Keep it simple during COVID-19 crisis

Issue: Volume 99, Number 6

Posted: 15 April 2020
Reference #: 1HA74e

Teachers need to be realistic when delivering distance learning, says a Southland teacher.

Vaughn Filmer is the ICT coordinator at Fiordland College in Te Anau, and just prior to the lockdown was busy ensuring that staff and students were set up for remote learning with access to the school’s server and online management system.   

He says the college, which operates a BYOD (bring your own device) policy, is well set up for remote learning as it has been using Google Classroom for nearly five years.   

One-stop shop – for some  

The social studies, geography, health and PE and outdoor education teacher is digital lead at Fiordland College and says Google Classroom will be the school’s most valued tool for delivering distance learning.    

For some teachers, Google Classroom is like a one-stop shop where each class has their own tab and each student is email registered. Teachers can post anything from comments to assignments, which are automatically distributed to each student and give that student a template – a living document that teacher and student automatically share.   

“Two years ago, I trialled paperless classrooms where students would jump on Google Classroom,” explains Vaughn. “Their work for the day would be there. This would include things like the assignment they were working on, a video, a quiz, a shared document,” he says. 

However, Vaughn cautions that, as schools embark on delivering distance learning, teachers should stick to doing what they are comfortable and familiar with.   

Do what’s effective   

While some teachers and students will be confident using Google Classroom for everything, there will be others who are not familiar with it, and teachers who have never used it before shouldn’t be expected to pick it up overnight.   

Some teachers at the school may have been teaching more traditionally in the classroom and using Google Classroom to set homework. Vaughn says that for these colleagues, remote learning may take the form of sending questions or a worksheet via email.   

“The biggest thing is that when we set a kid up with a digital task in the classroom, the majority of the lesson will be the teacher solving digital issues, not teaching and learning issues. Imagine when a teacher now has to go home and send a digital task to a student.   

“Who is going to be helping that student when they can’t log on, their password isn’t working, or the website isn’t working? So we have said to our staff: ‘You’re not reinventing the wheel, you’re not learning a new system. You’re just simply doing what is effective’,”  he says.  

Different circumstances  

Each school will have its own unique challenges to deliver remote learning. For Fiordland College, one of those challenges is the number of students who live in rural settings and have limited internet. About one-third of the college’s 230 students, as well as some teachers, live on farms, don’t have unlimited fast internet and may only be able to get online once or twice a day.   

Te Anau is a tourism town and the fallout from COVID-19 hit hard and fast, with income for the businesses that service tourism grinding to a halt.    

“We’ve got major disruptions in our town because we are a tourist town, so there are a ton of parents who are going to be out of a job,” says Vaughn.   

“And now we’re shutting the school and those parents are going to have to deal with zero income and their children being home. It’s unprecedented times and it’s going to be incredibly stressful.”   

Family comes first  

As a parent of young children, Vaughn thinks it’s unrealistic to expect many teachers to teach via video conferencing, especially if it hasn’t been done before.   

“Imagine if you are a teacher, your partner’s a nurse and you’ve got three kids? You probably need to focus on being a mum or a dad. The adaptation is massive, and I think the key thing is teachers’ wellbeing,” he says.  

He recommends keeping things simple, such as a tick list for students to do over a week. For health and  PE, that tick list might look like this: do something kind for someone; write a card or make a phone call to a relative; build some Lego, take a photo, post a photo of your creation; do some baking; or sew a button on – practical things that parents and their children can do together.  

Finding opportunities  

Many students will be better off than their teachers as they live in a digital world, says Vaughn.  

“One of the ironic things about this is that as teachers we are complaining about these kids  being online and on social media, but they are actually going to be better off than us because they are used to this – they live in a digital world.   

“The idea is we’re not social distancing, we’re physical distancing and we’re interacting socially – the kids are doing that all the time.”  

Vaughn suggests using this skill as a teaching opportunity. Online interaction can see students interacting with young people around the world and learning about how their countries are dealing with the Covid19 crisis.   

“Here’s a question for my social studies class: when you’re online gaming, tell me where everybody is from. For the kids who are well-connected online, it will just be business as usual.” 

Focus on wellbeing

In this issue, check out the Gazette’s article ‘Support for educators during COVID-19(external link)’ on teacher wellbeing, which contains a number of resources to support the wellbeing of teachers, children and young people.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 3:07 pm, 15 April 2020

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