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Live Lessons - are they the best way?

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Live Lessons - are they the best way?

Gavin Williamson is no stranger to controversy. He was sacked as Defence Secretary in 2019 following a leak. He once famously asked the entire nation of Russia to “Go away and shut up”. He broke Parliamentary rules by Instagramming in the House of Commons. He seriously recommended that the Ministry of Defence save money by attaching guns to tractors. And who can forget the famous A-Level Algorithm Disaster. 

We could go on like this for some time. Let’s just say that Gavin Williamson has a bit of a past. So it’s not surprising that he’s recently found himself going head to head with his very own guidelines.

What’s the latest problem all about? Well, by Williamson’s standards it’s pretty tame. However, it does have a lot of interest for the remote learning community. 

Basically, Williamson has contradicted Ofsted over the benefit (or otherwise) of live learning. And teachers are confused.

What did Williamson say?

Williamson made his claims while answering questions in the House of Commons on 17th January. In response to queries about the government’s Lockdown education plans, Williamson replied: “What we do want to see and we do want to encourage is as much live teaching as possible, which [is] shown to be the best way in terms of delivering teaching.”

“We would encourage schools to put on as much live provision as possible”, Mr Williamson continued, “This is very beneficial”.

However, less than a week earlier, his own department had released Ofsted guidelines describing the idea that live-streamed education is the ‘gold standard’ as an ‘unhelpful myth’.

Unsurprisingly, educators have responded with confusion.

What do government guidelines say about live lessons?

It’s safe to say that Williamson is not flavour of the month with the wider education community. For a start, he’s been accused of masterminding the exam results scandal which distressed GCSE and A-Level students in the summer of 2020. And many teachers are frustrated with what they see as insufficient support and unfair resource distribution from his department.

School inspectorate Ofsted’s “How to do remote learning well” guidelines, issued just days before Mr Williamson’s remarks, were supposed to change all that. They were supposed to give teachers a research-supported roadmap for remote learning during the pandemic. 

Written by Ofsted’s research head, Professor Daniel Mujis, the guidelines also aim to dispel “unhelpful myths” about remote education - including the 'myth' that live-streamed lessons are the 'gold standard'.

Live lessons, according to Ofsted are great for aligning curricula, keeping learner attention, and building teacher-student relationships. However, Mujis cautions that live lessons also make it “hard to build in interaction and flexibility”, and that many learners find it hard to concentrate when learning remotely.

Rather than live-streaming lessons “as much as possible” (a-la Williamson), Ofsted instead recommend a more blended approach.

For example, Mujis advocates:

  • Automating pupil check-ins with tech rather than having a live roll-call.
  • Enabling chat functions for students to maintain social contact while working on pre-set lessons.
  • Using worksheets, textbooks, and other learning resources to fill the gaps live lessons can’t plug.

What was the response?

Many teachers were very frustrated by the contradiction between the Education Secretary and his department’s guidelines. Commenters were quick to make their feelings felt on the snafu:

“I feel completely frazzled by a full timetable of online lessons in which I am interacting with students and solving technical issues every minute of every lesson. I also had 6 hours of parents evening appointments just last week, and I have had to respond to countless parent emails. I feel stretched to say the least” commented a secondary music teacher.

“Some lessons I love online - today’s was great. Yesterday I was close to tears, burnt out, and felt pulled in way too many directions. I couldn’t give everyone the attention they needed because live lessons just don’t work like that. They’re great sometimes but not always appropriate”, said a KS3 teacher.

“I’m still classroom teaching vulnerable kids. It’s so hard to juggle Zooming the lesson whilst also being in the classroom with a third of my class”, another teacher pointed out.

Parents had plenty to say, too. One mother raised important issues around access. “What about the families who have several children and one device? How can they all get their lessons live at the same time? Why should they when the tech exists for teachers to upload lessons for later”.

Many were much less restrained in their comments. We’ll spare you their thoughts, but we’re sure you can use your imaginations!

Others, however, had a more balanced view of the subject.

“This black and white ‘one is best, the other is rubbish’ view is bad for teaching. Live lessons aren’t necessarily the best at all times, but they are good sometimes. They’re another weapon in our arsenal. Schools know their communities, they know what will suit them best”. said one commenter. Many agreed with them.

“Every school has different pressures and we should be championing the efforts being made to provide pre-recorded sessions, online help resources, live lessons etc. It works best when it all works together.”

What’s the solution?

Live teaching certainly has its place. As Ofsted pointed out, it’s good for maintaining contact and relationships between teachers and students. However, it’s certainly not the ‘best’ way to teach remotely, and we should not be prioritising live streaming over all other remote teaching tools.

As a remote teaching brand, we at Kinteract know a lot about this. We know what teachers need, we know what learners respond to, and we are fully aware of the ways in which remote teaching differs from classroom teaching. It has its own unique challenges and possibilities.

You can’t live-stream every lesson to every class. Doing this simply tries to make remote teaching emulate classroom teaching - and they are not the same thing. 

Instead, we recommend a blended, hybrid approach.

Some lessons can be streamed live, sure. Often that is appropriate. Other times, however, teachers can use pre-recorded lessons, blended with online resources, worksheets, activities, and more. 

Instead of clamouring to be heard over glitchy microphones, teachers, students, and parents can message back and forth, or break off into individual chats as and when needed.

Kinteract enables remote learning in many ways, and through many media. Teachers can direct students to content and resource libraries for independent learning. Progress is tracked and assessed through intelligent tracking software. Teachers can automate their workflows to save time and effort. And - yes - there are state of the art live teaching tools for those times when it is the best method.

Mr Williamson was contradicting both his own department and the research when he claimed that live teaching had been ‘shown to be the best’ method of remote teaching. However, he has encouraged discussion about the potential of other remote teaching tech. He’s enabled teachers to share their feelings and experiences around remote teaching tech, and that’s a valuable thing.

He may not have meant to do this, of course. But still, we must take positives where we can!