Dispatches from Digital Delivery: Making Remote Learning More Equitable

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Dispatches from Digital Delivery: Making Remote Learning More Equitable

With the announcement of a third national lockdown sending schools and education back into the digital space and the further announcement that schools will remain closed until Easter, discussions surrounding educational equity are at the front and centre of educators’ minds. 

Last week, we discussed the permanence of particular ‘gaps’ and ‘divides’ in education and the emergence of a ‘digital divide’ due to the shift to online learning as a result of the pandemic; this has meant the inalienable right to education has come into question with the realisation that many young people have not had the resources to access online learning. FBB Graduate Daniel has shared his own insights on the impact of the digital divide and effective ways to support young people through this transition. However, a key consideration for educators at FBB and beyond is how we can effectively support young people’s education throughout this lockdown.

Over the past few decades countless studies, models and pedagogies have put forward effective strategies for delivering online learning. What we know for sure is that effective and impactful online teaching and learning is directly linked to careful instructional design. The quality and specificity of the design process has a significant impact on the quality of the instruction.  With this in mind, we believe it is crucial to understand this period as a period of emergency remote learning – the specific, careful design process needed for effective online learning is absent in most cases as is the preparedness of the young people to access the learning.

Despite all these challenges, our practitioners at FBB have worked tirelessly to demonstrate our ‘go beyond’ mantra to create the conditions necessary for ALL young people to thrive. In the first dispatch from digital delivery, we spoke with our Impact and Learning team and our practitioners to offer guidance on effective ways to deliver remote learning.  At FBB our work with young people is formed around 5 key values, known to us as ICARE: Inclusive, Collaborative, Asset Based, Reflective and Embedded. 

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  1. INCLUSIVE: How can you create the best conditions for all young people to learn?

When planning lessons and considering the use of resources and opportunities for student contributions, it is essential that educators accommodate for the technical obstacles that students and their families are facing.We should empower parents to provide learning opportunities for their kids. Inclusive design in emergency remote instruction must take into account young people using limited devices and mobile data. It is important that educators ensure the resources used are easily accessible by mobile devices and any tools/materials don’t require huge amounts of data or speedy internet. 

Moreover, it is crucial that educators think creatively about how they can ensure their learning environments are inclusive. I heard recently about Aisha from one of our North West programmes that has struggled to sleep and with her mental health. She was medicated and because of her specific needs struggled to engage with others and struggled to develop friendships in her group. When learning went digital her initial response was to withdraw and she fell into negative patterns such as not getting out of bed and refusing to engage with online sessions. Our practitioners noticed her absence and worked with the family to ensure Aisha was able to engage with FBB. They did this through:

  • One to one phone calls with mum to understand the situation
  • A one to one call with Aisha focused on personal reflection and a non judgemental discussion on the best ways for her to engage with school
  • Through the conversation we found she was concerned about lockdown and was beginning to feel that her bed lost its comfort as she spent all her time in it. 
  • We worked with Aisha to help develop her own solutions to the issue. She thought about reframing her dressing table as her work desk and would now challenge herself to spend the equivalent of the school day (almost) working at the desk and she would treat her bed and netflix as something to look forward to at the end of the day. 
  • As well as this, we agreed that she did not have to turn her camera on and she could type responses initially which she thought were impossible previously 
  • Since these conversations and through reframing what it meant to be a learner and adopting her suggestions as solutions we have managed to create a more inclusive learning environment for Aisha, and while there is still much more work to do, she is now attending FBB and school sessions.
  1. COLLABORATIVE Help your students and their families get connected.

As was discussed in the digital divide article last week, the most powerful and important step to ensuring equity in remote learning is to ensure that your students are able to access the platforms where learning takes place. Students in households that don’t have Wi-Fi or those that do not have appropriate devices won’t be able to download work, view online materials, or attend virtual classes. Understanding the needs and home contexts of young people is crucial to supporting them to access online learning. 

