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Gill Key, GCSEPod’s Director of International and Special Projects, has been involved since the company first started offering school subscriptions 10 years ago and now heads up the company’s division looking after schools in some 40 countries worldwide. Here, she shares some insights from international school subscribers.

I’ve worked with GCSEPod now for 10 years, ever since our first tentative steps into school subscriptions at a time when the idea of using mobile technology to support teaching and learning was a very novel concept!  The company founders had come up with the idea of offering 3-5 minute audio-visual presentations that could be watched on iPods and the clunky iPhone 4s that were just beginning to reach the eager hands of a few fortunate teenagers, but at the time, it was hard to convince sceptical teachers that this was anything more than a short lived fad.

Whether it be our subscribers in the Asia or our subscribers in Europe and the UK, what is certain, is that GCSEPod remains as committed as ever to guiding, helping, supporting and impacting the educational community as much as it can.

How things have changed!

The majority of teenagers are now seemingly surgically glued to their phones, broadband is reliable and fast in most countries (or at least relatively reliable and fast!).  Other online content resources have arrived on the playing field, some better than others. Google, Microsoft and various VLEs provide purpose-built platforms ready to host online learning, a little like ‘wardrobes’ GCSEPod and other online learning resources have evolved to fill them with ‘ clothes’ in the form of subject content, ready made lessons, homework, marking and monitoring.

Until recently, such opportunities have been taken up enthusiastically by some schools and teachers, but less so by others.

The Coronavirus lockdown and consequent requirement to teach remotely may have changed that forever.

“If there has been one benefit from all of this it has been for my staff to learn how to better embrace technology in their teaching. Many of my staff have said this has been the best CPD they have received in years.”

Paul Kelly, Head of Secondary

British International School Shanghai, Puxi Campus

What lessons can be learnt?

Schools everywhere have embraced the opportunity to try out new EdTech learning resources during this difficult time. As schools look ahead, what lessons can be learned from their use during lockdown that might improve and enhance daily teaching practice?

For the schools in China it was particularly difficult as the country’s firewall meant that some platforms such as YouTube and BBC bitesize were blocked. BIS Shanghai already used some EdTech systems which between them provided online textbooks and curriculum aligned lessons and assessments, but they didn’t cover the full range of subjects taught, nor did they have the depth and consistency of quality content.

Paul said:  “ Our usual use of EdTech would normally be as a supplementary learning tool, using it for  revision purposes so students could undertake an audit of their own understanding of a topic and return to the teacher with areas they would like to go over.

“GCSEPod was recommended to us by a colleague at another Nord Anglia school. We had to react quickly and set up the GCSEPod accounts for all our secondary aged students, giving them remote access to quality content across the curriculum. Thankfully it was easy to set up and there was no learning curve.”

In Italy, Jody Lee Parker, who is head of secondary school and co-interim director at The International School in Genoa, Italy, says:

“It has been a surreal academic year, and if someone had told us in January when we returned for the spring term that within a matter of weeks multiple countries would be forced into lockdown as a new and deadly virus swept across the globe, we would have thought them mad.

But as Italy found itself in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, the government in Rome was forced to intervene at the beginning of March and order the entire country into a dramatic total lockdown – which inevitably included the closure of all schools.

Only now, nearly three months on, is my adopted homeland beginning to return to some form of normality.  Our teachers have used Google Classrooms for some time but they now had to get to grips with new resources such as GCSEPod. 

They have taken part in detailed training webinars on how to effectively use the platform and make the most of its multiple features, including how to use it within Google Classroom so we know our students are accessing the right lesson resources. The initial response from staff has been extremely positive and we’ve been impressed by how easy it has been to set up and how helpful the GCSEPod team has been.

A blended flipped learning approach

Schools everywhere have embraced the opportunity to try out new EdTech learning resources during this difficult time. As schools look ahead, what lessons can be learned from their use during lockdown that might improve and enhance daily teaching practice?

Paul Kelly says: “Initially we sent work to students at 8:00am each day by e-mail and students worked independently on tasks. However, parental surveys revealed that students were struggling socially.  We changed to setting independent work online with live sessions with teachers. This has enabled students to ask questions about their studies and check in with staff on a pastoral level.”

James McAleese of Head of Secondary at GEMS Winchester School in Fujairah, UAE agrees: Ensuring that students continue to receive a high-quality education at home, and maintain their motivation despite the IGCSE exam cancellations, was the priority during this period. We understood that students and parents might be feeling isolated and anxious about learning from home and the impact on their IGCSE results, and so providing ongoing support and reassurance for KS4 would be particularly important. Furthermore, equipping students to make the transition into the next stage of their education is also a key consideration as the academic year draws to a close.

“We now have a generation of digital-native students learning from home. Curriculum-aligned tasks are especially important for KS4 to make sure they are not missing out any IGCSE topics. We have the EdTech tools at our disposal to take the classroom experience online and deliver the same high standard of teacher support which students would expect in the classroom, modifying tasks for students depending on their abilities. 

 

“Blended learning is more attuned to the way today’s young students consume and engage with content. Each pupil is different and will learn best in different ways and at different speeds. Using an online learning tool which provides instant feedback on students’ work is valuable as it allows teachers to identify any knowledge gaps in real-time and ensure this is addressed in the next lesson. Like other international schools in the UAE, we have a high proportion of learners with English as an additional language (EAL). Students therefore enjoy using audio-visual resources with subtitles, which allow them to slow down or re-watch sections as needed.

“Combining this independent work with teacher-led sessions then creates a more engaging and dynamic student experience. Furthermore, blended learning enables pupils to take ownership of their study and develop key independent thinking skills which are beneficial for their education careers and beyond.

“Prior to the school closures, we were already encouraging teachers to use more education technology, including GCSEPod, which I had used highly effectively at my previous school. One particularly successful tactic is to use it within a flipped learning context. Teachers create a playlist of Pods relevant to the topic they were studying and ask students to watch them immediately before a short Microsoft Teams lesson. During this live teaching time, we’ll work through the linked assignments or various other learning activities available within GCSEPod with the students, giving them the opportunity to discuss them with their teachers and classmates. This means that the shorter lesson on Teams can be used much more effectively: pupils enjoy chatting and sharing their ideas, just as they would have done in the normal classroom, and they say that they feel more motivated understanding exactly how the videos fit into the curriculum content, having discussed it in the live session.  

 The outcomes from students over the past months have illustrated the benefits of integrating online resources, from improving their ability to learn independently and self-review, to allowing for more personalised instruction which reflects the needs of individual learners. 

James stresses that for this approach to work, it’s crucial that the teachers not only thoroughly understand their subject and curriculum, but have training on how to use EdTech effectively and have confidence that the chosen  resources are both easy to use and effective.

In conclusion, to misquote a well-known expression, the experience during these last months proves that, used well, ‘digital learning is for life, not just for Coronavirus 19 closures’. Whilst digital learning is not a replacement for traditional classroom teaching, it is an invaluable tool which can enhance the learning experience for students when integrated properly within the curriculum.  The challenge for schools around the globe is now to take what they have learned and build on it.

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“I can’t speak highly enough about how helpful the GCSEPod team were throughout the whole process. Most importantly, teachers and students have found the resources relevant, excellent, and easy to use.” 
Ian Lee, Yew Chung International School of Shanghai, China

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