Let’s Get Serious About Remote Teaching

Mal Lee

It is time for the world, and particularly its educators to get serious about remote teaching.

Two years on it is time to accept that COVID and its variants will be part of our lives and schooling for years to come.

It is also important to appreciate at the same time that key elements of schooling, that date back to the Industrial Age, are becoming increasingly alien in a socially networked society, where the interconnectedness necessitates a more collaborative, agential style approach. 

The significant digital divide, student mental health concerns, shortage of teachers, falling student enrolments and retention rates and the growing student disengagement and alienation point to major structural shortcomings within schooling, that necessitate astute holistic renovations befitting today’s world.

Schools and governments must address those realities, understanding their experience is being replicated in schools worldwide, and normalise as soon as feasible the apt, attractive, effective, and strongly individualised use of remote teaching in schooling, be in the school or from home.

The new normal should be a schooling that the incorporates the astute everyday use of remote – or some would say hybrid, blended or flipped – teaching.

Let’s get serious.

Banish the notion that the pandemic is a temporary problem, and that the connected world is not dramatically changing our ways. 

Schooling must move immediately out of its holding pattern, the use of Band Aid solutions and political spin and begin shaping a model of schooling for a networked world that can provide a ‘new normal’, largely interrupted schooling when living with COVID. 

Critically continue to base schooling within the physical place called school but employ a socially networked teaching regimen that is equally attractive, engaging, and effective on site and when provided out of the student’s and teacher’s homes.

Let’s take advantage of the global societal shift to a digital and networked existence, the increasingly sophisticated technologies, the greater personalisation of information and the best of traditional schooling and teach for today’s world, and not the Industrial Age.

Many have been calling for years for this to happen.

In early 2020 the schooling of the nation’s young irrevocably changed worldwide.

Let’s accept there is no going back.

Rather there is the necessity, and the opportunity for governments and astute visionary educators to build upon the natural transition to a more networked, personalised mode of schooling to provide every one of the nation’s young an attractive, quality contemporary education, while contending with COVID.

Stop grabbing off the shelf online teaching solutions, still geared to the Industrial Age, that bore most students, and which benefit only company’s bottom line.

Core is shaping the way forward with a digital mindset.

Allied is genuinely respecting and building upon the contribution made by all associated with the education of each child. For far too long students, parents, grandparents and vitally teachers, have been viewed as pawns to be used at whim by education bureaucrats.

Within a socially networked society the dividends come from the collaborative pooling of resources and expertise and treating people with respect; trusting and empowering them to contribute to the holistic education of the children.

Let the village assist in the education of the young.

The remote teaching during the school shutdowns globally was in reality done by the ‘village’, primarily from the students and teacher’s homes, using their personal resources, infrastructure, and connectivity.

Rarely has that financial contribution been recognised or teachers recompensed, or it appreciated that this kind of collaboration exemplified the use of networked resources that should be the norm within a networked society.

COVID has alerted parents, and hopefully governments, worldwide to the oft forgotten reality that schooling should be far more than academic performance, and should also address the growth, development, well-being and nurturing of every child, the marginalised, the non-conformist, the disabled and not simply the academically advantaged.

The pandemic also underscored the imperative of 100% of the nation’s young and their families having permanent broad band home connectivity and all in the family having the digital devices needed to grow being digital, lifelong. 100%, not 95% or even 99% must have connectivity.

In a networked society that connectivity is now critical to most all facets of life, for every citizen. That has been affirmed daily throughout the pandemic. That personal connectivity must be provided all, the 90 year old as well as the young. Every citizen must the ready facility to learn, communicate, and socialise digitally, but also to partake of the evolving new normals, the likes of telehealth, pandemic warnings, digital passports, and permission to access buildings, travel, provinces, and nations.

The astute governments, the likes of Boston in the US, recognise they must ensure every citizen has that connectivity, as they once did with the mail.  While most in the developed world can afford that connectivity the school experience worldwide revealed, even in the richest of nations there was a significant number who could not, particularly when all in the family were working from home.

