Image of two young people playing an online game

What Game Are They Playing?

If you surveyed our household today, you’d find that alongside watching short-form video content, games play an important part in my two boys’ education.  There is nothing different from any other 21st-century household there!Read More

Image showing a young student learning and engaging in online classes

How To Increase Student Learning & Engagement When Learning Goes Online

Motivating and engaging learners can be challenging in any learning environment. But understanding self-determination theory will give you a structure for helping you do this. Self Determination Theory represents a broad framework for the study of human motivation. It suggests that when people are motivated to grow and change, they become self-determined.Read More

Illustration of online learning in 2021

EdTech News – January 2021

2021 has started off with homeschooling in the UK. A webinar I attended earlier this week on Lessons Learned from Covid-19, made it clear the correct term is online learning and not remote learning as there is nothing remote about it. It certainly brings us closer together in that virtual way, but it also opens up new opportunities, such as amazing guest lectures from people who would have otherwise never traveled to give a lecture. You can watch Educate’s webinar here.Read More

Image of Tara Walsh and Eduardo Morlan in this episode of taking classes online

Episode 2: Taking Classes Online

Taking Classes Online is an interview and blog series where real educators share their experiences of teaching online. This month, I had the pleasure of talking to Eduardo Mórlan from Mexico. Eduardo has been teaching online since 2014, so it was great to hear his insights about teaching languages remotely.

My interview technique is improving slightly, but it’s clear there is still a long way to go. Despite that, Eduardo has shared some really great tips and tricks that can be implemented in any online class.

Check Out Teaching Online Masterclass

If you haven’t checked out Teaching Online Masterclass (TOM) yet, I suggest you get started.

You’ll be sure to find something of interest to help you navigate the online teaching and learning space.

If you’ve got a story to share or would like to write a blog, send me an email and I’ll be in touch.

Make sure to check out the first episode of Taking Classes Online where I spoke to UK educator Dr Heather McClue about the trials and tribulations of taking her law classes online.

Animated drawing of wifi symbol, books and laptop to show different methods of teaching

The Acceleration Of Online Teaching And Learning

The whole notion of online teaching and professional development is not an old one. In fact, I was surprised to learn that its history begins way back in 1981 when the Western Behavioural Sciences Inst in La Jolla, CA, started running distance education for business executives via computer conferencing. Since then, many multinational businesses have grown within the space and traditional businesses have metamorphosised through a move to online learning. 

Kids are turning up aged 5 at school now with a digital-savvy to rival the best. Teachers have access to whiteboards, laptops, internet connections, online resources from publishers, brands, non-profits, digital content, VLEs and it all works swimmingly. Right? Well judging by what I have seen of my son’s first one year and one month of primary school, there’s still room for improvement.  

When faced with a complete lockdown and need to provide proper online teaching, the local education system, appeared to creak at the seams. Maybe it is because it doesn’t seem as though there has been a concerted effort to couple the introduction of new technology in schools, with the introduction of blended learning methodology in teacher training. This would overall raise the bar in state education and without this approach, digital learning and digital content become ancillary to the ‘analogue’ classroom experience.

My first interaction with online digital learning was around 15 years ago in the professional space when a member of my team excitedly showed me Lynda.com, now of course Linked In Learning. Lynda was the gateway to the world of online learning for me – many of the experiments and projects we were attempting to do at that time as an early digital publishing team, were beyond our combined knowledge and capability, and being on tight budgets invariably we would learn software packages or web design techniques via the easy-to-use searchable interface that Lynda provided. I didn’t look back.

Since then, there has been a massive increase in the amount of both office and classroom hardware and software being produced and sold all around the world along with all manner of different attendant courses on how to make everything work.  

In the classroom, the ubiquitous classroom whiteboard is supplemented with voting pads, laptops, iPads, and a whole host of other technology hardware and software products and services. As this has grown, the amount of video content has grown targeting teachers and giving them tips on how to use it.

