Highly Effective Distance Learning at Springdales School, Dubai

Distance Learning is defined as “…remote education that does not involve regular face-to-face contact between teacher and student or among students” (Jonathan Beale, 2020)

At Springdales School we have based our Distance Learning program on well-researched recommendations across the literature. We decided very early on to be methodical and take into consideration the best-researched steps that support parents, students, and teachers in providing the most deliverable and comprehensive step by step distance learning possible.

STEP 1: We decided to provide familiar and user-friendly technologies
Springdales School used a number of student-friendly technologies and platforms such as a seesaw, Nearpod, Google forms, Microsoft teams, and Zoom. We made the decision that too much change often causes disruption; the less disruption, the better.

STEP 2: We backed-up resources so students were not disadvantaged
Teachers were conscious of the challenges that families may well face including access to devices, connectivity with the internet and the need to have extension work for some students. As a school we provided an option of personal devices for a safety deposit in the week prior to Distance Learning commencing, we had our IT experts available for families to remotely solve any initial software problems for parents and allocate hardware loans. They remain available online and, in most cases, troubleshoot remotely.

STEP 3: We have sought and provided ongoing feedback
Two levels of feedback have been sought, at school level, we are regularly surveying students and their families to methodically identify where we need to improve the distance learning experience with the goal of immediate response time. At the teacher/student level we are constantly looking for appropriate ways to provide feedback, for some students we use well-established feedback functions like ‘track changes’ in Microsoft word, for younger students we have used screen capture and photographic evidence. We are now investigating the use of live assessment so we can ensure trustworthy judgment that keeps students on track for all mandated progress measures.

STEP 4: We were aware that students may need additional task choices as they would have more time working from home
For many students, school days are jam-packed with curricular and co-curricular activities, including sports, clubs, music lessons, and others, as well as social time. With people worldwide currently being required to stay at home, for an extended period of time students will not be participating in many typical school activities such as clubs or sports.

Many students are therefore likely to have time available which they do not usually have, some of which could be used for extension work in their academic subjects; and some students may wish to fill much of that time completing extension work. So, our leaders and teachers have devised a model of distance learning that covers all of the core subjects and offers “have a go if you wish” activities giving parents and students choice and help them manage their time.

STEP 5: Be agile and flexible to overcome inevitable challenges

This is a message for all stakeholders, Governments, school leaders, parents, teachers and students. We are all facing a situation the likes of most of us have never seen before. Our collective ability to react to first time challenges with a winning attitude is key to success. At Springdales School we are listening to all stakeholder concerns, looking for solutions and communicating our solutions as regularly as possible. We see this as an opportunity to be an even better school when covid-19 is solved, we want to be a school that is even more intuitive to the needs of parents and students. We are hoping parents also have a renewed appreciation of the important role schools and teachers play in the development of future generations.

All of this requires the ability to react, unlearn, and relearn practices that we have been so familiar and comfortable with year after year for most of our lives. We are all in this together.

Harry Fletcher- Wood writes in his article “Learning in a time of coronavirus: planning distance schooling” about the challenge’s schools face in distance learning and offers the following suggestions for addressing them. Teachers at Springdales School have built the delivery of distance education on his following six main recommendations:

  1. Identify what matters most in teaching now and find new ways to do it through distance learning.
  2. Set simple tasks which students can get used to doing well.
  3. Share, as soon as possible, what you want students to do and why you want them to do it.
  4. Check student understanding.
  5. Pick simple educational technology solutions.
  6. Help students to form effective learning and work habits.

Dr. Brian Gray
Springdales School, Dubai