Transitioning to online learning in the face of COVID-19

Thomas O'Donahoo

Co-founder & Co-CEO at Atomi


min read

In this special edition episode of the Atomi Brainwaves podcast, we're joined by Atomi's resident online learning expert Su Temlett and special guest Adam Ware, a Senior Customer Success Manager from Instructure. Instructure is the team behind Canvas, one of the world's most popular K-12 learning management systems. Together Su and Adam help us unpack the incredibly dynamic situation the education community is facing in light of the coronavirus pandemic. We discuss the challenges of a rapid transition to online learning as well as tips from their experience on how to make it as smooth as possible.

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Please note, this episode was recorded on Thursday the 19th of March 2020 at 7:30am AEST. As this situation is rapidly evolving we highly recommend that you consult your local authorities for the latest information when it comes to policy and advice, particularly when it comes to health and safety.

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Hey everybody, thanks for tuning in to another episode of Atomi Brainwaves, our podcast on education for educators.

Brainwaves is produced by our wonderful team here at Atomi.

What is Atomi?

It’s an online teaching and learning platform for secondary education.  We provide engaging, curriculum-specific video and text lessons for over 190 subjects, as well as matching quizzes and exam practice that can be used for both learning and formative assessment.

We also provide powerful analytics that can help teachers diagnose how their students are progressing and zero-in on who might need a little bit of extra help.  Our goal is to help make life easier for our teachers, give them more time to work on the most important things and ultimately help to generate better outcomes.  If you want to find out more about Atomi, head over to our main site here and feel free to try it out, for free.

Today’s episode is a special edition and comes as our response to the global pandemic caused by coronavirus.  Several schools have had full or partial closures due to coronavirus scares and we’d like to help where we can.  If your school has to take drastic action, we’re extending complimentary access to our platform.  This will provide teachers with an online library of curriculum-specific Stage 6 content and assessments to minimise any disruption to student learning.  If you’d like to explore this, don’t hesitate to email us here.

In the meantime, we’ve put together this episode with the help of our Resident Teaching Expert, Su, special guest, Adam Ware of Instructure & Canvas, and Atomi Co-Founder, Tom O’Donahoo, to talk about online learning.  We discussed how teachers can overcome the challenges that school closures pose, and outline the best strategies for identifying and mastering the right technologies to make the best out of the current situation.

[Music playing]

Simon: Hey everybody, welcome to a special edition episode of Atomi Brainwaves.  I’m your host Simon.  Today I’ve got two guests in the room with me, one is our Resident Teaching Expert, former Head of English, Digital Learning Leader for Curriculum and Pedagogy and Director for Curriculum, Su, and the other is Adam Ware, Senior Customer Success Manager for Instructure Australia responsible for the implementation and adoption of Canvas, a course management system that supports online learning and teaching across K-12, Universities and further education providers.  Welcome Su, welcome Adam.

Su: Hi Simon, how you going?

Adam: Thanks Simon.

Simon: Not too bad.  Adam, I hear you are suffering from serious withdrawal symptoms as the sporting world shuts itself down.

Adam: Yeah, as an avid competitor, it hurts.  A big race that I was scheduled to run has been cancelled.  But that’ hurts a little bit, but in the scale of all things, it’s probably absolutely minuscule thing to worry about.  You just have to take a few deep breathes.

Simon: Su, are you missing the sporting world just as much?

Su: Yeah, I’m crying over it actually (laughing).  No, I’m not missing the sporting world.  I mean I’m more concerned about going to my local supermarket and not getting into a fight with people, which is the other crazy aspect at the moment.  Although I heard on the news this morning that it’s turned from toilet paper buying to office supplies and that it’s places like Officeworks where they’re selling out and products are being mass-bought there as people move to working from home.  So the world’s a little bit crazy in Australia at the moment.

Simon: Interesting.  I really thought it was going to be food that was going to be the item of choice, but there you go.  Crazy times.  So, why are we breaking from our structure and having a special edition episode of Brainwaves?  Well, for the same reason that so many people around the world are being forced to break from their ordinary routines, because we are in the midst of this global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.  Now if we were to sit here and try to list the multitude of ways that people’s livelihoods have been affected across the globe, it would take us quite a long time and it would be quite distressing I’m sure in lots of ways but we are an education podcast and our focus is on the education world.  It’s not going to be all doom and gloom for us because the aim of our discussion today is to talk about what we can do to combat the effects that this pandemic is going to have on teaching and learning with a specific focus on online learning.  So as I say, online learning is going to be the main thrust of the conversation but before we get into that, I thought it might be worthwhile spending some time just getting an update on where exactly we stand in terms of how schools have been affected by the coronavirus in Australia.  So Su we’ll start with you, where do we stand?

Su: It’s been an interesting and evolving few weeks and it sort of changes quite rapidly.  The state at the moment is that government schools are still open and employing social distancing.  So trying to...anything like gatherings at assemblies, sport events, anything interschool etc. have all been cancelled, some external providers have been cancelled, so I’ve got a little kid in Kindy and our school has stopped school banking, scripture classes have stopped, so anything where someone outside is coming in has been limited.  If there’s a confirmed case of COVID-19, then the school sort of closes for a day, be cleaning and then obviously students are isolated, but then most of the student are allowed back in.  I think the...well down I think in Victoria, a few private schools have closed already, like they’ve actually...some have started school holidays earlier, they’re a week earlier than us anyway I think in terms of the school term, so some of them have sort of gone on holiday a little bit earlier and I know that some schools in Sydney like St Andrews and Pymble Ladies College, they’ve done tests of online learnings, trialled...St Andrews sent Year 9 students home for a day and trialled online learning for a day, which seemed to be a really productive experience for both teachers and students.  So I think there’s a general sense of getting ready for what may come.

