Some Thoughts

On Covid Remote Learning

27 January 2021

Lockdown has thrown me deep into a very small part of the education system.

I’ve always had an interest in my son’s education and always had some concerns about the overly political nature of the UK National Curriculum as set by politicians and not so much by educational experts.

I’m just a Dad, a technologist, I went to school, I know some teachers but I make no claim to educational expertise.

Based on my experiences of Open Source Software and related projects and of seeing a rush to embrace technology in schools these are some thoughts on what I think should happen.

Firstly I sympathise with the move to use the established big-tech systems. However I don’t think this is a good long term solution. It also fails to offer our children the data protection and privacy they have a right to.

We do have some things: the BBC and The National Academy are useful.

But they don’t seem to me to be easy to integrate into a school system - where you can track a child’s progress, see who needs help.

Nor do they facilitate teachers re-using and building upon the resources offered.

Collaborative Content

I have worked for 20+ years in the world of open source content. I can copy the software I use free of charge and use it in my own systems. I can make changes to suit myself, if I make changes that other people might find useful (such as bug fixes) I can share these with the original team. My copy of the software can still get updated with fixes the original team makes.

Sometimes people take a project and make big changes to it and share this publicly as a “fork” - people who want to use this software can usually get an idea of the different forks and decide which to use.

This is mostly managed through a piece of software called “git” and a website called Github

Education Resources

This is the bit where I remind you I am an outsider - this is just what I see from where I am - I know I don’t see the whole picture and welcome feedback.

I see a lot of stuff used in class comes from twinkl , some from books, some is original content by class teachers, some from places like the BBC.

Most of it seems to be in PDF format, some PowerPoint, or other office document formats.

It doesn’t seem to me like much of it is easy to adapt - you pick what you want and maybe crop a bit out of a page - but it looks like it’s often hard to do things like localise a document - say by taking a good resource from the USA and changing dollars to pounds.

Open Education

I’ve been wondering why schools seem to have jumped on to Microsoft Teams and Google Classrooms. Teams seems to have nothing to offer schools beyond generic collaboration tools, and Google Classroom looks quite limited and doesn’t seem to promote content sharing/re-use.

At least Classroom use Google forms so quizzes can be set and provide some instant, automated feedback.

I know there are Open source educational tools such as moodle which offer much more in the way of reusable courses, and progress tracking.

There are also a number of places to look for open education content

But this seems to be something where a teacher would need to trawl through many sites, to find individual resources for individual lessons.

It isn’t always clear what the license is on the content, and often it is provided in a format that is hard to edit.

Open Formats

There is SCORM which seems to be an older standard allowing an educational

What we should have.

Firstly let me say we should not have a single central system forced upon everyone. This inhibits innovation and creativity while reducing resilience.

What I think we need is

  1. Funding for open educational resources
  2. Clear licenses for modification and re-use of these resources
  3. A GitHub-like repository to search for and share them
  4. Training and IT support for Learning Management Systems for in school or remote use
  5. Funding for further development of Learning Management Systems

None of this would impose anything on schools but would offer them options which do not currently exist.

Sadly I don’t think this will happen anytime soon as most people seem to be focussed only on getting through the next few weeks under the assumption that normal life will then return.

Personally - I’d prefer to put some effort into a backup plan now like we should have done a year ago.