This year the COVID crisis has highlighted both the need for increased interaction with online resources in any form of education for both teachers and learners.  Our own recently launched TOM – Teaching Online Masterclass is a free online professional development resource for teachers making the leap into remote teaching and learning. Teachers, who hold a crucial role within the education eco-system, are being rapidly upskilled in the methodology of teaching both in the classroom and online using a blend of different learning experiences. This is key to creating the community they create in the classroom, in the online space – a definite challenge. If they don’t, they risk being left out in the rain. Their pupils will become alienated and the process will become soggy and tired.

We have learned from my son’s school that at the flick of a switch, his year one teacher can take the classroom experience and re-create it online with individual 1:1 teacher Zoom time factored in for each and every child online too.  We now have a timetable for home-learning should the school be closed, and if it’s needed will give him 1:1 teacher Zoom time every two days – something which in its own right is no mean feat. 

Teaching and learning are going through an enforced change right now.  With little or no notice, thousands of schools up and down the country are having to adapt and change to home-schooling supported by the teacher online.  Whilst the last lockdown was pretty much a write-off educationally from the perspective of every fellow parent that I’ve spoken to, there seems to have been a huge technology uptick in our local school since. Systems have been geared up to make sure that everything can be run as if it were in the school, and a questionnaire sent before the term even started has made sure that every child has access to the technology needed in a home-schooling environment, if just via a smartphone.  

We are hoping that school stays open, but if not, then this time round, teachers and their pupils have better support.  Let us hope it will be a more fun and educational time.

Animated drawing of desktop showing books and illustrating classes online

Taking European Studies and Modern Foreign Languages Online

In her first blog for Makematic, Dublin based, European Studies and Modern Foreign Languages Teacher, Victoria Malcolm talks about how she successfully took her classes online.

March 12th, 2020 – We are sent home from school with hardly enough time to think about which books we might need for a period of lockdown. After all, none of us have done this before. Teach all their classes from home. Whilst simultaneously running primary school classes for our kids, queuing everywhere for everything, learning how to keep a safe distance and minding ourselves and others in this “new normal”. 

In the weeks running up to the lockdown in my school, a huge amount of work had gone on in the background to help us make the move to online learning. We had chosen Google Classroom as our means of communication and collaboration, as many colleagues were already using this. That said, having a class set up on Google Classroom and being relatively confident using it did not in any way prepare me for the demands of online teaching. In the space of a week, we went from never having heard of Zoom to black belt proficiency as we struggled to work out how we could best provide some sort of continuity of learning for our students. Add to this the ever-increasing saga that was Calculated Grades and the worry that kept you awake at night wondering had you done everything you could to make sure that your 6th Form students received a fair, reflective grade.

Five Months Later …

Fast forward to August 2020 and we are once again consumed by thoughts of school. Are those same classrooms that we longed for in the dark days of April really safe for us to go back to? How will lockdown have affected our colleagues and our students? Will we have everyone back at school? What happens if there is an outbreak of the virus in our school? It is this last question that causes me to look back at my experience of online learning and ask myself what worked, remember – with blushing cheeks – what didn’t and think about how to incorporate this into a plan of action for the new term where online learning may, once again, play a key role in our classrooms.

Zoom Actually Works

What worked? Zoom, surprisingly. Thankfully, all the internet horror stories of suddenly finding yourself in Johnny’s bedroom, watching him eat breakfast in bed at 11am and go through his German homework at the same time weren’t borne out – in my classes at least. An online code of behaviour is, however, non-negotiable

Set basic rules of engagement for your students: 

  • Behave as you would in class, 
  • Dress appropriately, 
  • Have all the class materials you need for the lesson, 
  • Be patient and respect others. 

Webcam On or Off?

Decide from the outset whether you want cameras on or off, your own included – 

often a quick check-in at the start of the class and a quick round-up at the end is enough with cameras on but it depends on the activity. 

Here are some ways I navigated this:

  • For my Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) classes, we were building towards an online oral exam as part of the end of year assessment, so being able to see one another was important. 
  • If I was working on a grammar point, however, the cameras would be off. No need for us to see the pain etched on one another’s faces. 

