While the sudden and widespread provision of online learning has been a major headache for many schools, others have succeeded in rolling out a relatively smooth home learning model for their students, teachers and parents.
As student life begins to return to some sort of normality after the government mandated home schooling phase during the COVID-19 lockdown, some schools are conducting research to see how they can leverage the most effective elements and do away with the more hair-pulling ones.
One such school is Sheldon College, which independently surveyed its three key stakeholders – students, parents and staff – to better understand the effectiveness of their home learning program and to measure the sentiment towards the College’s handling of the pandemic.
Based on this overwhelmingly positive feedback, the school began developing a learning system on the core intention of ensuring that the academic curriculum was maintained and that students were not disadvantaged.
The result was a resounding success, with an overwhelming 90% of parents saying they were very satisfied with the Colleges home learning system. More than 50% of parents also said their opinion of the College increased, based on the manner in which staff responded to the COVID-19 crisis.
More than 70% of students also stated that the College did the best it could under the circumstances, without compromising the high standards that were always practised on campus.
The College’s study also showed that 90% of parents and 89% of the staff were likely to recommend Sheldon College to others. This was purely based on their response to COVID-19 and the home learning solution that was developed.
Below, The Educator speaks to Dr Lyn Bishop, Founder and Principal of Sheldon College, who provides a deep-dive into the program, and what other schools can learn from its success.
TE: You noted that the program's success was largely due to the impressive technological solution developed for home learning. In your view, what have been the most powerful and effective elements of this solution specifically?
Sheldon College’s Learning Management System (iLINQ) has been part of the learning ecosystem at the College since 2015 and has enabled the College Community to enhance the onsite engagement, communication and learning opportunities provided within a digital environment. The Learning Management System is developed as digital representation of our College Community. The transition to home learning was largely successful due to the professional development commitment from the College Staff over a number of years and their ongoing development of digital pedagogy integration into their academic programs, such as flipped learning, which lend themselves to home / remote learning. One aspect of the home learning program that was most powerful and highly effective, was the strategic deployment of a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning delivery methods, which were fully integrated into the College’s Learning Management System. Synchronously College Staff made use of live video lessons whereby teachers and students could all interact (visibly / audibly) at the same time. Asynchronously, College staff prepared a range of self-directed content which included a range of guided videos. Our Learning Management System (iLINQ) offers an all-encompassing and fully integrated approach that allowed parents, students and staff to access all the tools required for student learning in one place.
TE: One inspiring outcome of the program was that the school’s academic curriculum was maintained while not disadvantaging any students. This is not always easy to do – especially during a time of such sudden disruption and change. How was this balance achieved?
With our state-of-the-art IT system infrastructure, coupled with a quality teaching and learning framework, our teachers were able to continue to pioneer their practice through these unprecedented times. This took the form of distributing a collection of essential learning materials both in paper and digital form. The College’s existing device program ensured access to curriculum resources from home was seamless, students from Years 1 – 3 used their College provided iPad and stylus to access the suite of digital learning tools in the form of College paid apps and resources. Years 4 through to 12 continued to use their self-managed device to access their e-books and other College-provided learning services. Our Academic Continuity Plan included a graduated approach to daily student engagement based on the year level of the child. This ranged from daily literacy and numeracy lessons explicitly taught by the classroom teacher via video links, through to the maintenance of a full school timetable via Zoom in the upper Senior College. Students continued to be supplied with learning materials, access to subject based learning platforms, video conferencing tools, flipped-learning materials and printed material, and had communication with their teachers and peers through means of learning management system social streams. Understanding the challenges being faced by our students, teachers were able adapt their lessons to meet student needs.
TE: Given the resounding success of the program, is it likely that this program will become a fixture of the school’s teaching and learning framework beyond COVID-19?
Sheldon College has continued with a hybrid model of learning that remains active (albeit on a somewhat reduced scale), given that a number of our international students are still currently residing overseas. There are also some other isolated instances whereby vulnerable children have continued in a home-learning context, at least in the short term. Given the unpredictability of the times in which we are currently living, our College continues to lead and innovate in developing infrastructure, resources, programs and facilities that support our students and their families in a virtual learning environment. Maintaining the health and wellbeing of all students is a key priority, in addition to our procedures for maintaining the academic program, which will be further enhanced as part of the strategic planning process for the next phase of our teaching and learning framework. We are delighted in that our investment in a range of resources, from learning management systems, cloud-based technology, collaborative software tools and end-user device deployment has connected our students, educators and our wider community, as we continue to navigate our way through these somewhat challenging and unpredictable times.