Tasmania’s capacity to offer remote learning experiences could open the door to new ways for educators to deliver the curriculum.
During the height of the pandemic, Tasmania closed schools and quickly configured digital ways of learning for all its students. For some, like private school Scotch Oakburn, that decision was made swiftly, out of a strong desire to protect its school community from the rapidly unfolding coronavirus pandemic. Tasmania’s public schools transitioned to remote learning for term 2, which left parents working at home and children learning from home. However, with most schools operating back on campus, education experts believe now is the right time to talk about how remote learning can enhance traditional methods.
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‘PLEASE SHUT DOWN’
Head of Professional Research and Innovation Virginia Berechree said at the time, in March, the school executive agonised for an hour-and-a-half on a Sunday afternoon to decide whether to close.
She said several medical professionals connected to the school had written to them requesting the school be closed and, in the end, it was a decision made to keep the school community safe.
Year 12 students Jonty Pretorius and Georgia Clements said it was a difficult transition – especially for the first two weeks. Miss Clements, who lives at Gravelly Beach, initially had problems.
“But after the first two weeks, new things started appearing that were helpful, so it made it easier,” she said.
Mr Pretorius said it was difficult starting his remote learning journey because he had to build a new routine to ensure he had adequate breaks and downtime to relax. “It was a lot of screens…it was tiring differently, and I had to make sure I built a routine to take breaks to exercise and do things like that,” he said.
Ms Berechree said the system had its teething problems, but the school was responsive to the students’ needs and embedded digital pastoral care along with a “P-Day”, a day set aside each week for students to work on their passion.
She said it gave the students a chance to take a break from the screens, and some downtime from the new ways of learning.
Mr Pretorius and Miss Clements said they both enjoyed those initiatives and they helped break up the intensity of the week.
While both prefer to be at school with their friends, the pair said there were positives from experience.
“I enjoyed not having to the commute to school, and the flexibility,” Miss Clements said. “I think it was a good exercise in self-motivation, and it gave me an insight into what I think university studies will be like,” Mr Pretorius said. Mrs Berechree said the school would continue to facilitate technology to allow more flexibility for staff. She said that was the biggest takeaway, how staff rose to the occasion.
A BLEND IS BEST
Remote learning is not a strange concept to creative industries education institution Foundry.
Tasmanian-headquartered Foundry has offered a mix of both online remote learning and on-campus education since its inception.
Some courses offer remote learning, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced all classes online. Foundry education lead Matt Leach said the school previously offered a blended experience of both remote and on-campus learning, which had proven beneficial for all students.
He said the expectation for all Foundry students was they had to complete their reading and associated tasks before their on-campus tutorial, which promoted engaged discussion. “I have been a real advocate for blended learning because I always hated lectures and found that for the majority of students they don’t work,” Mr Leach said.
Foundry’s model facilitates an engaged and open discussion between students and their teachers, who are industry experts. Mr Leach said now was the time, in a world focused on COVID-recovery, to think about how the remote learning experience could transform education for the better.
An Education Department spokeswoman said blended learning was a valuable addition to the learning options offered in Tasmania.
Blended learning options are offered for specific courses in public schools, but the spokeswoman didn’t say if the model would expand in a post-COVID environment.
However, year 11 and 12 students can study courses remotely if they aren’t available at their home school, she said.
“Technology has certainly demonstrated its capacity to enhance teaching and learning and has provided the impetus to explore new ways of collaborating and communicating,” the spokeswoman said. “Schools reported more frequent and focused communication through technology has forged stronger connections between teachers, students and families.”
The spokeswoman said the department would continue to support teachers to ensure they remain skilled and confident using technology to implement innovative practices for students.