Anthony Coxon, co-founder and director of GCSEPod

How we can help schools implement distance learning with #EdTech 

During uncertain times, making the transition from classroom learning to working remotely can be challenging, particularly for older students who have been busy preparing for their GCSEs and A-level exams. So far, many education institutions across the globe have closed their doors to halt the spread of COVID-19, with UK schools being the latest to shut temporarily in line with the Government’s advice. The exception to this being schools which are staying open for children of key workers or those who are vulnerable.

As for exam timetables, the Education Secretary has cancelled the upcoming summer exam series and pupils will be awarded a grade for their GCSEs and A-levels based on “a range of evidence and data including performance on mock exams and non-exam assessment – clear guidance on how to do this fairly and robustly will be provided to schools and colleges. The exam boards will then combine this information with other relevant data, including prior attainment, and use this information to produce a calculated grade for each student, which will be a best assessment of the work they have put in”. 

Any student not happy with their grades will have the opportunity to sit an exam once schools are open again.

While this situation is unprecedented, we can all agree that our priority remains the students and ensuring they can continue their development and receive a high-quality education, whatever their location.

The benefits of distance learning abroad

It is early days for distance learning in the UK, yet schools must look to implement measures which enable students to study independently from home and access all the curriculum-based materials they may need. In an era where technology is continuously advancing, there are numerous ways to support students to learn remotely via EdTech solutions.

As a first step, we might look to schools abroad who are already implementing digital resources to enable remote learning. The British International School Shanghai, Puxi, was forced to closed early on due to the outbreak. However, having digital revision tools in place meant the school could adapt quickly and ensure students had engaging activities to access from home.

Paul Kelly, Head of Secondary at The British International School Shanghai, Puxi, said:

“GCSEPod was recommended to The British International School Shanghai, Puxi by a colleague at another Nord Anglia school who has used it successfully at her school. The decision to close all schools in China was made during the Chinese New Year holiday, so many staff had already left Shanghai and were not prepared to work remotely. We had to react quickly and set up GCSEPod accounts for all of our secondary aged students, this gave our staff access to quality resources whilst also enabling some time to get remote access to their own work. In the short time we have been using GCSEPod, we have had over 3,000 Pods viewed, with staff and student feedback being very positive. We will certainly integrate GCSEPod into our revision planning for future years.”

Transitioning seamlessly to online

Online resources are vital to allow students to smoothly transition away from a physical classroom. It can be difficult for students to stay motivated and focused whilst at home, which is why it’s crucial that tools are readily available to keep their minds engaged and ensure they are developing their knowledge ahead of the return to school. Giving students access to curriculum-aligned revision videos provides an entertaining alternative to traditional studying, whilst offering the curriculum continuity to help them stay focused.

Remote learning is a new experience for everyone and while EdTech tools might be unfamiliar to some parents and teachers, digital learning is nothing unusual for today’s younger digital generation. Students are accustomed to getting their information in bite-sized chunks through their smartphones and social media, and so we should embrace resources which reflect the way young people consume content today. Short, snappy revision videos are fun but above all accessible; they give pupils the freedom to re-watch and test their knowledge in order to deepen their subject comprehension.

During this time, any digital resources which enable independent learning and require minimal instruction from teachers will help to make distance learning flexible and easy to implement for all pupils. This flexibility is especially important as children settle into a new routine of working from home which might be different to the usual school hours. Empowering students with self-led revision tools will further help them develop key independent learning and critical thinking skills that will benefit them in their education and beyond.

As the education sector looks to prepare itself for further disruption, we should consider the long-term impact for students who might choose to sit their exams later in the year. Students now need all the help they can get to keep up their learning and revision, which is where EdTech resources that enable teachers to monitor and manage student revision progress will be invaluable. For example, the ‘Check and Challenge’ feature in our platform is specially designed to focus on students being able to assess themselves, build their knowledge content, developing it stage by stage and driving their intrinsic motivation by earning diamonds along the way.

These self-led assessments give students access to questions and enable them to test their knowledge independently. Teachers can then view the results from their students and will be able to identify the steps each student took to answer the questions to provide an individual picture and that of the whole cohort. This further reduces the workload of teachers who will likely be busy preparing new lesson plans and taking on additional tasks from colleagues who are unwell, as they will not need to assign homework themselves. In this way, pupils can engage with the subject matter at a deeper level through self-directed learning and improve their retention of key facts and themes.

Teachers understandably may worry about the impact of school closures on their students’ exam results, yet many EdTech revision tools offer content filtered by individual exam boards, as well as providing assessments in the form of readymade questions and homework. As these resources predominantly make use of the national curriculum, teachers can be assured that the content that they are learning through online resources matches the content taught in the classroom. This relieves teachers of all secondary school year groups the burden the current situation may leave them in; many online revision resources are applicable for all year groups not just Year 10 and 11. Empowering pupils to keep up their revision will further stand them in good stead if they wish to sit their exams later in the year.

Edtech solutions have the power to help students continue their learning during these times of disruption and support teachers in delivering the same high-quality content as they would have done in the classroom. Providing digitally savvy students with entertaining videos and activities they can access from home; will help to make the experience more normal as they learn and give peace of mind to parents and teachers.

Anthony Coxon, co-founder and director of GCSEPod

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