Supporting Distance Learning

To help you provide online distance learning during school closures, we have put together some things to consider, top tips and details of some of the most commonly used online tools. Please remember that for any cloud-based tools, the school has a responsibility to ensure they have adhered to their GDPR policy and factored in any potential safeguarding concerns.

The ICT Service is able to provide schools with guidance around specific tools they are thinking of using as well as other options which are available.  Contact us for more information by calling 0300 300 0000 or emailing support@theictservice.org.uk.

What approach will you take?

We are helping schools to consider implementing different types of provision for supporting pupils’ learning at home. Whatever you do, It’s important to have a planned, whole school approach so that expectations are clear. It is also best to be aware that your approach might need to change according to how long the school closure lasts.

Your current approach might include:

  • providing a pack of content to practice things already taught
  • Setting tasks and linking to online content (including teacher generated content)
  • live streaming parts of lessons.

We can help you think about how you will:

  • Distribute work to pupils and monitor who has completed it.
  • Collect pupils’ work in
  • Give feedback

Providing ‘packs’ of content

This can often be done through existing tools, including emailing parents or using existing online platforms to distribute activities to pupils.  Start from where you are; if you already have existing systems in place, explore those first and foremost, whether they are pupil platforms, parental communication tools or online spaces such as your school website.  Distributing ‘packs’ of content is only likely to be effective for a short period of time as teachers will not have the facility to give feedback or address misconceptions.

Several well know providers have made some of their ready-made content available for free during the Covid19 crisis, such as Twinkl and planned releases from White Rose Maths, in addition to freely available content from sources such as BBC Bitesize.

Setting tasks and linking to online content

There are lots of online tools for setting tasks for pupils, collecting work and giving feedback and you might be more prepared than you think!  Many schools have cloud based tools and services which children can access from home.  Pupils may not have access to an overarching cloud platform, but they may well have access to subject specific tools and resources so again, explore these first and foremost.

If you do choose to introduce some new tools (and there are currently many offers available for schools to help with this), think carefully about what you want to achieve and whether the tools are right for you – don’t rush into a decision and bear in mind some of the safeguarding considerations below.

The following is a list of some of the platforms we know are commonly used in Cambridgeshire schools, although it is by no means exhaustive:

  • Gsuite / Office 365 for Education – with either of these platforms, schools can give pupils access to a range of productivity tools (e.g. Docs, Sheets, Slides / Word PowerPoint, Excel) and can use Google Classroom or Microsoft Class Teams to distribute work, collect it in and give feedback as well as post messages and notifications.  Teachers can provide links to content they have created and also live stream lessons, but this comes with some safeguarding considerations (see below).  Find out more about using Gsuite for Education and Office 365 for Education.
  • Purple Mash – schools already subscribing to this can set work to pupils, collect it in and give feedback via 2Dos.  They can also use shared classroom folders to upload a variety of content for pupils to access, including videos teachers have created.  Purple Mash also includes lots of ready-made resources to save teachers time.  Non-subscribers can initially sign up for a free month’s access during the Covd19 crisis, with no obligation to subscribe.
  • Seesaw – this free platform (premium version is also available) allows the creation of portfolios of pupils’ work, either by submitting photos and videos or through annotating documents within the platform itself.  Teachers can set work through ‘activities’, collect it in and provide feedback.  Often used in school as a shared platform (where pupils’ can view and comment on other’s work), Seesaw have recently added ‘Home Learning logins’ so that pupils can access all of the tools whilst only seeing their own content, which is a particularly useful addition in response to the Covid19 crisis.  See more information on Remote Learning and accessing Home Learning Logins.
  • Showbie & Socrative Pro – a cloud-based platform allowing pupils to submit work in a wide range of file formats, carry out assessment activities and for the teacher to collect work and provide feedback.  Showbie is able to handle a wide range of file formats across multiple platforms and devices, and offers free and premium versions.  They initially offered free accounts to all schools but were quickly overwhelmed and so have reduced this to a more manageable offer for both subscribing and non-subscribing schools.

Looking for a specific tool?  There are already lots of freely available tools for creating quizzes and assessment activities for pupils, such as Quizlet, Kahoot, Socrative, NearPod, Quizzez and Classkick.

Thinking of creating video content for pupils?