Simon: Yeah and I suppose that that question of what may come, it’s all speculation at this point which has to be recognised but Adam, just to turn to you for a sec, with so many examples from different parts around the world of what has happened...I’m in Ireland at the moment and over here all schools have shut.  As I say, it’s all speculation but I guess the question is, it’s all about being prepared for any eventuality, isn’t it?

Adam: Yeah that’s completely right.  I mean we’re seeing quite an influx of questions and queries coming in from our particular clients ranging from various markets, but a lot of them have somewhere along in their adoption, so in other words they’ve made the plan and they’re rolling this out.  It’s either accelerated their plans to obviously get the scale that they need to get it sorted, or some are going down a completely different tangent depending on resources, availability and also the digital teaching skills of staff which is something that really needs to be taken into consideration when you do something like this.

Simon: Yeah which leads us right into the main meat of our discussion which is online learning because it’s important.  As we’ve touched on many times on this podcast already, its important schools roll on with new resources but at a time like this it takes on an entirely new complexion and different level and type of importance.  So Su, I guess can you talk to us a little bit about that increased importance?  What does it look like now?  How important is online learning at the moment in response to this crisis?

Su: Yeah I think there’s a lot of schools who have an element of online learning, but blended into classroom mainly.  So mainly talking senior school here rather than obviously primary, I think that’s a whole different kettle of fish.  But looking at the senior school element, a lot of places have either an LMS such as Canvas or they’ve got say Google Classrooms or some aspect of a way of a structuring learning online, but they may not heavily use it.  It might just be something that they do as part of their blend into the classroom and use it sort of sporadically.  And I think what’s happening now is people are revisiting that and thinking okay, if we go into some sort of crisis management mode and we are looking to the future for delivering all of our content online at the moment.  What does that look like?  Are we prepared for that?  It is, as Adam said, a sort of massive upscaling of staff to do that quite quickly, but in terms of the importance of online learning, I think everyone is probably come to the forefront of people’s minds to see just how vital it is to have that access.  And that’s something we’ve covered in the podcast before when we’ve said it’s amazing if you can have your content available face-to-face and online, because that kid who gets glandular fever and is away all term, they are still included in the class and the curriculum.  But I think now we’re seeing that as rather than being the exception, what if that is the rule?  What does it look like if that’s the main case for schools and for students if learning is going in that direction?  Maybe for the short-term, obviously the importance has significantly increased.

Simon: I guess if we’re looking at it, as you say, now more so the rule than the exception in a moment like this, I want to kind of get your thoughts before we dive into the weirds about this as to what extent should we be viewing this as online learning as a, you know, internet classroom, so to speak.  To what extent should we be looking at that as a replacement for the classroom, trying to replicate exactly what the classroom brings, or framing it instead more as a different alternative which we need to adapt to?  Basically, and Adam I’ll turn to you for this one, to what extent is the adaptation trying to get the online learning to fit what exists in the classroom versus trying to get the classroom dynamic now change to fit the online learning?

Adam: It’s actually, going back to what I said before, where you are in your journey will depend on...I mean I know some schools use say for instance Canvas to actually provide all the materials and everything before the class and then they use the class time to then run through any questions or queries like that.  So for them to then scale that to online because everyone’s already using it and flowing through it, they can then obviously change that face-to-face thing at the end via a webinar or through an integration or something like that, so that’s not a big change.  Rolling back from going to having a strict webinar when you’re going online and teaching, that something completely different.  I think there’s a lot of schools out there, I’m mean we’ve been I use the word “hammered” not too quietly, but people have just been going “Yeah we’ll get a conference, we’ll just put it online”.  That to me is just not a thorough enough way to actually understand what’s going on, other students engaged, how this is working.  So combination is a bit key, but as Su mentioned before, you’ve got to practice.

Su: Yeah.

Simon: Exactly, combination is key and coming from that perspective of Canvas as well, touching a little bit on that.  These are unprecedented times guys and unprecedented podcasts and we’re gonna make an unprecedented move and bring Tom, our Producer, into the mix as well on this one.  He’s usually the silent partner in the corner but today he’s ready to pipe in.  Tom, I guess sort of the same question to you, this idea of replacing the classroom or seeing it as something new from the perspective of yourself as one of the Co-Founders here at Atomi, how would you respond to that?

Tom: I kind of echo that sentiment really which is that traditionally a lot of schools would have look to implement a blended or remote learning program over months or years, and there would be a process and a rollout and building programs and developing resources to put together and all that, some schools are now faced to the prospect of trying to do that in days let alone weeks that they might have.  It’s certainly a different journey and you’re right, the whole idea of let’s just throw this onto a video conference is, I think like everyone will learn quite quickly, that’s a very, very hard thing to do.

Adam: Well to make it effective.