Private Chats and Breakout Rooms

But it’s not just the webcam, it’s the private chat function and the breakout rooms that were a game changer and is something I would love to be able to do in my real-life classroom! Here’s how:

  • At the start of class, I use the private chat function on Zoom to check-in privately on individual students. I found that a number of students who are normally very quiet in class really embraced the chat function as they felt they were able to ask questions without fear of intimidation from students who work at a faster pace. 
  • At the start of online teaching, I was overwhelmed by the intensity of the 30-minute class online. It was very demanding. However, giving students a task and putting them in breakout rooms to work on something for a timed period allowed me space to breathe and also to think about how the remainder of the class would progress once we were back together as a group. I made sure to drop in on each breakout group at least once to make sure that they were on task – they always were and I think they enjoyed the break from me as much as I did from them! I always chose the random allocation function for the breakout room, as that way, students who might not ordinarily work together in class, got the chance to do so.

Google Classroom

Google Classroom worked well, especially since not all students were able to attend live online classes or simply found them overwhelming. Here are some things I would recommend:

  • It is important to give clear, concise instructions. Don’t write essays. 
  • I got into the habit of writing a quick summary of what we had covered in class that day plus noting any work I had assigned for homework. 
  • Following feedback from my classes, I tried to put up a scheme of work for the week, including any homework exercises, on a Monday morning. That way, if anyone missed a class, the work was there for them. It also had the advantage of keeping me on top of everything and it is a written record of what we covered, including any notes posted, for when the new school year starts. 
  • In the beginning, I was frustrated when students were uploading handwritten work and I was trying to encourage them to type it. Then you realise just how much longer an assignment takes when you are doing it online. Very few of them are graduates of the Mavis Beacon School of Typing and so found that typing assignments made the whole process even longer. You can annotate a photograph of a handwritten page easily in Google Classroom so don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • As an aside, I believe that Microsoft OneNote was the absolute bomb for those schools using Microsoft Teams as their online forum. You can do all sorts of lovely things like recording verbal feedback for pieces of work, which cuts down on your workload considerably. That said, it is possible to upload audio files to Google Classroom so if you want to record yourself explaining the complexities of German word order and send it on to your students, you can! 

Keep It Simple

Overall, I kept it to these two main tools – Google Classroom and Zoom. I dipped into Quizlet once or twice for new vocab but found making new quizzes time-consuming to be honest. Colleagues had good success with pre-recorded material – voicing over PowerPoint presentations, showing worked examples via Screencastify – but I found that Google Classroom and Zoom suited my MFL classroom and, importantly, what I was comfortable and confident using.

Check This Out

Finally, I found a great visual from Online Teaching @ KIS; Do This, Not That by Alison Yang with some very simple, but very important advice...

the online classroom is not the same as the real life classroom and you cannot simply transfer your teaching from one to the other


Top Tips

  • Don’t take on too much – whether this is using new technology or taking up work to correct and, most importantly, give yourself some time off. 
  • Be available during the school day but don’t answer emails from students or parents outside of office hours unless you wish to. 
  • Don’t beat yourself up if your lesson doesn’t go as planned. Learn to laugh at yourself. Your students will find the whole experience much easier if there is not an air of palpable tension in each lesson. 

And finally, use the first few weeks back at school to show your students how to use the technology you would plan to use if we need to go back to working from home. Second time around has to be easier, right?

Image of blog author Victoria Malcolm along with her bio description
Man watching video about Allstate

EdTech News – July

In the Northern hemisphere the Summer holidays are upon us, although with travel somewhat restricted and summer camps and other activities closed, it may not feel that different from the previous months of ‘homeschooling’. It looks like in many countries schools will open again in September as close to how they opened for the new school year in 2019, we’re all too aware that education and how we learn is going through a big change at the moment. 

This article argues that now more than ever is the right time to make changes to the education system, especially when it comes to exams and inspections.

AI is one of those terms that’s being used in every sector at the moment and some say it’s just a marketing term. This article looks at how AI could have supported learning during the Corona crisis and whether these systems actually improve learning. It also touches on how AI could help those being on the wrong side of the digital divide. 

Finally, an article that’s from May, but I still found valuable to share. How can educators increase engagement during remote learning with students as well as parents? At Makematic, we’ve been working hard with some of our partners and experts on a Teaching Online Masterclass. It will be technology agnostic and will give educators all the insights they need to know about teaching and engaging with students via a computer screen. We can’t wait to share it with you as we know it will be such a useful practical resource for everyone. 

