Learning lessons from online teaching

Online learning has the potential to revolutionise teaching.

Image: G is for grevillea . . . a Year 10 photography project where students took images of objects around their homes from every letter of the alphabet.

Just one week after NSW schools switched to learning from home, Camden High School was delivering all lessons online.

Principal Melinda Brady said it was a steep learning curve for both teachers and students but the results in terms of student engagement and teacher satisfaction were quickly evident.

“We wanted to use this time to provide teachers with the opportunity to revolutionise the way in which they teach,” Ms Brady said.

“We have moved from delivering content in classes to providing a way for students to consume content, while we develop skills in application, analysis and evaluation.”

Most lessons or activities have a creative component – photography and film are then posted on the school’s Facebook page, as are science experiments and fun ‘brain breaks’ for physical fitness.

The school provides one stream of learning for its 1143 students through the Canvas learning management platform, with video lessons on Zoom and Adobe Connect. Laptops and dongles have been loaned so that families have a device and internet access at home.

Ms Brady said an early decision was to “forget the old timetable” and move to a weekly package of lessons, activities and challenges, with teachers online during school hours to answer questions, mark and provide feedback to students.

“We are catering for the flexible needs of high school students and the students are planning their own progression through the work,” Ms Brady said.

Teachers have been assigned an equitable workload where they manage the learning of one or two courses – such as Year 7 science and Year 11 biology – instead of the myriad responsibilities of a normal timetable. The teachers then create and upload the weekly work onto Canvas, monitor and assess student participation.

“Teachers are also innovating resources to be used beyond the current COVID-19 scenario,” Ms Brady said.

“The eye opener has been how much ‘busy’ work had gone on previously with lesson development. We’re more focused now on what is the outcome required and how do we achieve it.

“This term we’re looking at Blooms digital taxonomy, particularly how to apply and synthesise knowledge using technology and digital tools.”

Fortuitous planning meant that Camden High was not totally unprepared for online learning. The school adopted Canvas last year and had trained and built staff confidence in its use. Class sets of Chromebooks had also been purchased and computer labs expanded from two to six rooms.

“We’ve all learned a lot and I think it’s unwise to go back to the usual ‘chalk and talk’ methods; we need a happy medium of both worlds,” Ms Brady said.

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