Tom: Exactly.

Simon: We’re doing pretty well on video conference ourselves right now, so you never know.

Tom: Even still, we’re having a conversation as well.  We’re certainly not trying to issue tasks and mark assignments and collaborate on documents and all that kind of stuff that you really want to do as part of a sophisticated learning program.  So I think most schools will look at some mix of synchronous time where they want to jump on a video conference and talk to their kids, and I guess for many teachers that will be sort of the default mode that they’re used to being in terms of the classroom, but there has to be realistically this push towards some type of asynchronous learning mode where there’s pre-prepared lessons or tasks for students to access simply because the learning experience is profoundly better online and supports more learning modes.  But also I think, simply speaking, if teachers are doing a full schedule on video conferencing back to back and trying to pull off these lessons and trying to do something that will work somewhat effectively over a video conference, they’re going to be absolutely flat-out in just trying to do that let alone having any time to actually prepare the types of lessons that really work well online.  So I think it’s going to be a really interesting learner, but I think the schools that are most prepared will do the best job of getting that online learning program prepared early so that there’s more things ready for them to go so that teachers aren’t scrambling last minute and are forced to do that sort of asynchronous...

Simon: Cause it’s really, what’s coming across for me, it’s really about this being something that’s as much as the teachers friend, as much as the teacher’s companion, as easy as possible for them to use to balance all of these different things that you’re talking about.  That’s really the key in the moment like this where it’s all happening so quickly for an online resource.

Tom: It’s just a lot to expect a teacher to suddenly transition.  That transition from saying this is something I have done and probably some of those teachers that have been in the teaching room for such a period of time going from this is the way I’ve always done it to I have to do it like this or otherwise my kids are simply not going to learn.  I should be getting 12 months or a longer period of time, I’ve literally got 2 weeks.  So it’s all about teacher collaboration about building content, “Hey can you work with us creating a classroom for this topic?”, “Can you work...?”, lets share all this, let’s make it so we’ve got all these resources because that’s probably where I fear most of the teaching and learning queries are coming from is like “the how”, and as you mentioned before, a few schools they’re sending a year group home to trial it.  That’s really smart preparation, but the more and more serious the situation becomes, obviously the more higher the people get around it.

Su: It was interesting to see the St Andrews, there was a girl from Year 9 interviewed about the experience of learning at home and one of the things, well the headline for it was she said it made her feel like an adult for a day, which was quite an interesting take that I guess the kids see parents more and more kind of doing work, computer work and that sort of thing, and it was her take that she was self-directed, she had some personalisation, she obviously had some scope of time and pace and place, and also where she physically worked in her home, it made her feel like an adult for a day.  So there is hope that once they’ve got over the novelty of being at home or being on a Google Doc at once and what that looks like, and it’s all so new and fun, that after that good learning will still happen.

Tom: That student sounds way more mature than me (laughing).

Simon: Just listening to that example, I guess it calls to mind the idea that in one way, we’re scrambling for positives within this, but in terms of online learning it is an arena that to a certain extent you would say could suit some students.  I mean we talk about how much technology literate students are nowadays, people of that age group, obviously to turn the focus for just a second from the teachers adapting to the students adapting to it, it could be said that students are, by virtue of their familiarity with devices and the online world and technology, they’re better to be well placed to be able to adapt to this quickly.

Tom: Yep, so there’s...

Simon: Sorry this one’s for the room...

Tom: There’s one big caveat to that which is I think that a lot of students, they may be very adept with the technology and jumping on a video conference may be no problem for them, spending five or so hours moderating their own workflow, making sure they’re actually making progress and having that level of agency over their own learning pace is probably going to be something very different, and I think that’s probably going to scare a few teachers who know that a few students at the back of the classroom who have, if left unattended, might not necessarily get the most work done.  Actually I was going to ask you Su, that’s an interesting problem and someone whose run an online class for a while, how do you manage the students that are not necessarily the most self-motivated in this kind of transition?

Su: So I teach fully online for a school called Australian Christian College and I teach Extension 1 online, so I only have three students in that class who are all pretty motivated as extension students.  So I was thinking last night as I was reflecting on what we were talking about today, about what I would do if I was maybe in the situation of my middle ability Year 9 class or something being put fully online, and I was reflecting on a time when I did first Google Doc, with I think was a Year 10 class, and everyone’s on the Google Doc, there was 24 kids all putting their thoughts into this Google Doc and it was absolute chaos because they were all typing in different columns, some of them were writing messages to each other which had nothing to do with the work even though I’m like saying “I can see this” and they were still doing it, they were adding comments, it was just like an absolute crazy time.  So that was the first time I put all 24 kids on a Doc, then I realised afterwards I need to do this in groups so I put groups of Docs on and then had a student leader of each Doc who was more responsible for keeping kids...the actual work happening on the Doc.

Adam: Once again, that would not have been me.

Su: (Laughing) I’d have to glare at you in the classroom at like Adam I feel...

Simon: Dividing the mob down.  I kind of rose to the occasion Adam, can I rule it out?