Skillsumo careers videos

Making Adjustments During Remote Learning

This is the first article in our series of educator insights. In this first article, Leader of Learning Support, Kate Macpherson talks about how she’s making adjustments to support learners with language and learning disabilities.

I have taught remotely for just over four weeks now and it has been a steep learning curve! At Emmanuel College, we have had to shift our curriculum to the online and remote format with very little time to prepare. We teachers have worked harder than we ever have – and I didn’t think I could work harder than I was!

Teachers are doing their best to teach their curriculum in a remote learning environment, whilst also ensuring we continue to meet our assessment deadlines. At the same time, we need to remember that there is a human that is behind the curriculum and the computer screen. Especially those who have learning challenges and additional learning needs.

The World Has Changed A Lot

In pre-pandemic teaching, students with learning challenges and additional learning needs relied on their peers, as well as the physical classroom, to help them through their lessons. They were able to watch and observe what others were doing, to know they are on the right track, and they had the ability to seek advice from peers. They were used to looking at their teachers non-verbal cues for guidance and reassurance. Teachers could do the same. In the remote learning sphere, all these support networks are no longer possible. Our students are now sitting behind a computer screen, possibly without an adult to support them. They are largely left to complete their assigned learning alone; it’s hard for them to see what their peers are doing, they can’t easily ask their friend what the instruction was, and no longer have teacher notes on a whiteboard to remember how to do a task. They are now largely relying on what the computer screen is telling them to do. And they are struggling with this.

Teachers do not always know what is happening in the homes of their students and cannot understand fully everything that impacts their learning. We can’t see if there is an emotional toll on the student as a result of fear and anxiety related to family stressors caused by this world in which we now find ourselves. We always need to remember that behind our curriculum and computer, a human being sits there needing us to remember that they are there and, if need be, to help them.

Teachers Are Key

This is where the role of us teachers is even more paramount. We need to remember that this new learning environment is more likely harder than the one at school, and that the usual school supports are no longer in the form they once were. That’s why as teachers we need to be making adjustments for our students with disabilities more than ever before. We need to do this with greater emphasis, so that they are able to engage with learning and that they are not disadvantaged as a result of their disability. 

Below I’ve created three lists to help you make adjustments to your classes and help your students with disabilities.

10 Adjustments to make to help Students with Disabilities
  1. Reduce workload expectations. Learning is hard at the best of times, but learning is even harder now. Give these humans half of what you would expect the rest of the class to do. In acknowledgement that work takes longer for them. To avoid unnecessary overload. In a deliberate effort to keep them engaged in the class and their learning. In acknowledgement that work is harder for them now.
  2. Break work down into smaller, manageable chunks.
  3. When asking the class to watch and respond to a video – set target watching times on the video with questions directly related to that section of viewing.
  4. Make sure communication to your students is deliberate and considered.
  5. Only send emails that are in bullet point format. Use numbers to provide sequence to your instructions  
  6. Be very direct, explicit and succinct in your emails – too many words become overwhelming and are unnecessary.
  7. Limit the number of platforms you are asking your students to access that lesson. The fewer platforms the better.
  8. Provide links, where possible, in your written instructions for ease of access
  9. Try to establish patterns and routines – don’t make every lesson different. These students need familiarity and consistency.
  10. PRAISE, PRAISE, PRAISE – give them as much positive feedback as you can. Most importantly, praise them for their efforts and for their attendance. They need your reassurance and support now more than ever. They can’t see your smile in class but they can still receive your praise in the online world. Emoji’s make this fun ?
7 Adjustments to make when holding ‘Live Sessions’

I have become a big fan of Zoom and use this each time I have my class. However, I know there are other video meeting platforms that teachers are using, so please adapt my references to Zoom to your platform.

