The last two week were a first, teaching my class online. I’ve seen a tremendous about of activity and discussion of this over twitter, blogs and in my in box. A lot of companies offering free services for a limited time. It is hard to know where to start.

Previously

Over the years I’ve participated in a few different online learning experiences 1 What has characterised these courses was a wide amount of personalisation and choice, open ended tasks and no real deadlines.

I’ve even run a couple of short online courses, Blogging Bootcamp & Blogging Bootcamp #2.

I don’t think these experiences gave me the answer as how to run a primary school class online. The courses I’ve joined in I’ve often dropped out, and popped in again in a interest driven fashion. They have taught me a lot about the tech side of being online and made me think a lot about engagement. They have shown that what works to keep me engaged: open ended tasks and individual encouragement and connections. I am not however an 8-11 year old in lockdown.

Preparation

We didn’t have much time for that. I use a lot of digital tools but I don’t use a lot of online communication in my classroom day to day. I have a loud voice. Over the past few years I’ve dipped into quite a few tools. But my go to method of digital communication in the classroom is AirDrop.
Apart for internet search, research and finding resources, the one online tool my pupils use most weeks is Blogs. We use glow blog e-Portfolios. We used other tools now and then particularly  to discuss and to learn about the technology, email and Teams. The children are frequent editors and creators of digital text, audio, images and video.

As it became clear that school closure was coming I made sure all the pupils could access their glow email and a new class team. The pupils didn’t get the chance to become fluid using these tools.

The Plan

This was not too complicated and will probably change. Every week I’ll make a blog post (week 2 example) with a weeks worth of instructions. I recorded the text as audio too. I email the pupils and get the school to email their parents. I try to have Teams open and respond quite quickly there. Keeping it very light. I share the link in teams and email. Unfortunately I told the class to leave the “got It” feature of online outlook alone as it was driving me daft in class.

Engagement

In the two weeks from my class of 24 8-11 year olds I had:

  • 16 pupils posting to their e-portfolios, 52 posts in total
  • 12 (11 the same) joining in chatting and posting files to the Team.

I have no idea if that is good or bad?

I do have a bias towards blog posts for keep a record of some learning, the children are somewhat in charge and we get a permanent 2 record. The detail in the posts was a bit less than it is in class when I can suggest, advise and nag.

We had not used the assignments feature in Teams but I did try a wee test with the children who are using Teams this week. A poll of devices being used. I had 9 responses.

  • A computer. it is a hp one. I sometimes use an apple iPad.
  • Mum’s phone (android) Our kindle tablets, Mum’s laptop
  • An IPad Generation 6
  • I’m using a laptop but set up app on my mums phone for notifications
  • I use an IPad Pro to get into teams
  • Phone, samsung galaxy S8, andriod
  • I am using my phone its a samsung galaxy s6
  • I am using an iPad
  • Ipad

I don’t really have a very good picture of where and how the pupils are working either. What sort of support they have or what connectivity or devices. Some of them will have home schedules that don’t allow them time for this. Some will have parents that are tech savvy some not. Some will have good spaces to work…

Video conferencing

We have seen a lot of discussion of this, both for school & work. Zoom’s rise and problems are well to the front.

It is likely our option is going to be Microsoft Teams. Again we had really briefly tested this in class. Last week I had another test with 8 or 9 pupils and a fellow teacher.

Teams in glow is limited in that pupils can’t turn on their video, only audio. This seems like a fair choice to make. There will be a lot of teachers dipping their toes into the online for the first time. Also audio is likely to use less bandwidth, Teams seems to have struggled a bit with the surge in use.

It was really nice to hear from pupils I’d not seen for a fortnight. There will be a lot of work to do around turn taking if there are going to work for anything other than good vibes1.

There was also a great difference in what different pupils could see. It was hard to tell if this was due to device, bandwidth or the fact teams is being a bit overwhelmed. Some pupils could see the whiteboard some could not, some could see a powerpoint other not.

Teams meet has a nice integration with the chat function. This seems to be a desktop only function. On tablets and phones you are ‘taken out’ of the video conference and back to the chat tab in Teams. Again physical space will make a difference. Will the pupils be in a quite place, or amongst other members of their family.

I think running a class via video conference successfully probably needs a lot of thought, practise and planning, if the object is a bit more than keeping in touch.

Going Forward

I expect we will be getting some guidance from Local Authority and National level as to how to proceed after the spring break. This would be what I’d want to try if given the choice.

