Lessons from delivering learning online

Staff at Ringwood Secondary College in Victoria have learned a lot since students began learning from home. The team of around 140 staff have delivered over 2800 online lessons to their 1600 students, with both students and staff responding positively.

We really probably wanted the last two weeks to be more about how students connect in this environment with their teachers and the class that they're enrolled in,' principal Michael Phillips says. ‘That's probably been just as important as even the amount of work that's been produced.'

Phillips, who has been principal at the school for 23 years, is now looking at some aspects of learning and working from home that could remain in place once staff and students have returned to school full time.

Having clear expectations for students and staff

In Victoria, the school holidays were brought forward in order to give school staff time to plan for an at-home learning environment. At Ringwood Secondary College, where most students and staff were already set up with their own digital devices, some of this time was used to create policy documents and infographics for students and staff to refer to while working and learning from home.

‘We were really clear on having some specific, but reasonably broad protocols that we wanted people to work with so that people weren't overloaded with … lots of new information, but they actually had a framework in which they could work and understand,' Phillips shares.

Several documents were created and disseminated: student protocols for work during remote learning; how Ringwood Secondary College parents can support learning at home; advice for Ringwood Secondary College staff on being remote teaching ready; and staff protocols for remote learning, which includes sample lesson plans.

‘We wanted the instructions [in the lesson plans] to be pretty simple and clear with a certain number of features attached to the lesson, and links to the resources that the students might need for that lesson so they're not having to fumble around trying to find where that information is. They can actually click on a link and get what they need,' Phillips says.

‘Over the last two weeks we've had well over 90 per cent of our students engaging with the lessons, which is pretty good. You know, it can be up and down on any one day, but [we have] that balance of synchronous and asynchronous [learning] … they don't have to be on the whole time, but just creating the check-in times and spots is really important.'

He adds that exit passes – varying tasks for students to complete to determine their level of engagement with the learning – have already proved to have been a particularly successful implementation. While these were used by some staff previously, they now form part of all remote lesson plans. They've had positive feedback from both staff and students.

Assessing students while they learn from home

Although it's only been a matter of weeks since implementing these learning arrangements, Phillips says they're still making a lot of considerations about assessing students in this unique environment.

‘I think the interesting part will be, how do we find other ways of authenticating work in an online environment? We're novices at that, in a sense,' he explains. ‘We're getting a lot more information, I guess, to be able to make some informed decisions about what we should do next.'

As a school community, they're also looking at how they can increase student ownership of learning, even once they return to school full time.

‘I think that's going to be the key moving forward. And by having this online environment right now, we've actually started that process, because the students are actually making decisions about what they engage with and how they engage with it a lot more than how they would if they were in a face-to-face classroom environment,' he says.

Looking ahead ­at returning to school

Some of the tools that staff and students have been relying on during remote learning will likely continue to be used once they all return to the school building, Phillip says. For example, some things have become more structured and efficient while working online, such as staff meetings.

You can do them certainly in something that would normally take an hour or longer, in 30 or 40 minutes … so I've found that interesting, so far. And hearing a lot more voices in the room, so to speak. It's not just the same people contributing,' he adds.

‘One of the interesting things that's happened is the sort of self-help that's been set up, particularly with staff. So having such a big staff, the collaborative culture, which was okay before, has been enhanced considerably because people are suddenly, “we're all in this together, we've all got to do this”.'

Phillips has noticed that, particularly between staff, the common cause has also been exemplified in this online learning environment. When an educator has been stuck, they've reached out in the online chat rooms that have been set up, and others have responded with help and resources.

‘That's been quite efficient and it's been a terrific demonstration of how you can build more collective efficacy in your staff as well.'

The success they've had with online learning has also created some opportunities for students. In the future, if a student is unable to engage in learning on a particular day or week because they might be away, at a sporting event, or unwell, it would be useful for them to be able to have a structured lesson plan to revise which allows them to access the necessary resources.

‘We've really encouraged everyone just to do their best and realise, you know, it's not going to be perfect and there are going to be glitches, but just work with it,' Phillips says.

As an educator working remotely, have you noticed anything that has been working particularly well during this time? Has anything become more efficient in an online environment?

Could they be something you could integrate into teaching and learning once students are back at school full time?