Let’s also get serious about the greatest resource at the school’s disposal, its teachers.

Start by treating them as professionals, by providing them the trust, respect, working environment, remuneration, training, agency, and support needed for them to lead the way in shaping the schooling for a networked society, and providing the best possible remote teaching and learning.

Stop treating them as mere drones on an education production line, to do the bureaucrats bidding.

Reflect on how governments worldwide treated doctors during the pandemic, and how it treated its teachers. 

Little is the wonder that teachers throughout the developed world, the US, Canada, France, Australia, and England, have felt the need this year to strike to be heard. One will struggle to find any enquiry examining teacher’s working conditions during the pandemic, the inordinate workload, the overtime, the stress, the burnout, the failure of bureaucrats to listen and the percentage of the teachers who have resigned or who soon will.

When one of the world’s wealthier education provinces, the state of NSW in Australia, unilaterally decides from on high to employ unqualified undergraduates and long retired teachers to keep its classroom’s operational one can rightly argue that system’s treatment of its greatest resource has failed abysmally.

The system likely doesn’t realise it is in a protracted downward spiral evermore unable to find the desired teachers.

But NSW is not alone.

Education systems and schools worldwide continue to ineffectually perpetuate the ways of old, still believing the pandemic and the structural shortcomings are but temporary.

It is time to get serious about the use of remote teaching in a networked society.

However, any such move, by either by a school or system must give due regard to the desired totality, to the increasing interconnectedness of the networked world and adopt a holistic approach that addresses the myriad of linked variables at play.

2. COVID and The Transition

Mal Lee

The COVID -19 experience, coupled with the transition to the more networked mode is already shaping as a watershed moment in the history of schooling.

The pandemic alerted the world to the historic transformation underway, accelerated the transition, forced teachers, students, parents and schools to pool their resources and collaborate in the teaching, obliged schools to accommodate societies rapidly evolving expectations and bid them think about the desired nature of the school within a connected world. 

Importantly the pandemic, coupled with the network technology necessitated schools use the digital resources of the student’s homes, to collaborate with and actively involve the digitally connected families in the teaching and provide the parents a historic insight into the school’s teaching and workings.

It gave young parents an agency that many are likely not to relinquish lightly.

COVID, in its stress testing of every facet of facet of society and its organisations both transformed significant aspects of life, work and learning and posed fundamental questions of near every organisation. 

It did the same with schools. It identified their strengths and shortcomings and asked how fit for purpose were they to educate the nation’s young today. 

Significantly the pandemic revealed to school communities worldwide the extent to which ‘their’ school had transitioned from their traditional paper base to one that was more networked, and how ready it was to teach in an increasingly networked mode.

Whether the schools saw that ‘reveal’, as flagged in the first post is moot.

The pandemic showed that most all schools could, albeit to varying degrees, educate its students in a fully networked mode, as well as on site, and use a mix of the two modes.

Importantly it revealed that near all students and teachers had in their personal lives naturally grown their digital mindset and competencies, and had the home connectivity and infrastructure, and in the case of the students the family support, to partake in a fully networked mode of teaching and learning.

That said the COVID experience also highlighted the disturbing social inequities existent in most all schools, with the socially economically advantaged continuing to be advantaged while those less well off, and the marginalised were further disadvantaged. Very early in the pandemic the digital divide, even in nations with 90% plus home connectivity, became strikingly obvious.  As did the failure by near all authorities to have put in place the measures to guarantee equity of digital access and home connectivity for all students.

While, for example it is estimated that 9 million plus students (Tyton, 2021) were enrolled in ‘learning pods’ and ‘micro-schools’ in the US in 2020 during the shutdown all were paid for by advantaged families, for advantaged children. 

The poor were left to fend for themselves.