Online platforms provide a real opportunity for sharing bespoke, high-quality content with pupils which goes far beyond the limitations of traditional approaches.  Some considerations include:

  • What’s the workload? Video can be time-consuming for teachers to create and staff may be anxious about the quality of content, especially if they have no experience of creating resources in this way.  Try to balance the time it take to create content with the benefits to pupils’ learning.
  • Where will it be stored?  Have an agreed online location which is safe for pupils to access, and set clear expectations with pupils and parents that content should not be re-uploaded onto any other platform.
  • Will it be effective?  Don’t spend hours creating whole lessons of content.  Videos are likely to be most effective (and watched!) in short bursts.  What can you effectively teach in a relatively short amount of time, and how might you supplement this with other materials and activities for pupils to complete.
  • Beware of introducing misconceptions.  When delivering content online, you won’t be there to ensure misconceptions and errors are not developing.  Can you set tasks for pupils to check understanding after they have watched online content?

Using iPad to prepare or deliver distance learning materials?  Apple have produced some helpful videos around making content and using Apple’s Everyone Can Code and Everyone Can Create guides and links to useful apps. 

Thinking of Live streaming lessons?

‘Live streaming’ lessonsbroadcasting them in real time – has several advantages over pre-made video content, including being able address any misconceptions live, reducing the workload associated with creating videos in advance and providing structure to pupils’ days through live ‘events’. 

There are a few school-friendly tools available for this, and we strongly advise schools to use using a tool which is already in place.  Google Gsuite’s ‘Hangouts Meet’ and Microsoft’s ‘Teams’ two of the most well-known ones and schools who have these in place can exercise some administrator control over what pupils and staff can see and do.   

If you are planning to adopt a new tool for this, or use an exisiting tool differently, then you must ensure its use meets GDPR requirements and we strongly advise you to carry out a risk assessment before use, particuarly with safeguarding in mind. 

Considerations include (but are not limited to): 

  • Do you really need to live stream?  Are there significant advantages for what you want to achieve or could you record your videos in advance and allow children to respond asynchronously instead?  You should only be considering live streaming for educational purposes. 
  • How will you ensure that communication between staff and pupils takes place within clear, professional boundaries and be fully transparent?  Is there an audit trail of all sessions which have take place?  Should you record sessions to protect both pupils and teachers from accusations of inappropriate conduct?  If so, where will these be stored and how will you ensure they are only accessed / used appropriately? If not, how will you ensure transparency (e.g. can you have 2 members of staff attend each event?). 
  • Will staff appear on camera?  Where will they be?  What is the expected dress code?  Who else will physically be in the room with the teacher? Other people should not be in the room if it would not be appropriate for them to be in the same educational setting as the student.  For example, it would be inappropriate for a non-DBS checked adult to be in the room with you if you are able to chat with pupils whilst streaming. 
  • Will pupils appear on camera?  If they don’t need to, they should deny video access (or preferably this should be denied in advance by the teacher).  If you do allow a video feed from pupils, do they need to be in it, or do you just need to see their work? 
  • How will you ensure pupils can’t access a live streaming event without the teacher being present?  For example, not allowing particpants to join before the teacher is present and stopping them re-entering after the teacher has leftHere’s how to manage that in Google Meet. 
  • If you’re dictating the schedule through live sessions, how will you ensure screen time is balanced? Don’t plan for pupils to be sat in front of a screen for extended periods of time.  Even if you decide to deliver a relatively full programme of learning, pupils still need to take regular breaks for both their physical and mental well-being (as do staff). 
  • How will you communicate expectations to parents and pupils? Unlike when attending school, staff are not responsible for children’s physical safety when delivering learning content online.  Parents mustn’t assume that any online learning opportunities are the equivalent of providing childcare! 
  • Before starting any livestream, remind children:
    – not to share private information
    – not to respond to contact requests from people they don’t know
    – who they should tell if they see or hear anything upsetting or inappropriate. 
  • What will you do if you become concerned during a session? Safeguarding must take priority at all times.  If you have concerns which make you feel you should end the session early, then do so.  You should report any safeguarding concerns in line with your school’s policy, and apply the same rationale as you would at any other time. 

How will you track who has attended/completed any work set?

As well as setting work for pupils, teachers are likely to want to track who has completed it / who has ‘attended’ lessons. This is particularly relevant once schools reopen so that gaps in learning for particular pupils can be planned for and addressed. When setting asynchronous tasks, most platforms provide some way of tracking who has handed work in and when.

However, trying to keep track of who has attended (and stayed with!) a live session is more difficult. Strategies such as getting pupils to ‘check in’ at the start of a session (and part-way through) using chat functionality, asking all pupils to submit something to you at a set time or taking a verbal register are options. Ultimately though, it may be enough to track which pupils have successfully completed any associated work set, rather than what sessions they have attended.

The NSPCC has also released guidance on keeping children and young people safe while teaching in a remote or unusual setting.

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