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Easing the Transition Into Emergency Remote Teaching

by Steve McCabe
21 Apr 2020

History has shown us that, even in times of fragility – such as conflict, natural disaster or limited state capacity – education still plays a fundamental role in society, and should always be adapted and prioritised.

In Afghanistan – where high levels of gender inequality mean girls are often denied equal access to education – radio and video learning has helped changed the structures of exclusion. When Hurricane Isabel raged across parts of the USA, universities with online learning platforms were still able to teach students as normal, ensuring their graduation was not delayed.

Now, in Australia and across the world, educators are being thrust into a phase of emergency remote teaching – forced to adapt much of their curriculum and pedagogy to the virtual realm. Though it isn't without immense challenges, meeting the needs of students even in a time of crisis is so important, and together, we can come up with ways to make the transition more smooth.

For some of us, this isn’t the first time we’ve dipped our toes into online learning. Mighty Minds has been servicing Australian schools and students for years in this capacity, and I am a huge advocate of the idea that – when designed well – online education can be equally as effective as face-to-face instruction so long as the content is excellent and students’ engagement needs are met. 

However, the majority of teachers are not properly equipped with the resources or conditions to be able to offer well-thought-out, quality lessons at such short notice in the wake of COVID-19. Though many schools have support systems in place, some students don’t have access to the internet or even computers.

To make matters more complex, no matter our circumstances, we are also all being impacted personally by the pandemic and its endless sea of ramifications. Our routines have been disrupted, we have health fears for our loved ones and there is a great deal of uncertainty as to when it will end and when restrictions will be lifted.

One of the most vital things to remember is that the current situation is an emergency. There is no rulebook explaining how to how to adjust to the new reality, and education transitions will not be seamless. But no one is anyone expecting business as usual – and that includes parents! 

As educators, all our communication should be frank, frequent and honest. Students and parents are going to have an endless array of questions that will need answering, and keeping a constant stream of communication will assure everyone that you are prepared, are staying on top of things and have a plan.

In saying that, these plans need to be flexible. Whatever technology your school is using will invariably have hiccups and fail, staff and students may get unwell and will not necessarily be functioning at full mental capacity, and everyone’s at-home environment is going to have a major impact on how they teach and how they learn. Video calls get interrupted by awkward pauses and dodgy internet – not to mention how difficult it can be to work on a laptop in your lounge room when you’re also juggling children or pets in your space!

Moreover, we need to focus on supporting each other as best we can. This is a unique opportunity to collaborate: teachers should try to work closely with each other and with parents, and school leaders should connect with other school leaders. The online communities that I have seen blossom over the last few weeks are amazing, and have provided me with new spaces in which to connect with others in the same boat and share our struggles, ideas and triumphs.

I‘d love to hear others' tips for helping schools across Queensland and Australia bring high-quality remote education to every student over the next few weeks. What online communities are you finding solace in? What connections are you finding most helpful, what resources have you stumbled upon that have made the transition easier, how do you feel about schools going back over the next few weeks? Feel free to share your suggestions via our social media page, or get in touch with me via email. And good luck everyone!

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