The pandemic also reminded the world that schooling the nation’s young entailed far more than the teaching and testing of a few academic subjects. Schools are not and should never be simply about PISA scores.

Schools are nation’s tools for growing, educating, and nurturing all its young. The many concerns brought to the fore during COVID about student alienation, dropping student retention rates, poor socialisation, student well-being, mental health, digital inequities, the marginalised, racism and the treatment of girls are all matters society rightly should expect schools to play a major role in addressing.

Unintentionally COVID reminded societies and their governments schools were unique organisations. They have simultaneously to be constant while also contemporaneous, always adapting their ways to meet society’s evolving expectations.

The pandemic affirmed the constancy in making it clear to all, that the existing school organisational structures that the world has known for a century plus, could not be changed. They were immutable. Society expects schools, likely more than ever, to nurture and educate the students during set times each day, five days a week, for most of the year within the physical place called school. 

The social, educational, economic, and political imperative became daily more apparent. 

Tellingly the transition to a more networked mode has successfully occurred within the existing structures and will in most instances have to continue doing so in the decades ahead.

COVID laid to rest the belief by many futurists that that the core school organisational structures can be changed, and that the technology removes the need for site based schooling.

COVID also shattered the myth that all schools were the same. It revealed that all had not transitioned to the networked mode at the same rate, nor were all at the same point in their transitioning.

Rather it demonstrated to students and parents globally that every school was unique. Different styles of leadership, mix of staff, heritage, clientele, context, aspirations, shaping vision, culture and level of resourcing all contribute to that uniqueness. 

What the pandemic did was to alert school communities to the different stages schools were at in their transition, and that the differences would likely grow. While the astute, visionary heads were shaping highly focussed, tightly integrated networked learning communities, others were trying to retain the ‘grammar of schooling’ within the more networked mode.  One school observed tried to do the latter with a 100% migration of its site based schooling online, even to the extent of using the existing lesson times, mandating the students wear uniforms and imposing detentions on those who transgressed. 

The imperative of each school shaping their own desired transition became that more apparent.

As did that of schools accommodating, as best they could the ‘new normals’ expected by the wider society. The speed with which schools were required to adopt those changing expectations during the course of the pandemic will be long remembered.

COVID bid each school, like every other organisation, rethink its purpose, its fit for today’s world and to tackle the pitfalls that invariably come with digital disruption, and increased networking.

It should have prompted schools to clarify their educational purpose and the nature of teaching they want to use in a rapidly evolving, seemingly chaotic, networked world. 

Was there any such contemplation in your school?

What became apparent globally was that the digital and network technology can be equally well used to unilaterally control and micromanage every facet of the teaching and learning or to distribute the control, to trust and give agency to the teachers, students and parents and have them work collaboratively in the teaching of the young.

What approach would you take?

Which does you school employ?

Has your school begun to address the issues highlighted during the shutdown? 

  • Do for example all students need to physically attend a place called school, all the time? 
  • What mix of face to face and networked teaching should the school now use, at different age levels, in different areas of learning? 
  • Is yours a school where the socially and economically are further advantaged, and the marginalised are still disadvantaged or does it need to provide all a more equitable contemporary education? 
  • Should ‘success’ at your school still be equated solely with the ability to perform well in handwritten exams that assess academic knowledge, or should it embody something broader, that includes both academic attainment and the ability to thrive within rapidly evolving, uncertain networked organisations? 

This series of posts will not attempt to decide on the purpose or the nature of schooling.

Nor will they suggest any one mode of schooling is better, or indeed what mix of on-site and networked teaching is most appropriate. 

It leaves that to the school, and education authority.

Moreover, they will make no effort to provide a rationale for the natural transition to a more networked mode, or to identify the plusses or minuses of the global phenomenon.

Rather the posts will address the reality, and hopefully assist shape the desired transition, while at the same time factoring in living with COVID. 

