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Research School Network: e‑Learning: A marathon not a sprint Roger Higgins, Director of Norwich Research School, talks about how his school is approaching the task of delivering e‑Learning during the COVID-19 closure


e‑Learning: A marathon not a sprint

Roger Higgins, Director of Norwich Research School, talks about how his school is approaching the task of delivering e‑Learning during the COVID-19 closure

by Research Schools Network
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Roger Higgins, Director of Norwich Research School – part of the EEF’s Research Schools Network – talks about how his school is approaching the task of delivering e‑Learning during the COVID-19 closure.

Our previous long-serving Headteacher would always welcome NQTs to our school in September by advising them that teaching is a marathon not a sprint”. In other words, pace yourself in terms of lesson preparation, delivery and marking. As we face up to a lengthy period of interacting with students remotely, this phrase seems appropriate for all teachers at our school, regardless of their experience.

It has been tempting to ignore this sage guidance and race to put the best possible e‑Learning in place for our students from the off. However, aligning our plans with the EEF’s Implementation Guidance has helped us to resist this impulse. A carefully staged marathon’ approach to e‑Learning during school closures best serves the wellbeing of our students, staff and parents.

Implementation Rec 3

Exploring the problem and potential solutions

At first glance the problem caused by school closures is obvious: students learn less when they are not in school, especially disadvantaged students. However, before settling on an approach to e‑Learning, we wanted to explore the problem from multiple perspectives: teachers, students and parents. 

  • We initially asked our teachers to provide basic work’ via Google classrooms:
  • Set in weekly chunks.
  • Provide answers to any activities to enable self-marking.
  • No expectations on live web-based teaching.

We are still in this triage’ stage, albeit with some teachers over-delivering. Whilst we are aware of its flaws (e.g. lack of formative assessment and feedback), the relative simplicity has given us the space to:

  • Survey our teachers to ascertain their home working arrangements and challenges.
  • Liaise with disadvantaged students and their parents as to barriers and solutions.
  • Check whether students have joined the relevant Google classrooms.
  • Engage with parents as to the challenges of home learning, commonly alongside a parent working from home, before attempting anything more complicated.

We have also considered the best evidence, such as EEF guidance reports, and notably these recommendations:

Consider how technology will improve teaching and learning before introducing it” – Recommendation 1, Digital Technology report

Provide practical strategies to support learning at home” – Recommendation 2, Working with Parents report

We now feel that we understand the challenge of e‑Learning from multiple perspectives, and have made a plan that is feasible for all (contact us if you are interested in it).

Implementation Rec 4

Preparing for change

We are currently working through four ideas for preparing to move from a triage’ stage of e‑Learning to a medium-term approach:

Pilot change

We have selected several possible approaches and trialled these with individual teaching groups. This quickly led to the conclusion that live delivery’ was not a good fit for us. However, students valued and engaged with asynchronously delivered modelling and explanation recorded using Loom’ (recommended to us by Durrington Research School). We also concluded that digital marking for individual students would be onerous, so settled on whole-class feedback to manage teacher workload.

Create an Implementation team

Eliciting early and ongoing critical feedback from a small selection of teachers has been invaluable in identifying where we’ve been getting ahead of ourselves, ensuring plans are realistic for a full-time classroom teacher who is working from home, and looking after dependents – e.g. children of their own or elderly neighbours needing shopping.

Assess readiness

In addition to surveying, we have consulted middle leaders via Zoom conferences. We were keen to launch’ an enhanced approach to e‑Learning straight after Easter; however, we accepted the professional judgement of those middle leaders that teachers were not ready. We therefore agreed to delay until the end of the first week of the summer term, which also has the benefit of monitoring for any drop-off in student engagement before scaling up teacher preparation and delivery.

Introduce new strategies with explicit up-front training

Much of the technology available is deceptively intuitive to use; yet rushing into their use can generate extra workload for teachers, as we discovered during our piloting. We instead used the Easter break to develop a series of video tutorials for teachers, complete with tips on how to avoid the pitfalls we’ve already spotted and experienced. We know that such up-front training will be insufficient on its own, and have also planned out drop-in’ support sessions (via video conferencing) for the summer term.

Effective Implementation

Final thoughts: sustaining e‑learning

The past few weeks have shown schools at their best, striving against the odds to do the best by young people amidst confusing and fast-changing circumstances. We now face an unknown but assumed lengthy period of school closure. It is a marathon and we need to sustain our pace. Key questions are steering our school planning:

  1. Do you need to enhance your e‑learning provision, or is what you have already fit for purpose?
  2. Can you take a staged approach to e‑learning?
  3. How have you / will you assess staff readiness?
  4. How will you mitigate any growth in the disadvantaged gap during school closures?
  5. How will you ensure that there is appropriate staff training to enable your e‑learning approach to be successful?

Interested in finding out more? Contact Norwich Research School for more information about their approach to e‑learning, or visit the Research Schools Network homepage to find your nearest Research School.

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