Coronavirus and education: Making the most of remote learning (part two)

This post was written on Friday 20 March before the government published its list of key workers for whom schools will keep open their doors.  It is the second of two blogs offering advice on making the most of remote learning for the young people who will no longer attend school from Monday 23 March 2020.  You can read part one here.  

How can we teach online?

Teaching online is very different to standing in front of a class. I have only recently begun delivering webinars and it has taken me a few attempts to feel comfortable broadcasting to a large group of learners from my dining room table.

A recent Teacher Tapp survey found that only 40% of UK teachers would be able to broadcast a lesson from home – whether they are limited by access to technology, their ability to use the technology, or their reticence and discomfort with teaching online is unclear but there is evidently a training need to address here.

I have learnt that online teaching works best when you use it as means of giving explanations – didactic teaching – rather than trying to facilitate an interactive lesson. The explanations should be delivered in short chunks, with longer pauses for punctuation than you would ordinarily think to give when face-to-face with pupils.

Online teaching also works best when you complement the webcam video of you talking with slides and other materials which you share via your screen. Some platforms allow you to broadcast a virtual whiteboard which you may find useful for modelling work.

Time should be given for pupils to process what you’ve said and to ask any questions or seek clarifications. This can be done via a ‘chatroom’ facility or by students using videoconferencing to speak to you. But such interactions are fraught with difficulty, not least safeguarding concerns if other pupils are able to screenshot images of their peers. So, I would suggest you keep it simple and deliver short lecture-style teacher explanations which are then followed by online learning materials and tasks.

Interactive online learning can also lead to issues with behaviour management – and I would not recommend any teacher attempts to tackle behaviour via their webcam! We may have eyes in the backs of our heads, but such superpowers do not, in my experience, transmit through broadband cables!

One further point on online teaching: it may be possible to broadcast a video of a teacher who is delivering a lesson in school for the children of key workers and our most vulnerable learners. This would ensure some consistency in terms of the educational experience of pupils in and out of school, and teachers may find it more comfortable to be videoed in their natural habitat, so to speak, rather than staring at the blinking eye of a webcam.

How much work should we set?

A key question to consider is how much work do we set pupils to do at home and how much time can we reasonably expect them to work each day? I’d suggest pupils cannot be expected to keep to normal school hours, and we will need to show some leniency because some families will struggle to support their children’s learning and may not feel able to direct their child to study. Some children may not have a home environment conducive to learning, either.

A ballpark figure, inspired by the above research on effective homework, may be that we anticipate pupils working for two to three hours a day.

We should keep in mind the amount of time pupils are likely to study each day when we set deadlines for work to be completed and returned for marking. We want to challenge them but we don’t want to set them up for failure.

Should we make remote learning voluntary or mandatory?

This is a tricky one. Pupils still need to learn, and they should be accessing learning packs or online platforms and engaging with you. We can’t allow them to waste several months of essential education time. To ensure pupils engage, it may be necessary for teachers and leaders to make regular contact with parents/carers in order to articulate the importance of their children working from home and to help them do so.

However, in the short-term, this may not be feasible and so some leniency may be needed. As the situation unfolds and we know more about the length of time pupils will be kept off school and about how schools will work together to provide shared services, we may get more of a steer on the legality of pupils being in education. If we use online teaching, we may also need to consider whether we monitor and record attendance at these sessions.

Should we mark work completed at home?

In short, yes. If the work is important and is to be taken seriously by pupils and their parents, then some of it, at some stage, should be assessed and feedback given. Again, it is too soon to know what this marking and feedback will look like and how often it should be done. But some online platforms automatically assess and give feedback and most online services allow pupils to submit work electronically.

In the case of learning packs, you may need to consider the logistics of pupils returning work to school and how to mitigate the dangers of spreading infection by doing so.

If all else fails…

The one form of remote learning we know with certainty is effective is reading books! So, if nothing else, we should encourage pupils to read, read, read!

We might consider providing access to ebooks, and many library services provide free ebooks so we could work with them to help parents sign their children up if they’re not already members, or sending books home from the school library, and perhaps even giving book vouchers to disadvantaged pupils.

Reading records and tasks based on pupils’ reading can be used to encourage this activity and to allow pupils to reflect on their reading.


School leaders need to be mindful of the impact of remote learning on their staff’s workload and wellbeing. This is undoubtedly – and unavoidably – a stressful time for us all. But we must do all we can to limit the pressures that are exerted on our teachers. For example, can we ask teachers to repurpose existing learning materials for remote learning rather than creating materials from scratch? Can we help teachers to work collaboratively to produce materials so that the overall workload is reduced? Can schools work together rather than in isolation?



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