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Anna Greathead

The day when everyone wanted to know about eLearning

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A week ago we 'joked' on our WhatsApp group "What a time to be a practitioner in online and distance education!!!" except for now we know it's not a joke.

Covid19 is literally ravaging the globe and the new 'normal' for UK learners of all ages is about to undergo a tectonic shift - schools, colleges and universities will lock their literal doors and try to activate their virtual environments as quickly as possible.

The infrastructure for this is very mixed. Most universities will have reasonable sophisticated systems in place and most schools will have the facility to set work and send messages over the internet. What is different now is that teachers and educators who have (often effectively) used the internet to augment their practice are now having to use it as their sole tool. Most teachers will be able to set maths quizzes and direct students to good YouTube channels but few will have the time or support to review and revise their pedagogy in line with the new situation.

There is a lot of good will about. My Facebook feed is full of teachers all sharing this cut and paste message:

"Over the next few weeks if you are home-schooling / remotely / digitally educating your kids and you need assistance with understanding something that has been assigned for your child please reach out.

I'm a [subject] specialist.

I'd be happy to answer questions / support where I can."

Social media is also full of links to well known online resource banks such as Khan Academy, BBC Bitesize, OpenLearn and Seneca to name a few. Schools are sending out lists of links - perhaps acknowledging that whilst they build their own infrastructure they want their learners to engage with more general materials. Twinkl usually charge for access to their resources but are offering free subscriptions - becoming temporarily a provider of OERs!

It's all really interesting (once you distance yourself from the very real human suffering) and this crisis could well usher in a new era in which online and distance learning is better understood, studied, resourced and recognised.

On a personal note - I have a daughter home from university. She has just missed a few weeks worth of lectures and tutorials due to the university strikes. She is now at home for the 'foreseeable future' (though she's adamant that she'll return to university in April even if it is closed!). I expect her end of year exams will be cancelled - not a huge problem for a first year. She's engaged well and done well in her first two terms so I see no issue with her progressing to the second year.

I have a son in year 12. He missed two weeks of school around half term as their building was damaged by Storm Ciara. Year 12 (1st year A levels) seems the easiest group to send home! (It makes sense - they're old enough to not need parental supervision.) He has been sent a whole load of work but also a whole load of generic links to the websites I list above. He finds the idea of being taught by webinar quite entertaining. Thankfully he has a laptop, space to work and more intrinsic motivation than many his age.

I have a daughter in year 9. She is at school for two more days. We don't yet know what will be in place for her and I may well have to supervise more than I'd like to. Until yesterday she didn't even know her VLE login details. I'm banking on a (probably erroneous) assumption that year 9 isn't *that* important.

I also have a son who lives and works as a teacher in China. He's the safest of us all right now!

I have friends with children who have had their GCSE and A level exams cancelled. It's really hard for those who are well prepared and read, and those for whom poor mock results / predicted grades were a motivation to work harder.

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