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UC's Faculty of Education there for ACT community during COVID-19 pandemic

Semester 1, 2020 has been like no other in recent history for school children from every pocket of the world.

They have had to shift everything they knew about schooling online due to the COVID-19 pandemic: from the teaching and learning, to socialising with their friends via online chat.

Now, Canberra school children have headed back to the classroom and begun the first step in a return to normalcy. But the lessons learnt during the COVID-19 distancing restrictions could change the way we approach education in the future.

The University of Canberra’s Faculty of Education played an important role in helping the Canberra community shift to online learning and teaching. Academics helped educate the community about the way online and remote learning for school children works and the various ways that it can be delivered and facilitated.

In fact, while online learning may be relatively new, the idea of remote learning has actually been around since the early 1900s.

“Online and distance education for school age children has a long history with its origins being in correspondence learning since 1916, school of the air since the 1950s and in distance education for children in isolated areas,” said Executive Dean of the Faculty, Professor Barney Dalgarno.

With modern technologies comes an even better platform to enable children’s learning at home through high quality digital resources, regular support from teachers and regular engagement with peers through phone, video and email.

Many students in ACT schools were already utilising these modern technologies prior to school shutdowns, so it was easy for them to keep on track with their studies online.

“Many students in the ACT regularly use Chrome Book devices with Google Classroom software at school, so they were able to continue to use the same technologies and tools when learning at home,” said Barney.

The digital literacies of these children are much higher than past generations, so they have the key capabilities needed to ensure success in this context.

Academics have noted other ways in which ACT schools were able to successfully adapt to online teaching so quickly. Local teachers had already established an effective face-to-face relationship with parents and students which strengthened their ability to communicate from a distance.

Barney says another positive aspect of the move online, was how well parents and teachers worked together.

“One of the well-known side benefits of online, distance and correspondence education is that the partnership between the teacher and parents is strengthened through their cooperation towards achieving positive outcomes for the children in their learning,” said Barney.

However, Barney says the transition to online learning wasn’t all smooth sailing and there were challenges.

“We couldn’t expect things to be perfect from the start, and there were a lot of resources that had to be transitioned online in a short amount of time,” said Barney.

“Parents trying to balance full-time work from home while supporting their children’s learning was difficult for many families. On top of this, young children in pre-school, kindergarten or years 1 to 3 tend to be less able to learn independently and had a greater need for parental involvement.”

The changes in online learning didn’t just affect school children, but also university students. For those studying practical degrees, like teacher education, alternative models of placements were quick to be implemented by the Faculty and the ACT Education Directorate.

“Our placement model proposal accepted by our accrediting body the ACT Teacher Quality Institute involves pre-service teachers working with their supervising teachers on the delivery of primarily online learning experiences for students,” said Barney.

“The ACT was the first jurisdiction to reach agreement with our accrediting body for an alternative placement model in the context of the COVID-19 situation.”

Now that a sense of normalcy is returning in the ACT and restrictions are starting to be lifted, there is time to reflect on the lessons learnt and look at how online learning can be utilised in the future.

“Thousands of children every year undertake their schooling this way and many go on to complete university degrees and have successful professional careers,” said Barney.

Words by Katarina Slavich.

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