From change and adversity spring opportunity and the chance to be innovative and creative and model adaptability, flexibility and patience. These were the hallmarks of the teaching staff and students at Brisbane’s St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School during the pivot to online learning brought about by COVID-19.
Fortunately, a sturdy technological infrastructure along with a customised learning management system (The POD) ably supported the shift to online learning; however, teachers and students still faced a steep learning curve as they braved this new paradigm of digital pedagogy.
Platforms familiar to both teachers and students, such as The POD and OneNote, together with Microsoft Teams for video conferencing, became the three central elements of online delivery, and came under the umbrella of ‘Maggies Connect’.
The challenge for teaching staff was establishing new ways for delivering the curriculum in the online environment.
According to Head of E Learning Alison Scott, what the shift really highlighted was teachers’ roles as facilitators of learning in the traditional classroom and the challenge then was creating those learning moments in the online setting.
Supported by Alison and her knowledge and skillset in digital pedagogy, St Margaret’s teaching staff found innovative methods to connect students with the curriculum such as videos, interactive and narrated PowerPoints, quizzes and test forms.
“Within Microsoft Teams, some teachers came up with innovative ideas using breakout rooms for group work. Others utilised ClickView Interactive Videos for student engagement and built-in questions. Flipgrid also became a powerful resource for teachers and students, particularly for music and language subjects, largely due to its video sharing and feedback tools,” Alison said.
Collaboration also became part of the online teaching movement at St Margaret’s with staff regularly sharing new ideas, applications and methods with their peers.
St Margaret’s Principal Ros Curtis said,“Teachers regularly shared resources and digital expertise to ensure that everyone was operating optimally in this new learning paradigm.”
Acting Dean of Academic Performance Nicole Devlin said connection was also an important aspect of St Margaret’s pivot to online learning.
“Connection in the classroom is so important but we realised we could also still connect online.
“What worked really well for us was maintaining the student’s timetable and structure of their day. It provided the students with stability, reassurance and that all important connection with their teacher,” she said.
The online classroom enabled teachers and students to connect in new and different ways too.
“Through our conversations in Teams, we would get a more personal glimpse into students’ lives; meet pets and family members and discover more about out students’ home lives, interests and hobbies and they probably learnt more about me as well. It enabled us to connect in different ways because the online environment made it a little more casual,” said Nicole.
With students back in the physical classroom, the question now begs, what takeaways from online learning might be here to stay.
For Kate Frewin, Assistant Head of Primary – Curriculum, she foresees improved use of technology in the classroom will be a mainstay.
“We will continue to develop the ICT capabilities of our primary students through the use of technology in the classroom and also through the use of our learning management system as a digital learning platform. Microsoft Teams will also continue to be used to allow greater flexibility for students and staff,” she said.
For Nicole, the ability for her to leave a lesson online, when she knows she will be absent from the classroom, will be something she takes away from online learning.
“It has certainly transformed the way I will plan and leave lessons when I know I will be absent in the future. I can now leave a lesson through a PowerPoint with voiceover or video demonstration and utilise our learning management system to set tasks and receive submissions,” she said.
Nicole also said some teachers were shifting to adopt a pedagogical model of the ‘flipped classroom’ which would become more commonplace.
“The notion of students engaging with interactive content on a new concept as homework, prior to face to face learning with their teacher in the classroom the next day, will be utilised more by teachers as they continue to integrate the use of technology and the school’s learning management system into their lessons and homework delivery,” she said.
Other differences in practice will be the submission of work, a huge timesaving benefit for teachers.
“Our learning management system can facilitate this entire task from submission through to marking and provision of feedback,” Nicole said.
While the future of learning might start to take on a new shape, St Margaret’s staff all agree the adaptation to online learning highlighted the resilience of both teachers and students.
“We now know we are able to be far more creative and flexible in our learning than we sometimes believe possible,” Alison said.
This resilience and adaptability are skills required for the 21st century and the COVID-19 challenge has proven St Margaret’s students are ready to accept and adapt to whatever changes come their way in the future.