Engaging students with online learning
Bohunt Wokingham in Berkshire introduced GCSEPod six weeks before the second national coronavirus lockdown, supported by a raft of creative in-house ideas to promote it to both students and teachers. Now the school has become an A-grade user with GCSEPod playing an integral role in Bohunt Wokingham’s students engaging with online learning.
Bohunt Education Trust (BET) is a dynamic learning community whose ethos is encapsulated by three simple words: enjoy, respect and achieve. Learning is engaging and challenging and Bohunt’s blend of academic rigour and holistic development has been central to a drive to develop our young people into ‘game changers’, with the skills, qualities and drive to achieve their dreams and ambitions.
Offering students’ choice as to how they learn is a powerful teaching tool. But that choice relies on student – and staff – buy-in.
It’s a tricky juggling act, but one that Bohunt Wokingham near Reading has successfully managed to achieve since it rolled out a new online learning platform at the academy last November: GCSEPod.
Teenagers can be notoriously cynical, and overwhelmed teachers resistant to change when it comes to adopting new technology in the classroom.
But Bohunt Wokingham has managed to pull off the seemingly impossible when it came to introducing GCSEPod: to both excite and engage with its 1,200 students and teachers.
The school, which opened in 2016 and is part of the Bohunt Education Trust, has through clever use of a number of marketing and empowerment strategies, created a unified sense of GCSEPod ownership.
“If you’re going to do something, do it well. Many great ideas fall by the wayside because they haven’t been launched properly.”
It was one of the reasons the school held off introducing the award-winning GCSEPod EdTech teaching and learning platform in March last year.
Nick says: “Something called lockdown happened and we found ourselves dealing with other priorities.”
Given the situation, it wasn’t until September 2020 that Nick was able to revisit the question of whether GCSEPod would be a good fit for the school. “On paper it looked fantastic,” he recalls. “We are a one-to-one school, which means all our students have access to an iPad, and from that perspective GCSEPod seemed like an ideal addition to the range of online resources we were already using, given it can easily be accessed on or offline on smartphones and tablets as well as computers.
“I didn’t just take it at face value, however. I spoke with various teachers who knew about it to gauge their honest opinion, as well as a student and his parents who had subscribed privately to GCSEPod.
“I looked at what other schools were saying about GCSEPod, what they thought were its best attributes, and how they were using it, and I weighed up the pros and cons.”
For Nick, the pluses far outweighed any negatives. “I was immediately struck by the quality of the Pods themselves, their clarity, the timeframe of them, the actual catering to the exam boards and the fact they cover the majority of the subjects we teach in our school.
This is what we love about GCSEPod
“Then there was the assignments you can create based on those high quality Pods. The Pods are great, but then doing something with them is really important, so you make it an active learning experience instead of a passive one.
“Having things already created for you so you can just go ‘boom’ and a minute later you have sorted an assignment, is just huge. You can rely on them being high quality and when you put them out there you know they are going to work.
“On top of that, students really engage with the Pods and the Check and Challenge is brilliant, especially for English, maths and the sciences.
“Our children have a whole choice of ways they can gather information these days. You can go on YouTube and find 20 different videos on the same topic, and you then have to work out what is a good video. That’s a skill students have to learn.
“But I felt with all the Pods I watched that they were ones I would recommend to my students. If I was trying to learn something, I felt I would really gain from them. And that for me is still the biggest selling point about GCSEPod.
“When my students watch a Pod they know it is going to be good. At three to five minutes it is going to be worthwhile and it is going to be based on the curriculum.”
Launching to Year 9, 10, and 11
Having gained the backing of the Senior Leadership Team, GCSEPod was officially unveiled to Bohunt Wokingham’s Year 9, 10, and 11 students on November 16, 2020.
To build pre-launch hype and excitement, a teaser poster campaign was instigated around the school a week ahead of GCSEPod’s official unveiling using the tag ‘it’s coming’. Then information was leaked to certain students to set the rumour mill going and create interest across the school.
Nick says: “We officially launched with an introductory film to students, how to videos to overcome any troubleshooting issues, and started a #2weektakeoff Twitter campaign. That was followed by a Christmas Podding competition where we had a Christmas pudding Pod-o-meter counting up the number of Pods students had viewed.
“The top student Pod watcher in each year group in the opening two weeks won a gift voucher, while the highest overall podding tutor group was treated to a delivery of doughnuts.
“In that first week 96% of students had signed-up to GCSEPod, and within 14 days of the launch an incredible 17,000 Pods had been viewed, catapulting Bohunt Wokingham into the top spot for Pod watches in the South East of England.”
of students signed-up to GCSEPod in the first week!
Students watched more than 25,000 Pods
The Pods covering 28 GCSE and IGCSE subjects are expertly written, highly concentrated three to five minute bursts of audio-visual, teacher-written learning.
By the end of the Christmas term, Bohunt Wokingham’s Year 9, 10 and 11 students had watched more than 25,000 Pods.
Nick says GCSEPod was never going to be a saviour. “We didn’t get it thinking it was going to completely change everything. But we thought it would be a really good tool to support our students when they are at home, not necessarily during another lockdown, but for independent work.
“What we then found was that actually we could use it really effectively as a homework tool, and also for retrieval practice, and that is something we started using GCSEPod for in the autumn lockdown.”
Nick believes GCSEPod was a factor in the high level of engagement the school saw during home learning earlier this year.
“When you look at the variation within the lessons that people are doing, GCSEPod is without doubt right up there with some of the things people are using.
“It’s not an expectation that we would like to see it being used at every lesson as we want variety and want our students to have a varied range of things they are being exposed to, but without a doubt GCSEPod is being used a lot. We can see that not only is it being used in lessons, but you can also see that students are using GCSEPod to revise without prompting, which is fantastic.
“We wanted to see students using GCSEPod intrinsically, for them to realise it is really beneficial to them, and for them not to have to rely on teachers setting assignments. GCSEPod gives them the drive to want to learn, but also the skills to be able to do it.”
Whilst GCSEPod’s influence on students’ exam results will be hard to gauge this year due to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Nick says there is other evidence of the positive impact the EdTech platform’s introduction is having.
“We have one student who was in school during the first lockdown and we really struggled to get him using an iPad or computer effectively without playing games or being distracted. But during our two week GCSEPod launch he really smashed it. He was the highest GCSEPod user in the school, and still is. That has been a huge win for us.
“We have another student whose mum has said how amazing GCSEPod is as this boy is now doing work at home for the first time she can recall.”
The students themselves are equally enthusiastic. Sophie is in Year 10. She says: “I use GCSEPod to study for all my GCSE subjects. I think it is useful as it can highlight and show you the areas that you are struggling with, therefore you can improve on them, and GCSEPOd suggests videos to help with understanding these topics.
“This can help students’ knowledge and correct misunderstandings and therefore help increase test scores and help with studying and learning for our GCSEs.”
Grace is in Year 11. She says: “I use GCSEPod lots as it’s a great way to revise. The videos give you information, you can make notes and then answer the questions.
“I think it’s efficient, and is so useful, especially for Year 11 as it gives you an alternative explanation to the one you were given in class and you don’t need a teacher, which is perfect for revision.”
Nick says the school has this engagement because of the way they chose to launch it, the quality of the Pods and the assignment system.
“That means we now have a reliable platform we can use to help our more vulnerable students access information. Because it is consistent and it’s pitched at the same level, it means they trust it more.”
Nick adds: “We can also see an improved quality of work and an improved quality of research across the board, because our students have that consistency of going to those Pods to find out the information they need, so we are seeing less misconceptions and less copying and pasting straight from websites.”
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