Parents are taking the precaution of keeping their children home, despite the government giving confusing and contrary information about social distancing and school closures. More and more parents are opting to keep their children at home even though systems are keeping schools open. This, and a complete shutdown of schools which should have been ordered weeks ago, make parents face choices about how to manage schooling from home.
Schools for their part are rapidly attempting to deploy technologies to enable home-based learning, such as Google Classroom, Zoom video conferencing, google hangouts and the like. Some schools do have reasonably robust learning management systems like CANVAS, which enables the upload of files into modules, allow students to email their teachers, and also allows for basic discussion board. These can be quite useful for more mature and independent learners.
The issues with home-based schooling include: how much time is to be spent on school at home, whether the home internet has the bandwidth and data to handle home-based schooling, managing more than one child learning online simultaneously, and accounting for actual work done.
How much work is done in a school day?
Home schoolers have long argued that a school day need be no more than about two hours of focused learning. In a regular school day of six teaching periods there are at least seven different transitions where students are moving between classes, to lockers, to recess or lunch. Each of these transitions takes about five minutes. Given these are absent at home, time can potentially be more focused.
Allowing for a period of direct instruction and some questioning from the teacher, the actual practice element or application of ideas through doing academic work may take about twenty minutes or so in a short class. So actual school lessons may involve about twenty minutes of independent work at a time. Social interactions and peer-to-peer learning are crucial elements of each classroom and need to be replicated as far as possible.
How to manage the internet
Even the best online systems will have some freezing, time lags, feedback sound, failure to load on different devices and the like. It is highly likely that students will have varying degrees of success getting uninterrupted lessons even for half a day. This will be a problem that parents can anticipate.
Further issues will arise with the use of share documents which can allow for collaborative learning, but also lend themselves to ‘copy pasting’ and one person doing more work than others. Moreover, in order to get buy in and attention from each student, a teacher will generally ask questions – but this is extremely difficult to manage in the online space if a class has any more that twelve students.
How to maintain engagement will be a real challenge, so expect your child to be bored, sometimes confused and uncertain about what is happening, and finding the learning frustrating. Whilst some teachers will try and maintain interest through using programs that feature gamification, or linking to videos – the novelty will wear out after a while and watching endless videos is not the best form of education that can be delivered online.
Managing limited devices
For many households there will be a lack of access to the type of hardware required to have the full experience of online learning, even supposing it has been well designed, considered and delivered. Most households have one main device – meaning that families are going have to prioritise who uses the device and for what length of time. This of itself will be an issue to manage. Children everywhere will simply miss out and parents should anticipate and address it with the school, as well as having a plan around use.
Accounting for work done
In my experience it takes time for students to do authentic work (not just recall or regurgitate), write considered sentences, solve problems showing full working, draft essays and so forth. If a group of students is given set work, very few will finish in the allocated time. This means that students will have to do a lot of work on their own. It should be the expectation of parents that work done is marked quickly by the teachers otherwise the assigned work becomes activity for the sake of time filling. Any expectation that students to the assigned work should be matched by an equal expectation that teachers mark the work in a timely manner. Since online learning means that something should be produced as evidence of learning, then marking should be done as far as possible in real time with evidence of authentic or meaningful feedback.
Managing the technology
Parents always have to manage their children’s time on devices, the issue of distractibility when there are multiple tabs open or multiple conversations, eye strain and issues of posture. These issues become foregrounded in a home-based schooling system. A further issue is managing where in the home the actual schooling is done. It is generally advised that children sit in a common area of the house and use headsets/earphones, however this is not always practical. Working in bedrooms however can be problematic as supervision is not as easy and there are the distractions of the space.
It seems to me that parents should generally have low expectations of what can be expected in terms of home-based school via online learning being delivered by schools. Over time this will improve, but an extended Easter holiday seems wise. A focus on some traditional learning (such as reading) and including children in managing household tasks may help – such as tidying, washing, mowing the lawn, vacuuming and cooking.