Tales from the front line of distance learning


“It is difficult to engage in this type of learning, but it doesn’t have to be impossible because NSW has a large distance education program,” she said. “There are a large number of teachers in Dubbo [School of Distance Education] who do this all day and every day.

Some parents say their kids finish the job in an hour and, as one of them put it, “wreak havoc” with little to do for the rest of the day. But a light approach works for Justine Toh, who is happy with the online classes her children are receiving, who are in kindergarten and first grade.

“My sweet kid does five or six activities a day,” she said. “Actually, it would be great if they said, ‘if you have a nice guy and a year old, don’t even worry’.”

Paul Thurtell, father of elementary school students in North Sydney and computer expert, wonders why teachers and parents still have to switch between Google Classroom, Zoom and other programs as the department has streamlined options based on the cloud that would be much easier to use.

“It’s a mix of everything,” he said. “I really feel sorry for the teachers. It’s also frustrating as a parent knowing that they could well have moved forward in this virtual space. They had a whole year to do so, and another lockdown was always a possibility. “

The NSW Department of Education said it has put options and resources for schools on its home learning center, which include assistance with planning, scheduling and organization of distance learning courses, as well as guides on the amount of work to be given to students.

“The department has a range of high-quality teaching and learning resources on the Learning from Home Hub, which includes distance education resources,” said a spokesperson.

“The home learning center also helps school leaders plan their response to distance learning and access a range of vocational training for school staff. Much of this advice draws on the experiences of our distance education and technology for learning teams with expertise in distance delivery.

Lindfield East Public School classroom with teacher Deanna Sonter zooming distance education.Credit:Louis Douvis

The diversity of distance learning approaches, even within the public system, is due to many factors – not least that no school can appeal to all families, who have very different needs even within the same one. class.

“In disadvantaged areas, schools may be inclined to purchase physical kits, which families come to collect,” said Craig Petersen, chairman of the High School Principals Council. “In some cases too… there are requests from parents to use less Zoom.

“If you zoom in on a live lesson and miss it for some reason, you missed it. It is also important if there is limited technology in the household, and therefore you are not sitting in front of a screen all day.

Another factor is a major change made to the department less than 10 years ago which gave principals much more power to decide on the teaching and learning strategy for their own community, with little intervention from a stripped department.

School autonomy helps principals respond quickly to the needs of their community, but it means the state’s 2,200 public schools also operate as franchises, preventing the department from suddenly reverting to a centralized, time-consuming system. crisis.

With each school and, often, stage developing its own approach, those whose principals or teachers are less tech savvy are more likely to limit their online delivery.

Mr Petersen suggested parents give schools constructive feedback or ask for help if they are having difficulty with distance learning. “They should give two types of feedback – what works really well and what doesn’t for my child and I.”

After a week of distance learning, St Scholastica’s College in Glebe decided to combine the best of last year’s approach with the best of this year by reducing face-to-face instruction time to 65- 70 minutes of class, allowing an additional session for pastoral support, extension activities and small group classes.

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“We will make the necessary adjustments to our work to ensure we deliver the best
girls’ education, ”director Kate Rayment wrote in an email to parents.

Many teachers are also frustrated, having quickly implemented e-learning programs during the school holidays as the COVID-19 situation rapidly deteriorated, and having organized themselves for two more weeks after the lockdown was extended. .

“I have never been so exhausted as a teacher,” said one, who spoke anonymously because she is not authorized to speak to the media.

“You have to be incredibly organized and ready for anything. The hardest part is trying to get a class of 25 students involved, making sure they follow you, making sure their cameras are on, keeping them interested, and talking to either a quiet room or to a room without control.

Studies of distance learning during last year’s lockdown found that only 25% of teachers were confident their students were learning well, and less than half, or 43%, were confident that most of their students were engaged.

The survey also found that only 35% of teachers felt that students had adequate resources at home, including having an adult available for free to help them, as well as technology or even a desk.

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