School closure following the COVID-19 pandemic has placed technology at the centre of a teacher’s toolkit. At London Connected Learning Centre (London CLC), we are fortunate to support a number of London primary schools with their delivery of extraordinary learning, with and about technology. We have long advocated a cross-curricular approach to digital technology – our pupil workshops cover a wide range of the primary curriculum and we run dedicated CPD in the use of digital tools in maths, creative arts, humanities and English.
Through this time of change and uncertainty, technology can no longer be confined to the computing curriculum; the creative use of digital technology is helping teachers to maintain school communities, encourage expression in their pupils, share successes and offer feedback.
Teacher creativity and school community
‘Encouraging and enabling interaction between pupils, parents, carers and staff can help them to feel like they’re a part of a community.’ (Department for Education - a ministerial department responsible for children’s services and education in England, 2020)
With pupils and staff unable to come together physically, schools have had to get creative in how they maintain a sense of belonging. This community building need not be complicated.
We’ve seen teachers doing a virtual register in the mornings and asking pupils to respond with an emoji. Aside from it being almost universally true that kids love emojis, this action fosters a two-way communication and allows teachers to start the day with a check-in. We’ve also seen Toy Story-themed singing assemblies, morning messages from teachers, and whole-school community videos.
Curriculum and creative content
‘I wanted a way to connect with the children with my voice and I didn’t want to be on camera……so I took the class puppet home and have been talking to the children via the puppet.’ (Reception teacher, Reay Primary School)
Many schools are also using video to support content delivery across the primary curriculum. One such example comes from a class puppet: Chocolate Chocolate Button. Chocolate Chocolate Button reads stories, sets phonics activities and congratulates the children on the work they have sent in, with the videos uploaded onto YouTube and shared with families on Twitter. She also has her own theme song.
For teachers working with older pupils, voice narration over slides can be a good option for those not wishing to be on screen.
Many online learning platforms that schools are using (such as Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams and SeeSaw) also lend themselves well to creative curriculum content. In this example, a Year 2 teacher used SeeSaw to set an activity. The children can post their responses using a variety of media, which the teacher is able to read or watch and approve, writing personalised feedback and extension activities as she goes.
On our London CLC Twitter account (@LdnCLC), we issued daily Scratch challenges, encouraging children to create art, practise maths and animate stories.
Pupil voice: Using technology to create and share
‘We need to ask our kids what is great about technology and learn from them as to how to do it better.’ (Headteacher, Rosendale Primary School)
It is not just the school staff using technology to create. We’ve seen countless examples of children using digital tools to bring their imaginations to life and to share what they have been up to. Some schools have been asking families to email photos of pupils’ work to share on social media, or using Padlet as a way of enabling children to get a sense of what their classmates are up to in a safe way.
After surveying pupils, one school found that many wanted activities to do with their families and a place to share their work. As a result, the school created three pages on their blog for teachers to set challenges and showcase pupil achievement.
Before the days of social distancing, pupils visiting London CLC would often talk enthusiastically about the digital making they did at home. We are hearing that schools are encouraging this self-started digital creativity, supporting children in following their interests and using this curiosity to scaffold activities and enhance learning.
The digital divide
‘An estimated one million children and young people and their families still don’t have adequate access to a device or connectivity at home.’ (Nominet, 2019)
We know, however, that the opportunities for creativity and community found through technology are not available to all equally. It is not simply a matter of access to iPads or laptops. It is also about access to software, data and internet connectivity, priority of access (primary children often lose out to older siblings or remote-working parents) and whether parents or carers have the knowledge to support remote digital learning. We have seen some success at addressing these challenges through:
- Connecting with families: the first step for schools is to talk to parents and find out whether they have an internet-enabled device their child can use at all, if it’s only via a phone and if it’s only for brief periods or longer. That gives them a starting point to plan – whether that’s lending devices and dongles or printing packs of paper-based activities.
- Low bandwidth strategies: for many families, it is not just devices but data that is in short supply. Thinking about use of low bandwidth solutions – email, images with text or collaborative documents – could allow more children to access learning materials.
- The right tools for the right reasons: it is important to keep questioning whether a given task could be accomplished in a lower bandwidth/more accessible way. Technology should be used as and when it is the best tool for the job.
You can find further reflections from London CLC and how schools can work to bridge the digital divide on our blog.
While we cannot predict what comes next, there are a few observations we can make and opportunities we can pursue:
- Blended learning: with some children in school and some remaining at home for the foreseeable future, what constitutes a classroom space is evolving; technology can and will continue to play a crucial role in school life.
- Upskilled teachers: one positive to come out of this situation might be a whole host of new embedded skills being picked up by educators. This may lead to greater confidence and effective use of digital technology beyond the crisis.
- New forms of cultural engagement: the digital space is offering up new ways to interact with creative spaces. London CLC is working with a number of cultural partners (Tate Exchange, Westminster Abbey, Garden Museum) to explore how technology can be used to maintain and even enhance creative educational engagement.
- Pupil voice: we must continue to listen to and learn from pupils. Their voices have arguably never been more important.
The coming months will be full of unknowns, but what has remained consistent throughout these unprecedented times is the creativity, passion and dedication shown by our community of educators and children.
London CLC is continuing to provide resources – through our remote learning page and blogs on remote learning practice and principles, digital literacy for families and remote CPD – and to support teachers and pupils to be creative with digital technology.
Department for Education (DfE) (2020) Education and childcare during coronavirus. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/supporting-pupils-wellbeing#maintaining-a-sense-of-community (accessed 8 June 2020).
Nominet (2019) Digital access for all. Available at: https://www.nominet.uk/digital-access-for-all-launches-to-help-solve-problem-of-digital-exclusion/ (accessed 17 June 2020).