Remote Lessons in a Boarding School

Recently events have conspired to have me stuck in my flat whilst I should be teaching — never ask me about BT engineers… HULK SMASH!!!!!! I was able to manipulate it so these lessons were with my Sixth Form classes. I decided to take a leap and teach the lessons whilst at home, which, in my case, is on School grounds. Pupils could be at home or in class where my colleague would keep an eye on them. Most took the opportunity to stay at home.

Last year I set up a Slack channel for our department’s senior pupils and we dabbled in it — they set up bots and slackbot auto-responses and had a few laughs seeing what the application can do, but things fell by the wayside once we had lost our purpose (a major league hackathon). A remote lesson was the obvious opportunity for a resurgence. I use slack every day with the excellent WeAreOpen Cooperative and TIDE Podcast channels (jump into either if interested). The tools were set; next comes the clueless moment of how to engage the pupils and make sure learning progresses.

Lesson 1 — Internet censorship (moral/ethical issue). Class of six pupils.

I picked a juicy topic that would lend itself to discussion. I asked them to explore censorship. The content isn’t important to note here — what happened is.

  • wikipedia and newspaper/news articles read quickly
  • understood bias and started to triangulate information, looking further afield
  • discovered the need to triangulate from different types of sources
  • found censorship maps to see the spread and realised differences so careful analysis was required
  • realised they could *pin* valuable sources to retrieve easily
  • pushed back on things I said
  • one pupil disappeared without permission but all others contributed well
  • follow up work was to make notes ready to bring back to next lesson where the core specification components would be extracted from what we had learned
  • the non-participant pupil completed this to a high standard without prompt

Was it worth it? Yes. The pupils are a good bunch and the remote nature of the lesson meant that each of them was tussling with the debates offline (in their mind, in their room) and contributing when the opportunity arose. Can I prove this? No, not totally but their contributions are time-stamped. Anyone familiar with working in real-time online will know it is a challenge to get your thoughts heard at the right point of the conversation. The lack of face-to-face contact meant no participant could see that another was going to take the weight of a question, encouraging all to do the required thinking. And they didn’t know where I was looking, so they naturally assume my eyes are on their work. I was able to split my attention between contributing, watching each pupil’s contribution and prompting individuals as I felt necessary. Participation in many twitter chats served me well — how to bring people into the stream and keep thinking and acting as the text flies up the page. To be able to resist the feelings of drowning in the current. Was it perfect? No.

Lesson 2 — Input and Output Devices — different class of six pupils

This dull topic was going to be a challenge. I’d invited all the pupils to slack and made a separate channel for the class. The previous lesson I had sent the pupils out to photograph every I/O device in the local town that the shop proprietors would allow them to. I took a different tack here and set up a hackpad to aggregate our findings on I/O devices for people with accessibility issues.

Once we started building a table, a couple of the pupils highlighted the inadequacy of hackpad to handle our information. I quickly made the call to jump ship. A pupil created a Google Doc and invited all participants and we got going again. We used the GDocs tools (comments = good, suggestions = not so good) to discuss things as we entered different devices into the tables. Agreeing on suitable table headings caused some confusion (note to self — plan lesson better!). Slack was used to have separate conversations, usually me prompting an individual who looked a little absent from the group doc. Again it is important to state these pupils are a great bunch. The time working together was flipping between assembling a thorough set of information, sourced and referenced online, and some light-hearted comment on the mechanics of the process. We also used Google Hangouts at the end to chat through our experience and set the homework for next lesson.

Lesson 3 — the biggest technological change of the next ten years — inspired by this article — the same six pupils as the I/O devices

This is worth mentioning because it was only 40 minutes long and I used a tool I had not used before. Amy Burvall (must follow) told me about tricider — a question and response app on steroids. You can see for yourself how good it was here. I tweeted it out at the beginning of the lesson and three people (not my pupils) contributed on a Saturday before 9AM — thank you.


These remote lessons were worthwhile. I am keen to get the young technologists I work with familiar with the modus operandi a non-school environment will demand of them. That feeling of accountability for your contribution and adding value to the process whilst working from home. Agile response to the use of new tools. All twelve pupils are formidable computer users and possess great character and resilience in their learning. I am not sure how things would play out with a larger class, younger pupils, or indeed different pupils. The remote element worked in part, I dare say, because I have positive relationships with all of them established face-to-face over many lessons.

Tempted? Give it a go — it was fun and added a nice buzz to the learning, it also added an agile dynamic not usually present — I would love to hear about your experience.

Image source: pixabay

Originally published at DAI BARNES.