  1. Start as low tech as possible: text not behind any login. In my case blog posts. These should be accessible on a wide range of devices. Should we be mailing out paper?
  2. Provide the text as audio too.
  3. Augment with images. Keep these as small as practical.
  4. Add video, again keep the file size down. HandBrake is my best pal for this. I wonder if YouTube would be more efficient?
  5. Look for and embed/link to existing content. I use textbooks and plenty of other pre made materials. Avoild wasting time making things that are already there
  6. Support via as many channels as possible chat in Teams, email, and anything else that comes up.
  7. Video/audio conference for extra explanations, help and support.
  8. Encourage responses from pupils on their e-Portfolios first, but accept anything else. The e-Portfolio will create a record for each pupil. It looks like assignments in teams would allow that too but I know some of my pupils don’t have access to that. I’ll keep testing and experimenting there. I suspect that Teams will be the chosen tool for my Local Authority.

I guess my plan looks a lot like the Flipped model. Without the emphasis on video and with online comms replacing the classroom side of the flip.

I imagine when we get to it, I’m kludge and fidget my way through. The main idea I have is to keep it simple and the tech as low-fi as possible.

I am also going to keep in mind that some of my pupils will have better learning in their than I can provide. I’ve already seen some of this from reports by children and email from parents.

Featured Image by Heather one of the talented Banton Biggies. She share this in our class team, the mouse was released unhurt. Used with permission.

1.

for example.

2. As permanent as anything else in this digital age, but perhaps more importantly, portable.

3. Nothing wrong with Good Vibes, they may turn out to be the most important thing we can do.

Read: Actress by Anne Enright ★★★★☆ 📚 enjoyed the descriptions and characters, especially the actress herself. Like the layers being revealed.

After seeing @adders on micro.blog posting some timelapse I though I might have another go. My first thought was to just use the feature built into phone. I then though to repurpose a raspberry pi. This lead to the discovery that two of my PIs were at school leaving only one at home with a camera. This we zero had dome sterling service taking over 1 million pictures of the sky and stitching them into 122918 gifs and posting them to tumblr. I decommissioned that when tumblr started mistaking these for unsuitable photos.

My first idea were just write a simple bash script that would take a pic and copy it to my mac. I’ve done that before, just need to timestamp the image names. Then I found RPi-Cam-Web-Interface. This is really cool. It turns your pi into a camera and a webserver where you can control the camera and download the photos.

I am fairly used to setting up a headless pi and getting on my WiFi now. So the next step was just to follow all the instructions from the RPi-Cam-Web-Interface page. The usual fairly incomprehensible stuff in the terminal ensued. All worked fine though.

I then downloaded the folder full of images onto my mack and stitched them together with ffmpeg.

ffmpeg is a really complex beast, I think this worked ok:

make a list of the files with

for f in *.jpg; do echo "file '$f'" >> mylist.txt; done

then stitch them together:

ffmpeg -r 10 -f concat -i mylist.txt -c:v libx264 -pix_fmt yuv420p out.mp4

I messed about quite a bit, resizing the images before starting made for a smaller move and finally I

ffmpeg -i out.mp -vf scale=720:-2 outscaled.mp4

To make an even smaller version.

I am now on the look out for more interesting weather or a good sunset.

Read: A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry ★★★☆☆
This was good fun but I think I prefer his less eventful books such as Annie Dunn.

Read: Nightingale by Marina Kemp ★★★★☆
I enjoyed this, absorbing description of seasons in France, reviling characters and story slowly. Slight fall away at the end.

Read: The Fifth Book Of Peace by Maxine Hong Kingston ★★★☆☆ I didn’t really enjoy the middle section set in Hawaii, but the last about working with Vietnam veterans was interesting and absorbing.

Replied to Professor Ian Donald on Twitter (Twitter)

“8. Schools: Kids generally won’t get very ill, so the govt can use them as a tool to infect others when you want to increase infection. When you need to slow infection, that tap can be turned off – at that point they close the schools. Politically risky for them to say this.”

Really interesting thread about the uk Coronavirus strategy from Professor Ian Donald comes with disclaimer.

Roughly the government want to control the spread of the virus letting the less vulnerable catch it and gain immunity while protecting the more vulnerable.

Schools: Kids generally won’t get very ill, so the govt can use them as a tool to infect others when you want to increase infection. When you need to slow infection, that tap can be turned off – at that point they close the schools. Politically risky for them to say this. link

Does this throw older and vulnerable school staff under the bus? Asking for a friend.