I woke up this morning to two tweets that got me thinking. One was a mother lamenting that her son had just prepared himself for a day of remote learning. He ate breakfast, turned on the computer and when the page loaded, he was so overwhelmed he burst into tears.

The second tweet was by a parent. She was overwhelmed by the amount of work her children were expected to do each day. She spoke to one of her child’s teachers and asked what on the page was important, what MUST her child know and the teacher not only said “all of it” but suggested even further resources she should read.

These experiences are not what we would call online, continuous, or even remote learning, but instead it’s coined by a new phrase: “emergency remote teaching”. It is simply a panicked and reactive scramble in response to the sudden COVID-19 constraints. 

There’s always a silver lining and opportunities that arise from any disruption. It’s at this point that school leadership teams across Australia are jumping for joy. It has tipped educators in at the deep end and ‘school closures’ have now achieved, in a matter of weeks, what school leaders haven’t been able to achieve in years of professional development offerings. 

So what happens next? At this stage, much of the delivery is still reactive and lacking any understanding of online pedagogies.

As the dust settles a little, school leaders in Australia are gathering to prepare for Term 2 and from someone who began teaching online and training others to teach online (at HEd level from 2004 and in K-12 from 2012) I do have a few tips to offer. It may be too early for many, as you can only do what you can do, I get it, and I don’t want to add to the stress in any way, but these are my list of simple things to keep in mind as you prepare for Term Two, or perhaps even Term 3-4 during the mid-year break:

  1. KISS methodology is No.1. Keep it simple stupid (yes, it still works). This applies to the IT Managers and school leaders choosing their mix of platforms. There should only ever be ONE entry point to learning, with only ONE username and password to remember. Build what you can for the educators ahead of time, have pages set up and templated ready to go- see why next. Control your environments. Now is not the time for teachers to be app and software shopping, this needs to remain centralised for the sake of, the security and the sanity of, the end user- the student.
  2. UI, UX and WC3 How many educators know about these, and more importantly why should they? I first came across the world wide web accessibility guidelines when building my first website for my business around 1996 so this stuff isn’t new and it’s not brain surgery. Publishing to a LMS is no different to publishing a website. There is research that determines where you should place certain items on a page (eye tracking where F & Z patterns need to be considered), what colours are appropriate (there’s a whole psychology behind our colour choices online), font sizes etc. Every page in your school should use the same font, size, colour, the same branding, the exact same place for course outlines, assessment tasks, content, teacher greeting/update/contact details etc. We all quickly grow accustomed to usage patterns online. An example of this is to always keep your links blue the standard colour for links as it has now become an intuitive call to action.
  3. Template it. Schools need to begin thinking about how to template across their LMS to ensure students don’t waste the first 5 mins just trying to locate what they need. This is a huge job which is why I want school leaders thinking about it now in preparation for the next school year. It doesn’t need to be a burden and expectation of every educator but rather an investment in a new role in schools of Instructional Designer (In my last school we did this back in 2012) and whilst they are far more common in University settings if you have a teacher with an interest in design and authentic online pedagogy perhaps it’s something they’d be interested in pursuing.
  4. Cyber Safety. School leadership needs to be very clear that now is NOT the time for teachers to be setting up random software accounts, sharing via Instagram and TikTok. Do you remember why the kids all moved off Facebook? It was as soon as the teachers moved in, that they moved out! There are also security issues around platforms that aren’t installed and set up correctly. Zoom as the most recent case in point and the mention of Zoombombing as an issue. This is only an issue for those using Zoom on personal accounts outside of a school’s infrastructure and where the person has not bothered going through the settings to ensure they are set to the strictest of policies inline with school policies and guidelines. The other issue is with teachers and even parents posting images of children. Teachers sharing photos of their web conferencing pages online without checking parental approval. One parent I saw last week posted her child on zoom, clearly talking to another student whose photo was close and clear, from her bedroom. She’d also copied in her daughters’s school Twitter handle and in the foreground was a pillow with her child’s name on it. 🤦‍♀️ So many things wrong with this picture. NEVER EVER connect with students on social media. Most school platforms these days have social media like chat areas but they are often locked down or blocked by IT managers. Now is the time to review the guidelines and open these up in your Office 365, Google Education and LMS spaces as the social connections right now become critical for us all.
  5. Communication and Relationship Building is key. Even at university level I always ensured my team of lecturers rang every student to start the term with a level of familiarity and an understanding of a student’s situation. We need to acknowledge that our students, and their parents, are all juggling busy lives and may all be working from the same room, battling connectivity issues and experiencing grief and almost all will be struggling to stay motivated. Students must never feel isolated and it’s important that if you are unable to provide timely feedback or respond to their queries (no longer than 12 hours!) or provide support 24/7 that they will seek peer support and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. The alternative is to allocate a group of staff to be student advisors or coaches during this period.
  6. Halve it! Once your curriculum content is on the page, review it and halve it! Seriously! Think of the two tweets from this morning that got me writing this article. Learning should be engaging and interactive, a mix of synchronous and asynchronous and all balanced with time for wellbeing. I’m seeing way too many posts of teachers turning up to empty classrooms and just streaming or videoing their classes, fine for them but this is a complete cop out and has to stop. I suppose it will stop naturally as they exhaust themselves and their students have long stopped watching. Back to basic design principles; videos should be no longer than 3 minutes in my mind but statistics show that the average viewing time of online videos is between 2-6 minutes and that number is getting lower all of the time! So again, KISS and CHUNK your content into learning bites.

My focus is clearly skewed to design and I’m not a K-12 curriculum expert but rather an adult educator with a passion for ensuring we are producing the best learning outcomes for all students in order to prepare them for the world they will enter post-school. I’d love to see COVID-19 being the transformational trigger that leads us to reset our focus on inputs over individual students’ outcomes, portfolios over exams, our educators as content experts, coaches and mentors rather than bureaucracy led and focussed administrators. When the learning is well designed and structured it can provide opportunities for real engagement, collaboration and participation this is what excites me.

Here are my top resources at this moment in time for those looking for broader assistance in their transformation online.

  1. A School for Tomorrow-Continuous Learning Toolkit
  2. Curated collection of resources for school closure in the time of cOVID-19
  3. The Christensen Institute
  4. Wide Open School
  5. The European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators (pg. 8 for the summary diagram)
  6. TEQSA’s Online Learning Good Practice
  7. Further tips from Dawn Marie Gilmore, Ph.D.Director of Teaching & Learning at RMIT Online

If you are a teacher looking for further career opportunities or even a final year student, this is where the opportunities lay right now and if you can upskill to add one of the following into your repertoire, I can guarantee you’ll be in demand. These are all roles that will begin to finally infiltrate into the K-12 sector as a result of COVID-19: 

Lastly, remember that you do not need to discover the new world yourself in this space. There are many specialists available that already have done this countless times before and have crossed all the pitfalls. Product offerings have matured and your staff and students no longer need to be test dummies. In a time where everyone is finding themselves in the same boat, now is the time to bring in specialists to help you navigate this transformation.

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