Su: So I think you learn pretty quickly as you go but to try and engage those kids always online in that way, it will be that to start off with I think it’s novel, it’s different and you’ll get some interesting behaviours.  Equally so, I think if you suddenly managed...if you had a class conference with everybody in, I think that’s going to be very, very difficult.  But if you are working where you want students to be face-to-face and you do want to have a conference, I’d do it in groups.  I’d have groups of students that you talk to for 5-10 minutes and then a different group dial in.  Cause I think having 20...some classes can be over 30...having that many kids online with you at once would be really hard, and I think also then it’s worth thinking about small bites.  If they are going to do an hour of a class, really I wouldn’t think many teachers talk for an hour of the class so break it down, either video yourself, use content providers like ourselves who have got video content that you can use, work out ways in which you can give short sharp snaps of content delivery that’s engaging and then let the kids carry on and touch base with them at the end of the class.  I think if you do that in a group attempt, just the same with the group Google Doc, you’ve got less people to navigate in the moment and you’ve also got an element of more control of what you’re doing.  Teaching online is interesting and one thing I was thinking, my students probably won’t like this, I was thinking last night about if I went fully online with some of the lower years, what I’d actually do is I’d actually talk them through the analytics I can see at my end.  So like with Atomi, for example, a teacher can see what the students have done, how many times they’ve attempted the quiz, for example, how many times they’ve watched a video, how much of the video they’ve watched, and there are so much data they can see, and similarly so with Canvas.  There’s so much you can see on a course level, but on an individual page level, how much a kid has accessed a page, how much a kid is engaged with the course content.  And I’d flip that and I’d have a private session with each kid and show them what I can see so that they know in the sense that big brother is watching...

Simon: Scare them into action...

Su: Yeah and I’m take this even further, then I would take a screenshot of those analytics and send them home to the parents so that in time...(laughing)

Simon: Oh, a kid’s worse nightmare...

Tom: We’ve had a couple of emails for a while, we had schools looking for specific data down to a specific student and I was sort of happy to provide it in this case but I did question “what is this for?”  We’ve had a few saying we’ve had some issues and we want to communicate to the parents exactly what effort these students are putting in and where and be able to throw down the gauntlet…

Simon: The greatest value we can provide is a disciplinary tool...(all laughing)

Adam: It’s pretty interesting though, we have the ability to leverage off big data in the back of Canvas so you can make your own customer reports, and you can pull out all this information.  But the interesting thing we always get asked is, “What does this data mean?”

Simon: The million dollar question...

Adam: Exactly.  But on the flip side of this, and if we’re going to look at something good that might come out of this whole situation, if more and more students inside the system are using this, you’ve got more and more evidence to drive like what is happening here with this student, how can I see that in the analytics, and you can help form a path going like “Yeah, this is where they should be, they’re not here”.  You mentioned as well bringing parents in, that’s a really important part, especially if they’re going to be working from home.  You can’t obviously make them, we’ve all been in meetings where we’ve gone I’m just gonna turn my video off cause I’ve got to deal with a text message or something...we’re not doing that now by the way.  But it’s one of those sorts of things that I think analytics will definitely become way more powerful to the teacher in the classroom.

Su: If we’re talking about a school rolling that out as well, I’d encourage schools, if it does come to the case we’re online...schools are shut like in Ireland...and it is fully online model for a while, for schools to make parents aware of what teachers can see.  Whatever system it is that they’re using, one letter doing home from the school executive to all of the parents of this is what we’re doing, this is what your teacher can see on your student, this is when we’re going to communicate that to you, etc.  Saves every individual teacher explaining what that data means.  And if they do need to check in, if little Johnny is not obviously engaging very much or there’s lack of...he’s not logging on or if works not coming in, it’s very easy to send a screenshot home of what that looks like from your perspective as a teacher and the parents, as Adam said, would then have a better understanding of what that data does mean if it’s been prefaced beforehand.

Adam: It can prepopulate so you can make a standard template and prepopulate analytics that come out of the system into like a mini report card situation.  There’s lots of different options you can come up with, with time.

Simon: I guess that open line of communication with parents that the analytics provides is a very obvious and positive out of the situation, but I just wanted to turn our attention for a second to some of the big problems that might arise and not just to dwell on the problems of course, but to provide potential solutions that might arise from a situation where this online learning on mass has to be employed and a few issues here to raise and very keen to get your thoughts on solutions.  If any more spring to mind, feel free to throw them in, but the first one that I’ll throw out is this question around ensuring digital equity amongst students, this idea of whether we can ensure that there are enough devices, if every student has access to a device, the times of the day, there might just be one within a house, and multiple children within that house need to use it for their own school work.  What can schools do in that situation, how can they best employ online learning resources to combat that potential problem?  I’ll throw that to Adam.  I heard that pause... Adam I’m calling on you.

Adam: I think the main thing is as well is that we have got a multitude of different devices, so making sure that the content is being designed and can be seen across multiple devices is also really important.  That means you can kind of equate to that share.  Does it look the same on an I-pad versus a desktop?  Does the interaction come the same?  Is it compatible across a number of different browsers?  These are the sorts of things you need to into consideration as well...I forgot what I was going to say.

