So, I missed the whole ‘teaching during a full-blown pandemic’ thing…
Written by Kayte Haselgrove, CPD and Learning Manager in an FE college and FE ITT Lecturer at Uni of Derby.
In December 2019, I went on maternity leave.
I came back in March 2021, to a world of online learning and interactions with colleagues via Teams.
Everything had changed.
Grateful that I had recently completed my QTLS and that my focus for professional formation was: ‘promoting the use of technology and supporting learners in its use’, I had at least spent some time exploring online learning, even if I wasn’t as well practiced as my colleagues in delivering the real thing. I booked on to training with our learning technologist (LT) on the basics of Teams and applied my new knowledge in the days before I delivered my first session to student teachers who had been using the technology for 12 months already.
Thankfully, I decided to fess up to the students and let them know that this was my very first time delivering via Teams, which made it less painful when things didn’t quite go to plan. As student teachers they are used to trying new things and were nothing but patient and helpful as I battled through my first delivery using these unfamiliar buttons and without being able to see my students’ faces…something I’m still not used to and which totally weirds me out. They were kind enough to teach me how to see a list of participants down the righthand side of my screen, as I struggled to keep track of ‘hands up’ and emojis, and helpfully informed me that ‘hands up’ stay up, but hearts and smileys quickly disappear, when my attempt to use them as an assessment tool was difficult to keep track of.
What didn’t go to plan…
Mostly, I was really pleased with the way the session went. Thanks to some last-minute training I managed to create a class, access resources and use breakout rooms seamlessly, but I was disappointed to realise that the shared document I had included as a resource for a collaborative task couldn’t be edited by the students.
In the classroom, I have at least eleven years of experience to draw upon when something doesn’t work; I probably have seven years of learning technology experience, but still, those backups in the classroom don’t rely on technology. In this session, I couldn’t do what I had planned, I couldn’t work out how to fix it (and neither could my experienced students) and I had to revert to completing the document myself as the students fed back their responses – something I would never have done in a face-to-face class. It pained me to know that I could be losing them during this really important part of the session, but on this occasion, it was all I could think to do.
Having checked that every other element of the planned session worked by trialling them with a colleague and, although I had spoken to our LT about how to collaborate on one document at the same time, I hadn’t actually checked that it worked.
However, on reflection, I don’t think this would’ve had as negative an effect on the students as I felt it had on my experience of delivery. Each colleague I have reflected on this with has reassured me that this really wasn’t that bad. I think it’s worth mentioning this here as a reminder that it is unnecessary to beat ourselves up over things our students will probably never think about again.
What I learnt from this unfortunate incident…
Following the session, myself and the LT worked out what had happened so that I knew what I needed to do next time. I made sure I used this method in the next session I taught, to prove to myself that it worked well and it did.
On this occasion, I just couldn’t reflect in-action quickly enough, so until I am well practiced at using each tool I favour, I need to check that every element works! I’ve found it incredibly useful to buddy up with a few other learning technology enthusiasts and we send each other links and try out accessibility for one another, especially if it’s the first time using the method. My next step is to plan for backups…at this point in time, I can’t tell you exactly what those backups will be, but as I develop my learning technology tool box, I will naturally collect them up, ready for use. As time goes on, by trying new things and utilising all the resources I can, my toolbox is growing.
Despite this one drawback, the students were asking me for guidance on the methods and tools I had used and following the session, I posted video support on how to use breakout rooms and shared links to the other digital tools I’d used, including Socrative and Mentimeter. So there were elements that they’d learnt from for their own practice, which made me feel like the session had gone well, after all.
What worked beautifully…
During my research for QTLS, I came to the conclusion that the most effective method of online delivery includes a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous delivery. For this session I had decided to incorporate asynchronous tasks by giving the students a survey to complete before the session, which informed the content of the synchronous lesson. Then, at the end of the session I set a 250 word assignment for submission that day, which instructed them to reflect on the content they had just experienced.
Giving them time to reflect and complete this task asynchronously demonstrated really effectively what they had learnt and any misconceptions which could be addressed in the next session. I had also asked them for ‘one thing they learnt that session’ before they left, and found that having the two responses offered a really interesting comparison. The 250 word reflections didn’t generally even link to the comments at the end of the session, evidencing that the one word responses only captured surface learning or understanding, or a students’ ‘freshest thinking’, whereas the asynchronous method provided precious time and space for students to provide their responses – resulting in an in depth reflection on the learning they had taken part in that day.
Why I wanted to write this down…
The experiences in this session were invaluable. Delivering to individuals who have learnt ‘on the job’ how to manage with online delivery only, was one of the best things I could have done. So, from this experience, my three top tips…trial things with your colleagues, be honest and ask your students for feedback and…take advantage of your learning technologist! And one last thing I’ve learnt from this experience, don’t dwell to much when things go wrong…we are all in this together and your colleagues will prove that to you with their support when you share experiences like mine above!
Kayte is first and foremost, a mum of two dream boats. She’s also a CPD and Learning Manager in an FE college, an FE ITT Lecturer at Uni of Derby and National Development Lead for the ETF. Owner of EduKayte.