With almost a million students returning to remote education, we have an opportunity to humanise the technology we use and elevate the way we learn.
With 700,000 students across Melbourne having returned to remote learning, we have an entire community doing what they can to adapt to these unusual and uncertain circumstances. The thing that will make adoption easier is if the technology we’re using was more humanised.
Though there were plenty of indicators that significant, extreme measures may be on the horizon, the first lockdown’s actual implementation left many businesses, all schools and our state and federal leaders scrambling. We had to strike a balance between protective measures and minimising disruption.
It was widely accepted at the time, as those in charge were doing the best with what they had, in unusual, never experienced before, circumstances. The second lockdown in Melbourne is different. Parents and educators alike knew there could be a ‘second wave’ and closures that came with it, but as families across Melbourne are now facing another six weeks of remote learning, the question bears repeating: are we doing this the best we can?
Challenges are everywhere
The adjustment process for teachers and students to take on remote learning; doing schoolwork from home with less interaction between teacher and student is a process that requires some time to which everyone needs to become adjusted. Not everyone is comfortable with the situation, and not every family has either the hardware, facilities or the connectivity to excel as they would hope.
Victoria’s Deputy Premier James Merlino has rolled out 48,000 devices and 26,000 dongles to students, with another 1000 devices and 2,500 dongles for the second Victoria lockdown. It’s a good start, but the fact is that it’s not enough.
It’s great to see more computers and dongles being handed out, as it sets the right foundation. But as the past decade of business transformations has shown us, ‘human’ support processes are critical for any new technology roll-out. We have to humanise technology. Teachers need to be empowered to know how to use it, as well as how to adapt their classroom learning needs to support and enable education. Without it, they’re in as new an environment as their students, learning as they go. It’s two steps forward, one step back.
Cases back up the argument
One particular Victorian primary school teacher explained how challenging the current situation has been.
“It doesn’t work,” he said. “There are more ‘traditional’ teachers who have no clue how to put a lesson plan online and have been asking me to put their lessons up for them,” he said.
Given the average age of school teachers (which per the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) is 43, with an average 16 years’ experience for them), this suggests something of a worrying trend.
We are not alone in citing a lack of preparedness, support and training for teachers. Samantha Holt, a Learning Specialist in Science at Melbourne’s Epping Secondary College, told me how crucial it was that teachers have access to professional development that targets technology-based skills and knowledge.
“During remote learning, teachers were thrust into heavy reliance on technology, whether they were ready or not,” she said. “And while many had the opportunity to upskill during this time through online professional development such as webinars or resource help features, this was not the case for all teachers.”
This is a notion to which director of Digital Learning at Haileybury in Victoria, Lauren Sayer, agrees. To her, educational technology is a wonderful area, but without professional learning, it has the risk to become a white elephant.
“Staff, students and parents all benefit when there is the perfect match of training, support and technology,” she says. “We would not give anyone a power tool without basic training and the same should go for technology. Professional learning enables us to get the most out of what technology can bring to student learning and the classroom.”
Technology, but the user-friendly variety
A recent study, the largest of its kind, conducted in Australia by Pivot Professional Learning, in partnership with EP, uncovered some astounding results which reflect what we are hearing from teachers.
It found that after having a high-quality technology platform for distance teaching, the next – most critical – needs were those which provided support for teachers.
“As we have seen from the research, teachers’ needs go well beyond simply having access to technology devices or platforms,” said Amanda Bickerstaff, CEO at Pivot.
“Teachers want to know how to best use platforms to meet the needs of their students. And while platforms like Education Perfect and others are a great base, teachers need leadership and peer support to be able to use them effectively,” she added.
Given all this, is it time we stop and ask ourselves are we expecting too much from teachers and not sufficiently supporting them? Nobody knows when, or if we will return to what we knew as ‘normal’. The ‘new normal’ is also somewhat enigmatic. Distance learning may be an inevitable, inescapable part of it, so EduTech platforms will inevitably become a key component.
To bridge the gap between the benefits of immeasurable experience from our community of teachers, and the needs these same teachers have to be guided through the learning process of adaptation to the new way of doing things, technology needs to be provided that’s user-friendly, intuitive and meets the needs of the students without putting the skills of the teachers under an unnecessary burden.
Online technology has been a saving grace for many during the current crisis, but without the proper support and humanising approach to its implementation, it is nothing more than a bunch of lights and wires in a box.
To find out more, visit www.epforlearning.com