Tom: I think that’s a good caveat in a way to bring up is especially if you’re going for a video conference, it’s quite a high bandwidth application and it requires everyone to be working on it at roughly the same time.  So if you’ve got students that have not a lot of internet bandwidth so they can use or if they’re jumping on a hotspot or something because they don’t have internet at home or where they are at that point in time, like that can set some expectations or even if there’s multiple kids trying to do this at once at home, like that can get tough pretty quickly and that’s why I think having something pre-prepared in Canvas or in your LMS and having those lessons there so that it’s not necessarily that it has to work for you right now, right at this second, you can maybe have something a little bit pre-prepared and when they can access it they can get to those...

Simon: Removes that readymade excuse of students to be like “Oh sorry, internet wasn’t working at my house, I’m out”.

Adam: I was just going to say, that’s what I was trying to say before.  You’ve got the option to make the content downloadable as well so they can bring it down onto their device, work on it and then re-upload it back into those particular sort of situations.  I mean we’re all working on the fact that the internet’s not going to break!  Like do you know what I mean?

Simon: A problematic time Adam.

Adam: Well if the whole globe decides to use it, we’re putting some serious pressure on the system.

Simon: Too much Netflix being streamed around the world.

Su: We don’t want to encourage that Simon.  I’m such the teacher in the room, aren’t I?   Also I think last year when I was doing my Masters, I looked into this aspect of social economic kind of equity and one of the things I found in my research was that a lot of students if they don’t have access to a tablet or a computer, ironically have access to a phone.  A lot of areas still have technology in terms of their device and their phone so it is, as Adam says, making sure that you can have device compatible things and I would encourage parents who that if their kid just has a phone, to have a look at providers who like I think it was Optus is waiving all can get extra data at this time, for example.  I’m not plugging any particular company here.

Simon: Optus you hear that, you want to jump on-board for sponsorship, feel free!

Su: Just do your research because providers are aware at the moment that his is a big thing so there are people offering increased data for no money at the moment so that this can be rolled out essentially.  Do see what’s out there.  And I’d just like to say on that note, you know how we said about a silver lining, I am really deeply encouraged by the outpouring of offers within the educational space, if you search LinkedIn, pretty much every tech company has offered something in the way of trying to make learning continue for students and for teachers to make this easier, lecturers, teachers and parents as well.  There is such an outpouring of things that you can use to make this online learning, if we move there, much more accessible and engaging and in some ways a timesaver for teachers.  It is really encouraging to see the educational community banding together in that way.

Simon: Yeah, it really is awesome to see and you know the more resources that do it and the more there’s this amalgamation of different things that we discussed fitting different devices, the more creative solutions can come up to combat the problems raised.  Unfortunately, I have another one to throw out, we haven’t solve at all entirely.  Now again we’re in the area of speculation as to how long these issues might last, for what length of time we might have to contend with just online learning, but if this situation does arise whereby examination, key exams or assessments that would otherwise be happening under exam conditions can’t go ahead, what can online learning do best replicate that, or should it be trying to best replicate that, do we need to look to different ways of assessment?  Su, I’ll throw this one to you initially.

Su: Cheers.  I don’t think it can be...there’s going to be a lot of issues there.  So I think the things that would come to mind would be very much like when we do Naplan online, you have to install a lockdown browser so the kids cannot move from that browser.  Now I’ve only seen that deployed obviously when there’s still a teacher in the room and the lockdown browser, you can still kind of wonder around and check them.  But I think if it did get to that state, you’d have to have some sort of lockdown browser put on to machines that could control say doing a quiz in examination conditions.  If you were to use say like the quizzing engine in Canvas, you could put time limits on how long they have to do the quiz.  So if you installed a lockdown browser plus a time limit, then that would be a way of making sure that that was all that was being done.  Of course what you can’t police then is kids not sitting there with the textbook open, it doesn’t mean just because they can’t search another window on the browser, doesn’t mean that they’re you know...

Tom: Also many kids have many devices these days as well.

Su: Yes that’s true, they’ve got many devices (laughing).

Simon: That’s what I was going to under...not even under the table, on the table.

Adam: Yeah, writing on your hand is so late 80s.

Su: So 80’s.

Adam: That’s just showing my age.

Su: So I don’t know.  I think it’s going to be incredibly difficult to do that.  So maybe it becomes that it is more of a course we can do and in that case you’d need to make sure you’ve got plagiarism checkers, so again party tools like Unicheck, my personal favourite, and turn it in another good one to actually put work through and obviously you can do that through the LMS as the main repository.  We’re not going to cover the solutions to that, that’s a big headache.

Adam: My theory is does the world of that exam change!  Does it become a thing of like this is how we used to do it, this is how we do it now?  Is it acceptable to have a separate device open because, I don’t know about you, but when I come to work I’ve got Slack going, I’ve got Google Calendar going, I’ve got all these sort of things feeding me with information at a current time.

Tom: This is taking a massive side-track, but my brother works in aeronautical engineering and they have, let’s call it, high stakes exams because unfortunately if something goes wrong it...if stuff goes bad people die, there’s obviously a very different risk dynamic and typically in exams we have at school we encourage kids “if you don’t know something, give it a go, take a swing”.  How bad can things do?

Adam; Very bad by the sounds of things (laughing).

