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National Tutoring Programme: The Tech Roundup.

A group of students being tutored over Zoom from their home.
The most effective strategy for using technology as a teaching tool is to regard the tools as supplementary instead of a replacement.

This post isn't strictly related to the National Tutoring Programme itself, but it does use the research behind the initiative from the EEF's Learning and Teaching Toolkit and the strand that examines technological approaches to teaching (2019). As we have seen over the course of the lockdown, digital technologies have provided a lifeline to ensure business, education and even socialisation could continue in spite of the need for social distancing. It seems likely that social distancing will be in place for a while yet, and so now more than every we need to try to implement the most effective strategies for teaching and supporting students with their learning and ability to participate.

Technology in the classroom: Distraction or Delight

It's true, having technology at our fingertips means we can become very easily distracted and anyone who has taught students of any age will understand the frustration of phones or laptops connecting them to just about anything when you are trying to deliver a lesson. And yet devices are the new(ish) norm and have become a kind of prosthesis to most people. Resultantly, we must find ways to integrate these tools effectively to boost educational achievement. The EEF (2019) note that using technology in the classroom has the potential to offer an extra four months of learning progress if used effectively. There is no perfect answer about which ones have the biggest gains and which merely present a visual distraction, but here are some of the techniques you can use, whether tutoring 1:1 online or leading a class discussion.

I'll begin by stating that technology is most effective as a supplement to teaching as opposed to a substitute (Major and Higgins, 2019, p83). This is a good starting point when planning your sessions and how you can target specific learning tasks. We are operating under extreme circumstances currently, and as such, physical teaching has had to be sidelined in favour of virtual classes with many schools using software such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Safety fears have been cited by many due to an initial bout of 'Zoombombing' where trolls infiltrate private sessions and post extreme material. Thankfully Zoom has been able to implement more privacy functions to support educators and the frequency of these incidents seems to have fallen. Nevertheless, as with any public forum online, there is always a risk of a security breach which is something to keep in mind when sharing links to your virtual classes in order to safeguard your students.

Supplementary Options: A basic toolkit

There are many programmes online, both free and paid, that can act as excellent supplementary learning tools. Depending on the age of the students, you may want to experiment with several options before you find the one that promotes the best engagement. I will add a disclaimer here - I am not being sponsored by any of the companies I list - these opinions are based on my own usage and all of the ones I have mentioned here can be accessed for free.

  1. Zoom breakout rooms - You can use the Zoom breakout rooms, even with the free accounts, to split students up into groups and allow them to have small discussions away from the main group. This is an excellent way to allow a collaborative learning environment to thrive, despite the limitations of online teaching. The dreaded mic mute isn't needed in the breakout feature. Useful for group teaching.

  2. Kahoot - A platform that allows you to easily create interactive games and quizzes for your students and can be a great way to engage pupils of all ages. It is free and they have added plenty of options for virtual learning and homeschooling for schools, teachers and parents. Useful for both 1:1 and groups.

  3. Google Docs - I imagine most people are aware or have used google docs, but this free software can be surprisingly handy when working with students 1:1 or as an alternative to live teaching. The Word style documents can be accessed by multiple users who can add comments and track student's progress in real time. This can also be really useful during video sessions as you can see what they are writing. Useful for 1:1.

There are so so many options out there and I would say these offer a basic toolkit to get you started with online teaching. Also, be prepared for technical difficulties - this is inevitable and not the end of the world. I have had many lessons over the last few months disconnecting, features not working as expected and difficulties logging in. You might be pleasantly surprised by how unfazed the younger generations are by tech issues, it's part of life for them and doesn't mean you've failed. Just reconnect if required, have a backup if you can't and most importantly, have fun with it!

Thanks for reading the special posts this week, I will be posting as usual on Wednesday morning next week and stay tuned for special news editions as the plans for the National Tutoring Programme go live over the coming weeks.

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