Lessons from Lockdown

On May 6th, I hosted an Econ Ed Chat for A-Level and IB Econ teachers. The questions discussed were:

1) What lessons have we learned from remote learning that we can take forward into the classroom next year?

2) How can we best manage the teaching of current affairs in the A-Level classroom?

3) Topic in Focus: How can we teach Development Economics effectively?

Today I'm recapping that first question, where I was looking for reasons to be optimistic. Has the disruption to the way we teach allowed us to reexamine our practices? Have there been changes to infrastructure or technology or our skills which will benefit our teaching in the future?

It seems as if the latter has been the biggest change and much of the discussion focussed on technology. Many of us have taken up using some kind of Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), with the majority using Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams, with many also using Seneca Learning as well. 77% thought they would be using these platforms more in September compared to the previous September.

Charlie Mack, Head of Economics at Gresham's, talked through the elements of Teams he would be keeping, and many of the same lessons can be drawn for Google Classroom.

Many students are now used to live lessons or meetings using Zoom/Meetings/Google Meets, and this might be useful as an alternative to in-school Holiday Revision classes (a debate in themselves...) or as Office Hours to support students on Study Leave.

Add-on programs like NearPod be useful for homework. For those who have used EdPuzzle for inserting questions and commentary to YouTube videos, NearPod does the same for PowerPoint. This might be particularly useful if you're finding yourself tight for time with the syllabus.

VLEs can also help with the administration and management of classes. Teachers can mark work without physically needing to take it in, making it easier to chase work and negating the need to meticulously align your marking schedule to opportunities where students can be without their notes. This is particularly advantageous if you want certain students to edit, correct or improve their work, a process which I found massively helped to raise expectations and outcomes for students but which used to be very difficult to keep track of. Clickable rubrics and self-marking forms speed up marking without sacrificing too much in the way of quality, making feedback more timely and potentially more frequent. I also find that marking a question at a time (ie everyone's question 1, then everyone's question 2) quicker but also more accurate and reliable, and this is really easy to do through Forms (and OneNote, depending on how you have set it up)

Of course these functions aren't new, but the need for diagrams, which are much easier to hand-draw, has previously been a barrier for Economics teachers to exploit these facilities. However, the platforms have improved and teachers have developed effective workarounds, making these functions more viable for Economics teachers. Peter Fortheringham and Manisha Sadhev both recommended to Office Lens tool for this, while Helen Vincent suggested using the Notes app to create a PDF of a photo. Most phone cameras are clear enough so that if students take a picture of a handwritten A4 sheet, you should be able to read it on a screen without much trouble. If you're using OneNote/Class Notebook, it's really easy for students to open the app on their device, go to the relevent page and take the picture through the OneNote App, which will then automatically insert it onto the page as a decent size.

Charlie cited OneNote/ClassNotebook as something he'd definitely be taking forward to next year. He described it as a digital 'lever arch file', and really useful to his overseas students who then don't need to take heavy folders on flights. He also described how he uses the Collaboration Sections for students to share research and refine each other's essay plans. With the ClassNotebook add-on, it's easy to see all of your students' work to distribute worksheets, videos, voice clips or whatever you'd like to students. I think this is beneficial over a set of shared files because you can decide how it's ordered for students and it's easy for them to move through a Notebook than constantly find and open endless computer folders.

Several people mentioned that if you want full functionality and additional features, it's worth opening your Class Notebook through the dedicated OneNote app rather than through Teams or your web browser.

I'm particularly interested in how OneNote can be used for planning, preparing and reusing lessons. I also know of a few teachers who use OneNote as an alternative to PowerPoint, projecting onto whiteboards to escape the confines of very linear slides, and this is something worth investigating. It seems as though there are some early converts to OneNote who likely have some best practices squared away, and it would be really useful to learn from them.

Much of the discussion of how Economics teaching can benefit from VLEs is moot if we don't have well-resourced schools with well-resourced students. I'd be interested to hear what teachers who are not in this position have learned from virtual learning.

If you missed the Econ Ed Chat, you can watch our discussion of the question below:

Do consider coming along to the next Econ Ed Chat, details will be posted soon.