  • Tyton Partners (2021) School Disrupted. Part 2. July 2021  

COVID -19 and Digital Schooling

Sharing the experience

Mal Lee

Do you have a school, education authority, government review of how the school/s handled the COVID – 19 lockdown that we can share?

Indeed if you would like to publish a reflective on your school’s experience in going digital we’d be delighted to publish those thoughts.

Simply email Mal Lee at mallee@mac.com

The 2020 COVID – 19 pandemic obliged schools and their communities like never before to address the facility to move to a more digitally based schooling.

Notwithstanding we expect most schools, education authorities, teacher education institutions and governments to return as soon as possible to the standard model of schooling, still shaped by an analogue mindset, having no desire to go digital.

But we are also aware of notable exceptions worldwide that used the digital astutely, who grew as school communities during the pandemic and which will continue to grow as digitally mature organisations.

Our desire is to use this site to monitor and reflect upon the digital evolution of schooling. 

Serendipitously over the last year Roger Broadie and I have been focussed on readying a new publication on the digital for ACER Press Australia.

The challenge given by the Publisher was to address the reality that a quarter of a century on from the world going online the use of the digital in most schools worldwide remained peripheral.

While the digitally connected young and their families globally had normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital most schools had not.

Could we write a book that addressed that challenge, and assisted teachers and trainee teachers normalise the use of the digital in their teaching?

We’ve written a book entitled Digital Teachers. Digital Mindsets.

It will be released early 2021.

The book takes as its premise that every teacher, K-12 should in 2020 to be a digital teacher, shaping their teaching with a digital mindset.

It reasoned that most every teacher in 2020 shapes their personal lives with a digital mindset. 

Teachers, like all of us expect to use our digital devices the moment desired, to connect instantly anywhere, anytime, at speed, 24/7/365, to use the personal devices they want, configured how they like, with the agency to use and learn with the digital as they desire.

The moment most of those teachers walk through the school gate they revert to using an aged analogue mindset. They assume learning with the digital must be tightly controlled, taught by specialist ICT teachers, with the students distrusted and disempowered, and needing to do and learn what the ‘experts’ believe best.  The focus is the technology, and the ‘right’ technology at that, with all students mastering the same skills.

The aim of the new book is to assist every teacher, at every level, in every area of learning normalise the use of the apt tools of the contemporary world in their teaching, shaping the use with a digital mindset.

The argument is the thinking, an apt contemporary mindset not the technology per se must shape the teaching and learning. 

Mid way through the writing COVID-19 struck, affirming the necessity of every teacher, in every school being able to operate from a digital base.

Tellingly the pandemic stress tested every facet of schooling, and in particular its ability to work digitally, remotely and with an apt shaping mindset.

While there were important notable exceptions most teachers, schools, education authorities and governments were ill-prepared.

The continued dominance of an analogue mindset, dependence on a century old ‘grammar of schooling’, focus on the basics and expectation that the digital would be used only within the existing organisational structures did little to ready teachers or schools to go digital.

As governments, education authorities, schools and education unions and professional associations review their performance during the pandemic and ‘stress testing’ we believe it important to make that thinking readily available and to critique the findings.

In the coming months – and likely years – we intend doing just that and monitoring the evolution of schooling, at the same time as we elaborate on the thinking within Digital Teachers, Digital Mindsets.

Below are links to two important pieces of research, both of which relate to equity of access to the digital.

The first is by Pew Internet, authored by Vogels, et.al – and released 10 September 2020 – 

Revealing is how few Americans believe governments should assist families in need with access to the digital.

The contrast with most developed and developing nations, and indeed the second study is pronounced.

The second is New Zealand, undertaken by the Greater Christchurch Schools Network. A copy is available at – https://www.gcsn.school.nz

It is an excellent comprehensive study of 150 schools all can learn from.

The study affirms New Zealand’s commitment to equity of access, but also highlights the exceptionally high level of digital resources and the very good connectivity in most student’s homes.