Tom: Look we don’t generally give kids negative marks, so how their exams work quite differently is that it’s all open book and you have all the resources you would that you would normally be working with, and you immediately fail if you write something down which is wrong in the entire thing.  But they will award you marks if you can say I don’t know that but here’s where to find it and I’m going to go off and that’s where the resource for that would be.  So, for example, if you say this should be attached using these three points but this point I can’t remember the name of what it is but it would be in the manual under this section down there, and label that.  So they’re making them aware of their own failures and proving that they know how to resource their actual answers.  When I was hearing that, this sounds like a lot more of a proxy of how we work in real life.  We have other people you can ask for support, you have resources to go to and being able to use them effectively is a massage skill that as teachers everyone tries to give to their kids.  But obviously it’s very hard to do in assessments the traditional way.  So who knows?  South Australia already do online exams for a couple of their major final year’s certificates.  So there’s obviously an interesting point there, but I think it’s a really interesting question, will we ever go back after this?

Simon; That is the question that we have down as last for this discussion, so stop jumping the gun you guys.  We can discuss now if you like because it is a really fascinating question, isn’t it?  This idea of it’s going to change so much in the short-term but it’s natural to assume that it’s going to have so many knock-on effects for the long-term.  So if we want to discuss it now, if anyone has any thoughts to that end in what ways education will look different out on the other side at the end of this crisis.  (Pause) Don’t all shout at once!

Su: I think particularly if we do follow other counties who have closed schools and we do go on an online space, I think it will fundamentally change how we do things.  Of course we’ll go back to face-to-face, but I think it will show that there is a backbone there for online learning and you’ve got those resources there and teachers have been incredibly upskilled quite quickly.  I think it will continue so I think the future would be more blended learning then so that technology is incorporated into the face-to-face space.  But with that kind of ongoing skill of teachers, and I’ve trained a lot of teachers in technology and one of the things that is always the case is that you do a training session for a day or in a department meeting you do it for an hour and I can get someone who is not tech savvy to build a quiz.  They do it, they like it and they’re proud of it and they want to use it and then they use it but then they don’t build another quiz for say months at which point they’ve forgotten all about how to do it, and so you have to reteach and the only way to get better at it is to do it regularly.  I can whip up online lessons in a very quick amount of time because I do it all the time.  Same with any kind of skill, the more you do it the better you get at it.  I think what this will do, it will be painful a little bit at first but people will increase in skill exponentially and then they’ll be able to take that skill back into the classroom and it will become a sort of second nature.  It will become very much a part of a fabric of a school and they will then...if it is the backbone to what they do, we will be better prepared if there is anything like this again, or if Johnny gets glandular fever, we’re there ready to incorporate all the different needs of students and the different sicknesses and things like that.  I think it will change what we do hereon in because I think everyone’s realised the importance of it.

Tom: I think there’s a hump...right?

Simon: And sounds like it’s a positive change out doesn’t it, I mean out of the negative situation comes this kind of positive move Adam where we can kind of combine what we had before the face-to-face element alongside this new found backbone that Su was talking about?

Adam: Yeah and also let’s just take into consideration how much technology has just changed in such a recent short amount of time.  And I think also I feel a little bit for teachers as well because they’ve been taught to teach in certain ways and those ways aren’t now reflective of what is actually out there in the market.  Like I assume that the next generation of teachers as they’re taught more online that development will a lot easier flow over.  But, as Su mentioned, we Canvas we’ve got the Canvas community which is a really important place where, no matter where what user, whether you’re a student, a teacher or a parent or an admin, you can actually go online and see the guides that are associated to your permissions inside the system.  Just making it really easy so that people have got the skills to go in and do that, creating online courses to on-board teachers in Canvas is something we’ve worked really hard on in the last 12 months so they know they can go, I can’t remember how to do it, but as you correctly said, I know where to go and find it or there’s resources that I can watch that show me how to do it.  The big thing I think that’s going to come out of this is that before teaches kind of in a lot of schools may have had the option to either use an LMS or use traditional methods or just use say Google Doc or whatever that may be.  By shifting this over, I think you’ll see a lot more people asking the questions because unfortunately you have to do it, there’ no like we can’t do it half/half this way or half/half, we’ve got to focus as a unit.  And I think that with the ongoing changes of technology like you look at AI or Augmentation or whatever is coming out, there’s so many cool things that we get that come across like the use of Google Glasses, I know they kind of take the first time, but the future of using things like that might actually be, that might completely change the landscape as well.  It’s about being open I think and it’s pretty crazy when you think about it, what’s actually capable.

Tom: Well I think, I’m sure you probably had really similar experiences with Canvas customers as well, there’s always in every school there’s an adoption curve, there are some who are really excited to implement this and do an amazing job or jumping in early and driving that, and there’s within a school or across schools there’s some that sit on the backend of that curve and if there’s not the driving need to change what they’re doing in the regular day practice or they’ve got lots of pre-prepared lessons already and they don’t want to do necessarily the extra work of switching over or being trained in this case.  It might take them longer to see the benefits of a program like this in action and get the real sort of “aha” moment of like wow this is really not only helping making it easier to do my job everyday but it’s also creating a better learning experience for my students in some of the ways this can enable.  And with a situation like this, you kind of get to the point where you don’t really have a choice in some cases, you kind of whether it in preparing for this kind of crisis or whether it’s actually through what of the shutdowns or whatever might be implemented in some counties and schools.  There’s going to be many people that are going to be forced to see how this works in action to really upskill themselves quite rapidly to deploy it, and I think a lot more people are going to get to that “aha” moment where they start to see wow having these things pre-pared for my students, being able to differentiate and personalise a little bit easier, like being able to measure and track some of these things is going to be really powerful to them and they’ll go back into their regular day-to-day classroom and take those skills with them and probably push forward from there.  I think essentially it’s going to accelerate that tipping point for a lot of people.

