At this time of year (End of May) in Further Education we would be typically looking forward to the return of students and the starting of the Summer term. Working with and supporting them as they finish off assignments and prepare for final end point assessments.
It is also the time that teaching staff look to the new academic year and start the process of planning schemes of learning for September. However with the uncertainty surrounding covid-19 it looks like we will need to maintain some aspect of social distancing and this will have a huge impact on what the new academic year could look like.
In this post I will consider the impact this could have on Further education and explore the potential opportunities this could present for different approaches to meet the needs of the students we have.
As I write this, lots of colleges are currently preparing to let a limited number of students return, those who will be working towards exams next year. College estates teams will be working out one-way systems ensuring that there is sufficient space between desks in classrooms and workshops.
This need to manage space will result in there needing to be less students and staff on site at anyone time thus impacting the way that courses are timetabled. This could potentially see groups split into two smaller cohorts which then come in on a rotational basis every 2-weeks.
Such a scenario would need to be managed effectively to ensure courses are delivered in an engaging and enrichment manner. Realistically the only way to achieve this is going to be by maintaining some form of online delivery to accompany any face-to-face delivery. (a blended approach)
Potentially there will be certain units that can be delivered solely online, However there will be units that need a blend of online and face-to-face sessions. With on-site time at premium for students it's going to be really key to ensure the activities are most appropriate for their location, whether that be on site or at online at home .
This will result in the need for a greater focus on planning as staff will have to detail the specific learning objectives for each session identifying what can be achieved remotely and what needs to be achieved on site.
But it goes further than that, we need to look at the structure of lessons, from the starter/connect activity, to the share setting out the lesson objectives, the present the imparting of new information, to the apply where students have time to put into practice what they have learnt, and finally the recall/ plenary checking what they have learnt.
Which of those lesson components could be done remotely and which need to be done in person.When it comes to the connect, share and recall aspects all of these would work equally well in person or remotely(online).
For me the present aspect of the lesson, where the knowledge is imparted, really lends itself to being done remotely. Finally that leaves the apply aspect of the lesson, which I believe in most cases works best in person.
Students on the vocational courses will need to access specialist resources and equipment to enable them to put into practice the new skills learnt, it takes time for them to develop those new neural pathways. Those students on academic courses may not require access to specialist equipment. However the opportunity to discuss and debate the topics covered would also be better suited to in person delivery.
When it comes to the online aspect of delivery we need to consider whether a synchronous or asynchronous approach is best. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages some of which are detailed below:
In most cases I believe a mixture of both synchronous and asynchronous delivery is the best approach.
Having run and contributed to a number of live webinars however well prepared I am always slightly concerned that when the time comes to go live that there could be a technical issue whether that be computer or internet based. For that reason I would always prefer to pre-record a presentation or a session, this gives me time to ensure it is of the best quality possible.
To encourage students to engage with video content in a timely manner, I would make it initially available for a short window of time.I would post a couple of questions I would want then to answer having watched the content. I would also schedule a synchronous activity to happen to enable students to debate what it is they have just watched and ask any further questions they may have.
I see this method having a number of benefits, one removing the stress of there being a technical failure and two more importantly giving the students time to digest the information before being required to ask questions and discuss it with peers. There will be many challenges including getting to know your students, this will be key as unlike the with current cohort you won't have the benefit of getting to know them face to face. As mentioned in my previous blog post on working remotely, the induction and setting of expectations around online engagement is really important as is providing enough time to show them how to use the different technologies they will be using to engage with you remotely. But there are unforeseen benefits some of the students who did not always feel happy to contribute during a face to face lessons have come in to their own as they have found contributing remotely much more to their liking. Clear learning objectives will be key, with pedagogy being the driver. Teachers will need support in adapting to a different way of working. I created this infographic highlighting a range of activity ideas that could be done with a small selection of tools could be used at different points throughout a lesson.
However despite all these challenges I feel this an opportunity that we in Further education must take to modernise all aspects of the business not just the way lessons are delivered , it will require the whole sector to play their part, funding bodies, exam boards. This has been a very tough time for lots of people with many suffering hardships and loosing loved ones. It would nice if something postive could come out of it.