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Education Horizons

Government announcements this week have confirmed what many feared:  formal GCSE and A level exams in the UK have been cancelled for 2021. While this is naturally unsettling for students, parents and schools, it presents untold opportunities for the education system, which will now be seeking new and creative ways to assess students towards gaining their credentials. Crucially, Michael Gove has given these comments, to be announced formally this week:

‘There will be alternative arrangements to make sure that children are assessed so that the knowledge they have acquired, the skills they have developed can be appropriately recognised. So assessments (rather than exams) and the details will be announced in the House of Commons.’

Gove has confirmed that the Department for Education is working with exam regulator Ofqual to find the ‘the best and most effective way’ to assess students. Now is the time for parents and students to take a proactive approach. As teachers are pushing ahead with remote learning and lesson plans in the circumstances, awaiting news of how they will need to adjust schemes of work and assessment methods, students can seize this opportunity to adapt to this new climate themselves, and gain vital interactive skills in the process.

In fact, education faces exciting prospects as it evolves to meet the current demands and the conditions the pandemic has created for teaching and learning. Having already weathered closures, schools are now optimised with remote systems and procedures. Teachers are seeking to maximise learning by harnessing the skills and experience gained in prior lockdowns. In migrating online, education is adapting, and this process is boosting continuous innovation in schools and classrooms, both on-site and online. As remote learning is embracing creative uses of technology, those methods are being incorporated into teaching and learning, ensuring digital education is not only on the rise – it is here to stay.

In the midst of this digital transformation, here are several trends to watch in education in 2021:

EdTech Tools

The market for education apps and tools is exploding as teachers are learning to gamify learning and optimise the visual, digital culture of students. Game-based learning services such as Kahoot!, Gimkit and Plickers have seen a huge uptick in access this past year, as teachers are building quizzing and other stimulating activities into lessons as formative assessment. eLearning platforms such as Raptivity and Articulate have developed authoring platforms for designing engaging virtual classrooms. Multimedia and cross-media tools, such as Nearpod and Buncee, facilitate the creation of interactive lessons across platforms. The digital options for learning currently abound, and are expanding exponentially.

Blended learning and the flipped classroom

Schools this year will run a combination of virtual and traditional schooling as required by the evolving situation. Students learning both in and out of school demands continuity between the two modes and spaces, which digital platforms can provide. ‘Blended learning’ refers to a teaching style employing a mix of technology and online educational exercises with hands-on in-person lessons. Technology holds the benefits of variation in lesson planning and delivery, and automation in data tracking and analytics, streamlining marking and feedback and facilitating the flow of information between teachers and students.

This digital shift lends itself to the development of the ‘flipped classroom’, in which contact time with teachers is devoted to the practical application of knowledge that students gain through direct, independent instruction. The group stage of the learning then becomes more dynamic and inclusive, with a focus on differentiation as teachers monitor students applying gained knowledge and provide support to them as needed. The flipped classroom has the potential to transform students from passive into active learners, giving them greater agency and confidence in the learning process.

EduTwitter

Social media is facilitating the sharing of teaching and learning methods, as teachers across the UK are building a pedagogical community on Twitter. A notable movement is forming around Teaching WalkThrus: 5-step guides for instructional coaching — a programme revitalising core principles of instruction by combining visual images with technical professional guidance, informed by cognitive science and other areas of research. Designed by Thom Sherrington (@teacherhead) and Oliver Caviglioli (@olicav) and published by John Catt Educational (@JohnCattEd), the WalkThrus instructional coaching packages — including handbooks, curated digital materials and hyperlinked resources — are making their way into CPD training across the country, involving teachers in the creative reimagining and application of their craft. The capacity for online discourse to connect and energise teachers is being highlighted and fuelled by remote teaching, developing the prospect of lateral communities and greater commonality in education.

Altogether these trends present as distinct silver linings to the current challenges of remote learning in its widespread infancy, creating the possibility that the pandemic may well prompt the reinvention of education.

— Katie Musgrave (katie.musgrave@oxfordtutors.com)

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