  1. Record the live sessions with students so that students can watch it at a later time and at their own pace. This supports a range of students from those who have hearing impairments, to those who process slowly and need learning repeated.
  2. Hold personalised tutorial sessions in the breakout rooms in Zoom, or have deliberate Zoom workshops with specific students: To further explain a concept, to demonstrate how to do something, to provide small group or 1:1 support and guidance, to encourage workshop participation.
  3. Ensure a Learning Support Officer, when in your lesson, is placed in a breakout room to provide targeted support 
  4. Have students share their screen with you to show you how they are progressing with their work. I have found this so helpful. Being able to see what the student is trying to do on their computer helps me better respond to their needs.
  5. Deliberately group students in break out rooms for collaborative tasks. Make sure you are very deliberate and considered in who you are asking these students to work with.
  6. Avoid asking students to take notes in these sessions. Instead, provide them with a summary or a copy of the presentation – preferably before the session. In acknowledgement of their reading or writing disability. In acknowledgement that copying takes longer and is harder and the mental effort is better used with the actual class activity. In acknowledgement that note-taking is a skill that may be challenging
  7. Ask your students which form of communication they are most comfortable with so you can communicate with them in that way.
6 Adjustments that support Cognitive Deficits
  1. Design activities that make specific use of the accessibility tools in the Microsoft suite such as Immersive Reader. The ‘read aloud’ function and the ‘dictate’ function are particularly useful, as is the line focus. Other platforms have similar accessibility functions.
  2. Give the student an alternative activity to the rest of the class.
  3. Modify the class activity
  4. Ask your student to complete only specific sections of work – better yet, give them exactly what you want them to complete so they don’t know they are only doing a certain section.
  5. When you have a Learning Support Officer (LSO) in your class, design and plan your lesson with them in mind. Be targeted and specific with your use of the LSO.
  6. SLOW DOWN everything for these students – including your expectations of them.

Most of all, be kind to yourself. As a teacher, you are doing an amazing job at teaching remotely and you can’t be expected to replicate what you do in the classroom in the online world. But you can still remember the human behind your computer screen.

Animated drawing of an individual thinking about different activities

EdTech News – May

This is already my third blog on EdTech News in times of Covid-19 and it certainly won’t be the last. We’re all trying to adapt to this new way of learning at home, in socially distanced classrooms, online using apps and video conferencing tools or perhaps it’s a blend of different options. It’s definitely a learning curve for all of us. 

This first EdTech News article says that now is the time to gather crucial information and data so that we can really test whether this giant EdTech experiment works and uncover what is needed for the future.

It’s not the only article I found this month that refers to this period as an experiment. In this article, you can read which edtech apps have been downloaded the most and how this could change education forever. 

One of the main concerns for children especially is Social Emotional Learning is how do we ensure that no one feels left out and alone. 

And also, how as a teacher you can engage students through online learning. A Finnish education expert shares some useful tips.

The lockdown is slowly starting to ease in some countries and schools are starting to re-open for primary school students at least. It will be interesting to read what the experts have to say on this next phase. 

Stay safe and healthy.

What Do We Need To Make Online Learning Work?

TLDR; internet access, more and better content and investment in teacher professional development

It seems logical that online education might help widen access to high-quality learning. And right now – as perhaps as many as a billion young people take part in an unplanned global experiment in online learning – that logic is being put to the test.

The results of a recent trial, published last week in Science Advances, seems to back up that simple logic.

But it also raises questions about what’s required to make that logic stick.

STEM Learning in Russia

Across a randomised control trial of 325 participants in multiple sites in Russia, the study concluded that there was little difference in learning outcomes between in-person, blended and online-only instruction.

A multisite randomized controlled trial tested this model with fully online and blended instruction modalities in Russia’s online education platform. We find that online and blended instruction produce similar student learning outcomes as traditional in-person instruction at substantially lower costs.

Igor Chirikov et al,
Science Advances, 08 Apr 2020

All very promising. But the study made use of a nationwide platform (OpenEdu) that connects Russian Higher Education (HE) students to online resources from top tier universities.

That’s fine for the study, but as the current crisis has made clear, most educators can’t rely on an equivalent solution.

So there are key questions that we need to unpack if we want to apply its findings more widely. First, can everyone take part? Second, do we have the underlying content – and can the right people find it? And finally, do we have the skills to teach online?

Let’s start with access.

Have We Fixed the Digital Divide?

