The last year or so has been a difficult one and brought us challenges that we’ve not seen the likes of before. Classrooms across the country emptied and we had to readjust to working with our classes remotely, with students learning from their own homes.
Schools met this challenge with varying degrees of preparedness. Those who were successfully already running iPad 1:1 schemes mostly were able to teach in the classroom one day, and then relatively seamlessly teach remotely the next, and this is down in part to the devices, but also because of the systems in place for sharing and assessing work digitally.
iPads allow us to create and capture content digitally, letting students present their work in a variety of formats (including paper-based by simply photographing the work) and enabling teachers to assess and feedback through digital workflows including text, handwritten annotations and voice feedback. Of course, the fundamental piece of the jigsaw here, is having a team of teachers who are skilled and comfortable with using these devices to support learning and deliver effective content.
One of the big developments throughout lockdown, was the concept of the ‘live video lesson’, the idea of teaching over various video conferencing solutions, beaming the teacher into the homes of children across the nation. Schools have used a variety of different video conferencing platforms. The more seamless the solution, the more we could focus on the teaching and the content, rather than the technology.
Sparkjar's SchoolSafeTM Live Video
Sparkjar is a rarity in the field in that it has its own ‘native’ video solution – SchoolSafeTM Live video – which was designed from the outset specifically for schools, and is fundamentally integrated into the core platform. As the name implies, safety and security are emphasised and second-to-none, but it is also highly effective in its functionality and ease of use.
Sparkjar allows us to use live video at the same time as using the other great features of the platform such as sharing documents (so children and staff don’t need to switch between listening and watching teacher presentations), working on their documents, making their own notes and annotations, or receiving feedback. Everything is presented in one easy system, allowing the teacher and the children to focus on the learning in hand rather than wrestling with the technology.
Uses for live video beyond lockdown
Now, lockdown is over (at the time of writing for now at least) and we may feel we don’t need to worry too much about remote teaching or live video, unless we have a specific situation in the school with bubbles needing to isolate at home. However, we’ve actually learnt quite a lot from this process, and we can still use a lot of these approaches even though we’re slowly edging back to some level of ‘normality’, for example:
- Students who cannot attend school, maybe for medical reasons or other aspects of their lives, need not necessarily miss out on the live teacher-led content. The tools we have available through systems such as Sparkjar allow for children outside of a traditional school environment to still take part in classroom activities.
- There are other opportunities here that these tools allow for. Schools could bring in specialist educators, maybe to deliver some exciting content or expert knowledge in the classroom, or perhaps for staff INSET days or leadership support. In normal times, these activities often involve travel or other expensive elements, that are sometimes prohibitive for school budgets.
- It is possible, using the live lesson features of Sparkjar, for experts to ‘dial’ into a classroom and deliver the content, or a project, to the children remotely. They can share documents, give valuable feedback, and talk directly to the class from anywhere in the world. Visiting a school is great, but we now have the flexibility to consider the best way to deliver lessons; maybe it’s not a one-off visit, maybe the best option is a weekly session across a term. We can do that too, remotely, without the time and travel costs that can be a barrier for some schools.
- Staff training can equally be delivered remotely, drawing on expertise the world-over to support teachers, perhaps with specialists sharing experiences and skills.
- Another benefit is the ability to deliver live lesson projects to clusters of schools over a number of weeks.
An example live video project
I’ve been able to deliver coding challenges to several schools within a particular trust as part of a coordinated initiative, sustaining the project through simultaneous live lessons to multiple schools over half a term. Between the live lessons, we’ve been able to share documents for the children to work on, and they’ve been able to explore the topic and share evidence of their learning and understanding for me to see. I’ve also been able to ‘dial-in’ to individual schools between the scheduled cross-school lessons to offer extra support as needed.
Computing and coding is understandably an area that some schools are less confident about delivering, and meeting the curriculum requirements, but working in this way has allowed them not only to cover the topic, but also up-skill the teaching staff at the same time.
At the end of the project, we’ve also been able to reverse the roles, and allow the children to host the ‘live’ part of the lesson and showcase their projects to the other schools in the cluster. This has been a huge success, giving children ownership of the project and an excitement to share and celebrate their learning to a wider audience.
Embracing remote learning and making use of video to support live lessons is here to stay, there are clearly benefits of the approach as we look wider than the traditional classroom experience, and tools like Sparkjar make the whole process simple and seamless.
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