Su: Definitely.

Simon: Yeah I absolutely agree that “aha” moment that you talk about, I think it’s definitely impending.  One kind of issue that comes to mind out of this is when you talk about this upscaling that teachers are facing, it’s the speed within which it needs to happen, this sort of real time on-the-fly, having to go through this upscaling is such a challenge for teachers to face.  So I guess, and I’d love to get all three of your thoughts on this, what advice would you have for a teacher who is maybe not as tech savvy as yourselves but is faced with having to go through this upscaling, how best can they master the online resources, what can they find within those online resources to help them get through that mastering phase as quickly as the situation may demand?  Su, I’ll ask you first but I’d love to hear everybody’s thoughts...

Su: Yeah I was thinking about this, one of the tips I would say before you even start is look at your setup.  So I work really productively from two screens and I know obviously having been in a fair amount of schools, I’ve only been in one school that supplied me with a second screen.  But if you’re trying to learn how to, say you’re watching a video that teaches you how to do something and you’re building it up on the side, it’s really important that you can actually have both different localities and you have one screen open where you’re learning and one screen open where you’re doing.  I think a second screen is like 100 bucks so if Office Works have them then I would suggest...

Adam: You’ve got the new Apple feature you can airplay to your second screen as well so you can have your I-pad that you’ve always had open, having that running the video and you can actually do it on your desktop which is really cool.

Su: Yeah I think work on your setup so that you are setting yourself up so you can best learn.  And I think it is going to be a lot of self-teaching upskilling quite quickly so there’s so much on.  So You Tube, pretty much any company going either produces guides or videos that you can work through to see what steps to work through the skills and I also encourage people to lean on each other.  Help each other to create resources so you do less and you share it round and you can do that very easily within the systems that you’ve got.  And also think of your scope and sequence, if you’ve got more material on your fourth unit of the year, you know for Term 4, but you’ve got it ready to go or much more easy to access online, switch it to Term 2 and use that now.  I think be creative.  This is unprecedented times.  Be creative about how it is that you’re going to best get content out and then look, in this room now, we’ve got a brilliant partnership between Atomi and Canvas, online content creators, great engaging videos, which can really be used by teachers.  Log into an LMS that you’ve got, great way of saving yourself some trouble in actually making content.  So look at what providers you’ve got at your fingertips and how you can actually best leverage the resources that are being offered to you.  So do a bit of shopping.  See what you can gather to curate your lessons.

Simon: That’s really terrific advice and I’ve realised it’s put you guys in a difficult position, as I said I wanted people’s thoughts on this one.  Su’s should have left some stuff for the other guys Su.  Anything to add on top of that?

Tom: No, I think realistically the whole thing I guess, in my mind, this is almost going to be impossible to do on your own.  If you try and suddenly juggle that, let alone the fact that you’re also juggling all the communication and concern and the community that we have and all those issues that go with that, teachers are still beyond keeping learning going, they’re still going to have to keep the people going that are impacted by this.  So if we’re in it together it’s going to make it a lot easier, so absolutely if you can lean on your colleagues, if you can lean on your school to play that sort of contact role and set really clear processes and communicate clearly with all the stakeholders from what expectations are from parents and students and all those sorts of things, and your IT department if you have one.

Adam: A shout out to ITs.

Tom: They’re in for a rough couple of months, but I’m sure that they’re going to earn every dollar that they get for a while.  But if you’ve got that and obviously there’s external providers, Canvas has an amazing list of resources that I’m sure everyone can dive into to everything from getting started to creating some really compelling online learning materials and they also have a great community that have shared what they’ve done with some of these things you can dive into, which is really interesting.  And obviously with whatever You Tube or the internet at large, or providers like ourselves, there’s a huge library of content out there that can use so you’re not starting from zero, you’re not jumping in and trying to record weeks of lessons or scribble out notes or drop in some things that might not work exactly perfectly, it will hopefully accelerate you a lot so you can focus on the experience with your students, not just on that huge burden of composition.

Simon: Adam, anything to add on that?

Adam: I’m just going to echo the collaboration state, I mean there are so many things that cross over between teachers, it’s the allocation of “Su can you look after this topic, Tom can you look after...I’ll do this” and then obviously reusing that across the skill board.  And also whilst we’re taking all this into consideration, we’ve also got our own personal lives to worry about as well in this situation as well, we’ve got parents, we’ve got friends, we’ve got family, we’ve got all these sorts of things as well.  It’s almost like a big personal reset to go “right, I know I’ve got to do this, this is what I can do, this is what I’m confident in doing, let’s go” and leveraging.  And I think inside schools and organisations, I think we alluded to it before, you do have a really strong group that kind of get in the first instance and run off it.  It’s getting schools to leverage off them to then manage, funnily enough as Su mentioned, in the classroom smaller groups to ensure that consistency is across the board because once you start getting that consistency and the students are used to seeing a similar UI or they’re used to navigating similar, the teacher is spending less time telling them how to do it and more time actually doing it, and I think that’s a really key point.