As well as this, in focus groups and conversations we have had with young people, they have also stressed how much they value opportunities to connect with their peers, as well as this we have seen higher levels of engagement and a development of key soft skills when working in groups. To this end, it is crucial that educators build in opportunities for collaboration in remote learning.  For example, we have seen young people offer peer to peer support – i.e. 2 young people who are normally very disengaged taking the role of making sure all their classmates do their homework or another young person thriving as the individual that checked for understanding amongst her classmates. This would not be possible without effectively building in opportunities for collaborative work and allowing young people to come to the fore. 

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  1. ASSET BASED Provide opportunities for young people to engage with their passions.

A direct result of school closures and the subsequent cessation of extra-curricular activities has meant that the activities that many young people valued the most are no longer available. As well as this, the move to digital delivery has meant that the manner in which educators can personalise learning either through the creation of resources or through conversation are no longer viable. It is crucial that we continue to provide opportunities for young people to engage in their passions and develop their love of learning. To this end, at FBB we have worked in partnership with our young people and our corporate partners to provide meaningful opportunities for young people to pursue passion projects and engender their love of learning. For example, we have run projects on gaming, poetry and rap, hair and art to name a few. A really interesting corollary of this has been the way it has challenged feelings of isolation in young people. They have been able to meet new friends that share similar interests that they may never have encountered before and have been given the opportunity to interact with the outside world through masterclasses or when presenting to our corporate partners and some young people, such as Abi have really thrived with these opportunities.

  1. REFLECTIVE: Like any good football team different individuals are suited to different roles and will deliver accordingly. Support young people to support each other.

I remember as a young man watching football with my father and wondering why players like Park-ji-Sung or Darren Fletcher would start ahead of players like Nani or Anderson in big games and learning that different situations meant that different personalities, different abilities and different skill sets would come to the fore. Saying this, a major insight from delivering digitally has been the manner in which certain young people have thrived in a digital environment and how others have struggled. 

What has emerged is a pattern whereby those that tend to struggle in traditional learning environments have tended to enjoy/thrive the digital environment – it is important that we do not let the assumptions we have developed about particular learners mediate our interaction or expectations of them. It is crucial that educators reflect regularly and alter their approach dependent on the way in which young people respond to sessions. We have seen different young people step up into different roles, i.e. some young people have thrived as presenters, others checking in with their teammates and some have just enjoyed the independence of learning from home. In the same way Sir Alex Ferguson understood exactly when to use players like Park and Fletcher, it is crucial that practitioners build in opportunities for collaborative reflection with other practitioners and teachers as we have learned that delivering sessions outside of traditional learning environments has meant that we have had to get to know the whole young person and act accordingly.

While it is crucial that practitioners are reflecting actively, it is important that similar spaces are available for young people – firstly to reflect on their own experiences and learnings but also as a space to offer feedback to each other and to staff. This space for reflection has led to improvements in our practice and in ensuring we are supporting young people in a collaborative manner.

  1. EMBEDDED: A Coalition of support.

Perhaps most crucially, our practitioners and our insights and learnings team cannot stress how important it is to be embedded in a young person’s life. 

More than anything else, personal contact with your students and their families is essential. We have found that there is a positive relationship between parental engagement and student participation. Maintaining contact with young people and families is crucial to firstly showing your students you care, communicating with parents to ensure they are aware of what the child is getting up to and that they are a part of their child’s online learning. As well as this, supporting young people to connect with their peers and trusted adults is something a lot of FBB participants hugely value.

A few key tips from our team around being embedded:

  • Keep an updated contact list of interactions with families. 
  • Try different forms of communication
  • Find a translator tool so you can communicate with families that don’t speak English
  • If you are really struggling to reach a young person or family – try emergency contact details or speak to other students as they are normally in touch via gaming platforms or other platforms. 
  • Assumptions on home life should be avoided – judge all on an individual basis and do not overstep boundaries. Respect the home setting and the separation that exists between home/school life.

    Written by Joe Watfa, Head of Policy.