A Reflection of Online Learning17th July 2020
As the first week of the return to normal schooling draws to a close, Toowoomba Grammar School Director of Studies, Dr Alison Young reflects on the online learning environment of Term 2 and the improvements that has resulted for face-to-face lessons.
Toowoomba Grammar School teachers know good teaching; some have been practising the fine art of teaching for many years. The reason teachers get out of bed in the morning is not only to impart knowledge, but for the positive relationships and daily contact with students. For these reasons, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the move to online learning challenged teachers in a way that they have never before encountered. However, our teachers stepped up to the challenge and provided our students with the best possible learning experience and learned some lessons themselves along the way.
As we saw the direction the pandemic was taking, the Toowoomba Grammar School teachers started trialling online learning in anticipation of a shutdown. This preparation held them in good stead. After a few in-class trials of the technology, teaching through the Microsoft Teams environment, we tested our capacity in Week 8 of Term 1 with an evening session in which every teacher was timetabled to run a short “lesson” for all their students. This enabled teachers and students to test their home internet capacity, connecting with a class and experimenting in a low stakes environment how the system might best work in each teachers’ particular context. Feedback from this trial was overwhelmingly positive, and we felt confident that we had a recipe for success with our chosen method of online delivery. We knew that more challenges would arise for our remote students who might encounter greater difficulties with connectivity, but we entered our next phase of the trial ready to problem solve the individual issues that might arise. In Week 10 of Term 1, instead of our Outdoor Pursuits and Activities week, we entered the next phase of the online learning trial. All students went home and teachers were able to conduct complete lessons with full classes in the online environment.
It is important to recognise the large amount of work that went into the preparation for online learning. Members of the Information Technology Department developed and tested processes, various teachers trialled systems and created support materials for both teachers and students. Our teachers needed to learn new systems, adjust pedagogy, develop methods for engaging with boys and check for understanding in the confronting environment of a computer screen. They definitely all missed the face-to-face interactions with the boys!
From the start of Term 2 we faced, as did all of Queensland, a three-week period of remote learning for all students before the staggered return of our students. During this time, students of essential workers did attend physically on campus, but they were participating in an online lesson with their peers. Boys and teachers are to be commended on their dedication to lessons. Boys demonstrated considerable resilience and independence in their learning. They were no longer able to have the teacher answer a question immediately and were required to try to work things out for themselves without having the security of an adult at their side whenever they raised a hand. Teachers found ways to address the challenge of not being able to provide immediate feedback, missing all those cues we usually rely on to gauge understanding. The technology allowed us to continue supporting students. Toowoomba Grammar School teachers regularly provide extra tutorials before exams and we saw this continue through Teams meetings. But teachers also got to know boys in a different context, we delighted in the insight into pets, younger siblings, and for our remote students a greater understanding of the boys’ lives and responsibilities.
There were many lessons learned during this time. Teachers have engaged with technology in new ways, and while welcoming the boys back, they have certainly expanded their repertoire of ways to engage boys. The online meeting environment which we are now so confident with, opens opportunities for providing support and contact with students, irrespective of their location. Boys have become more independent learners and have improved their communication with their teachers. Boys who were reticent to ask for help are far more comfortable approaching a teacher. But the most important lesson learned by all is what a positive learning environment we provide at Toowoomba Grammar School and that nothing can supplant the importance of those relationships developed between teacher and student.
- Dr Alison Young
Director of Studies