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Can you imagine if the Covid crisis had hit fifteen years ago?

James McKinnel, Teacher and Housemaster Elect at Winchester College looks at how teachers and technology have had to embrace online learning at breakneck speed

Can you imagine if our current Covid crisis hit fifteen years ago? The effect it would have had on pupil learning would have been even more extraordinary and disruptive. Whilst Skype was in its infancy the dial-up internet connection we battled with would have made group teaching impossible. Microsoft Teams, Google for Education, Youtube and OneNote were just a twinkle in the internet’s eye. Most of us hadn’t even heard of Zoom a few short weeks ago. How different our remote teaching would have been. Perhaps we would have had to send worksheets through the post and phoned pupils to check up on them? As it is, there have been reports of independent schools rolling out considered, professional and innovative provisions in online learning. No wonder that The Times newspaper reported a rush to private Schools in Scotland recently because of the way many have embraced online learning.

There are undoubtedly some teachers who were hoping to slip quietly into retirement before the need to embrace the digital revolution. Others have enjoyed a new lease of life and refreshed their teaching with new techniques. Whilst we are not at the stage of ‘upskill or up-sticks’ there is a necessary shift towards the importance of gaining a strong grasp of the online provisions available.

Teachers have been re-training themselves in order to adapt to this strange new world and schools seem to be investing heavily in training.

What some may have once described as a rather static profession now finds itself at the coalface of online communication. Common practice is now making videos to aid flipped learning; creating podcast content; collating and storing resources more effectively; and discovering speedy marking on OneNote. My hope is that this will continue to shape our practice when pupils are back in the classroom and provide a new dynamic to engage both teachers and pupils.

Whilst the pandemic has increased the speed in which schools are embracing technology, the extent in which it remains central depends on the coming months. Many boarding schools, for example, are making contingency plans for a mixed economy of teaching in the classroom and ‘virtually’ from September when, inevitably, some overseas students don’t return. Harrow School have gone further and become the first of its kind to launch Harrow School Online, an education system solely aimed at the virtual market. Other independent schools may well follow suit if the current crisis continues to impact attendance, fees and applications in the next academic year.

The independent sector is changing rapidly. There are lots of challenges to be faced but some wonderful opportunities too. Ultimately, my hope is that both teachers and pupils will find learning more rewarding and engaging as a consequence.

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