The Russian STEM study assumes that all participants have internet access. A fair assumption for this study.

But just last year estimates based on US Census data suggested that up to 3 million American students (17% of the total) did not have access to the internet at home (excluding cell phone access).

Even in somewhere as well connected as Berkeley, California the rapid transition to online learning caused by Covid-19 has highlighted big issues. A public school superintendent was quoted in Wired magazine estimating that: “about 5 per cent of the district’s students lack reliable internet access at home, and about 30 per cent need devices suitable for online learning”.

And it’s obviously not just a US problem. In 2017, only around 1/3 of Indian’s could access the internet, mostly via their phones. Only 30% of those who could access it were women or girls.

If even a tiny percentage of students can’t take part then we still have work to do. In reality, that percentage isn’t tiny.

Do We Have Enough Quality Content? And Can It Be Found?

In the study, students were randomly assigned to take part in in-person tuition, blended learning or online only course content using the state-sponsored OpenEdu platform. The OpenEdu platform allows students at any higher education institution to access course content provided by some of the country’s top universities.

In many ways OpenEdu is a neatly simple solution. The entirety of the required course content (for the study) is represented. It exists in a single destination. And the content has been produced by the universities themselves.

Most education systems – particularly outside HE/FE – don’t have quite such a straightforward solution to draw on.

There’s certainly a lot of content that has been made available online recently. And, of course, we have a wide variety of platforms like Khan Academy, Udemy, Coursera, Share My Lesson, TPT, Youtube and many others.

So there is no shortage of places to find learning content.

However, the sudden rush of government webpages, list posts and Facebook groups suggest that discoverability, quality control and specificity are big issues.

Of course, not every PDF lesson plan or scanned worksheet translates to a quality online learning experience. Indeed, some subjects may be more difficult to teach and learn, online.

So do we have enough suitable and effective online resources available to meet the need?

And not just for HE students but for every grade from PK-12, and Adult learners, and in multiple languages, and addressing all the various subject areas at each of a myriad of local, state, national and international standards – all of which would need to be updated constantly.

Spoiler alert – the answer is ‘no’.

Do We Know How to Teach Online?

Interestingly the study’s authors found that; “the online course instructors from one of the country’s top engineering schools had better educational backgrounds, more research publications, and more years of teaching experience than the in-person instructors”.

In principle, this reinforces a key argument for online learning – access to the best teaching.

But for this to be a factor we have to assume that the relative expertise/experience of instructors translates into great online learning content. There are lots of reasons that this might not be the case.

Teaching online effectively goes well beyond being able to upload a recorded lecture, work Zoom or upload homework to the school’s LMS.

In a recent article in the Atlantic, veteran teacher Renee Moore puts it superbly:

… many of the teachers don’t have the skills to teach online. They all had technical training, like how to work the buttons and set up the system. But they haven’t had the pedagogical training: How do you teach your subject, like writing and reading, online? That to me is the greater concern and the biggest need right now. Teachers will have to learn on the fly how to teach online, and there will be even greater discrepancy in the quality of instruction for students.

THE ATLANTIC, APRIL 2020

What Should We Do?

I have four suggestions;

First, we need to keep working towards suitable internet access (and hardware) for all students. Easier said than done, but the case has been made more obvious than ever.

Second, we need to invest in the quality and suitability – and simple volume – of online resources. This will require the collective efforts of academic publishers, commercial organisations, non-profits and the education system itself. It will almost certainly include both paid and freely available (OER) resources. It will also require continued research into what actually works online.

Third, we need to build the pipes that help connect educators with those resources. The right solution won’t seek to replace the tools, platforms and repositories teachers already use but rather build interoperability between them. A highly fragmented market is an impediment to investment. If they can more easily reach educators and students, learning content creators (like us) will invest more.

Finally, we need to invest now in teacher training. Neatly, online learning might form part of the solution.

The current pandemic has made online learning very real, very quickly. And while we have myriad technical solutions to help, we have a lot of work left to do addressing the digital divide, ensuring the availability of appropriate digital resources and supporting teachers as they adopt new ways of teaching.

Now’s the time for us all to invest in making it work.

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