to the conclusion that schools are going to close. Some are really closed and others pretending they open, but have almost no students. In NSW at least, the last two weeks has been a daily roller coaster of what ‘closed/open’ means and each school seems to be managing this differently. But the PM says – we’re open and kids should go to school … blah blah.

For the last few weeks, schools have been trying to pivot online. This has been massive. It’s great to see so many teachers who are already working in a blended mode and for most, adding a Microsoft Team to their practice is going to be welcomed – and easy. Those who have managed to hide behind their paper desk-fortresses for the last decade – now have no real choice. Many seem to be getting on with it, and I’m sure some will cling on to the last swoosh and chhhuuring of the last ream of photocopier paper. I’m thinking these are probably the same ones who are still wandering around the shops … anyway … more or less, the classroom exodus is well underway.

What are you doing? Is going to be the next big management hang-up. While teachers are trusted, some are more trusted than others, despite the messages schools leaders will pump out into ‘social streams’. Any organisation that loves a ‘sign on sheet’ is feeling very dis-empowered this week – so how do you get in front?

Take control over your time. Now is great opportunity to demonstrate all the work you actually do – verses what people think you do, or will acknowledge you do. We know many teacher pump out the hours well above ‘the job’ so now is the time to record that with an application such as Toggle. Browser based project/task stop watch. Great to manage all those micro-tasks you’ll be doing already – as you flip between Google Classroom, MS Teams and everything you’re doing in between.

Set up projects:

  • PD hours applied  ANY new technology or process you’re learning
  • Your meetings with other staff via Teams or whatever
  • Administrivia – just dealing with the communications
    • Google Class messages
    • Emails …
  • Student support
    • whole classes
    • 1:1 student sessions
  • Peer support
    • Helping Karen fix her microphone (again)
    • Un-ravelling the dogs-breakfast Google Course Karen made on her own (she’s trying, so be patient)
  • Zig-Zagging (changing things you just did because someone said you need to do something else) – which is very common right now.

It will be very important to SHOW that you are working at home. Sadly, there is a longstanding culture of micro-managing teachers and not formally acknowledging the true work we all do.

But most of all – MANAGE YOUR TIME. Take breaks, listen to your body, move around … be well. I am sure many teachers will be at home – and that means providing the kind of parent-service children usually enjoy on the weekend. Your dog will be super happy to see you and invade your video-call. Just be okay with doing your best … and that TIME is all you have right now … and not to compare yourself with others online. There will be a stack of EDUMACATORS showing off … ignore them.