Su: Yeah.

Simon: Yeah 100%.  Well listen I’ve got to say I’m feeling a little better about the whole situation after hearing all this fantastic, fantastic words of wisdom across online learning.  As Su and Tom will well know, we usually like to finish with advice or anecdote generally just about teaching days, but I thought given the situation that’s in it, we might reframe the advice segment and make it a little bit more about advice on how to maintain the human element for teachers within all of this.  We’ve touched on a little there but quite aside from all of these difficulties that online learning will pose in a practical sense, the isolation element of it and all of the pressures that it’s putting on teachers, very possibly away from others is significant so let’s end on a little bit of hopeful advice from all three of you.  We’ll start with you this time Adam on how to keep I guess spirits up, maintain relationships and amongst teachers themselves but also with families in a potential time of isolation and difficulty?

Adam: Well at Canvas & Instructure has announced that people, our European office is closed, our American office is closed, Australia is voluntary so if you want to come in you can, so there’s little things like we have a webinar room that’s open from 1:00-2:00 where everyone can come in, eat their lunch, have a little bit of banter, and yesterday there was four of us in the office, there was heaps of us online and it was like we were around our kitchen, that human element is really important.  I’m a big athlete, I love running, I love swimming, I love doing all that, funny enough swimming is actually really good, it’s pretty much social distancing as it is, you can’t get anything there, but we’re making things like now we’re running out in smaller groups, we’re not stopping what we’re doing, we’re re-evaluating what’s another way of doing it.  And the other thing is it really simple, just making sure you’re looking after yourself.  You’re washing your hands, you’re doing all the things that people are asking you to do and if you feel like it is getting a little too much for you, I know this is really hard for some people to do, but take a breath and reach out whether that’s picking up the phone or getting on a conference or just speaking to someone whether it’s family or whatever, I mean that’s really important in these particular times, to make sure that you’ve actually got that connection whether that’s student/teacher/teacher, peer to peer, friend to friend, family to family.  I think that’s a really good thing that should be a stable part of everyone’s day.

Simon: Absolutely.  Tom?

Tom: I think this is sort of, I’m trying to find a positive way to say this, I think a lot of people are going to start to feel the slow economic effects of this crisis kind of creep through their communities and especially for the communities who are most impacted, hospitality, tourism.  We’re gonna get to the point where a lot of families are impacted by that, and that always puts a lot of stress on relationships and on the students as well, but I guess the thing is that schools have always traditionally been a place of community and they’ve done a great job of being at that point in the community that people turn to when they need help.  And I think if we sort of make sure that olive branch is always out there and that people know that we’re in this together and we’re here to support each other as much as we can, then I think that hopefully we’ll make this as best an experience as it can be given some of the things that are going to happen.  So I guess like really this thing is going to just be that leading light and look after each other.  Some people might be suffering in more than ways than just their health, and we shouldn’t let that slide.

Simon: Very true.  Very helpful words there.  Su?

Su: I think, as Tom has said, there’s a lot more to schools than just learning.  It is a place of safety, it’s a place where kids come together and there’s a lot of friendships that will be missed and if we do go into a sort of isolation move.  From a parental perspective and from a teacher perspective, giving kids time to chat online and facetime each other and making sure there is a very social connection.  If they’re doing some of their school work, its okay that they’re all on facetime actually chatting about what they’re doing.  I don’t think it has to just be and it shouldn’t just be Johnny with his computer, it needs to be Johnny, his computer, his work and mates around, they still need to have that same level of connection.  I guess from that perspective, don’t make it all about business.  It’s got to be maintained, those relationships, and teachers checking in just like you would, you know the students you need to check in with, still check in with them.  And I think this is a time where it’s not going to necessarily matter if you’re calling kids directly, or some of those social protocols that you don’t do at school, I think there might be relaxation of some of that around this period because it is important to keep checking in on each other.  We need to operate with grace and humanity with each other in pretty much everything we do.  Its unchartered waters, but we can make good out of it I’m sure.

Simon: We can.  Really powerful advice there.  Really puts my advice which was going to watch lots of Netflix to shame guys.

Su: Simon!

Simon: No don’t listen to that.

Su: It’s a good thing you’re in Ireland, I can’t get you (laughing).

Simon: I saved that one for when I was out of reach.

Tom: Not that Netflix needs the advertising, but we should get a clip out of that.

Simon: We’ve given a few plugs here almost by accident.

Adam: We came out with great ideas but we should have thought about that before we actually... (laughing).

Simon: Well we’ll edit it out, we’ll edit it all out afterwards I’m sure.  But genuinely, really, really good advice there and really pertinent words to listen to at this time.  So that is all we have time for today.  As always, you can listen to our other episodes of Podcasts on whatever platform you’re listening to this on.  You can check us out on our main site, but at a time like this most importantly, look after yourselves, follow the expert advice, keep those hands clean and look out for each other in whatever way you can.  In the meantime, it is goodbye from Adam...

Adam: Thank you very much for having me.

Simon: Goodbye from Tom...

Tom: See ya Simon, thanks.

Simon: And goodbye from Su...

Su: Bye everyone, take care.

Simon: And goodbye from me.  See ya.

[Music playing]


Published on

March 23, 2020

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