The power of the Virtual Learning Environments
At many boarding schools, a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is a vital tool for teaching and learning. At Kings Colleges, all agent counsellors also have a login and access to their students’ reports which enables them to follow progress and discuss these details with parents, allowing them to feel closer to their child’s progress.
Meanwhile, at Taunton School International, Principal Adrian Hallworth clearly sees the value of the VLE, most notably for international students. “As well as making every lesson available online, so students can revisit what they have learnt at any time, there is also a huge amount of additional material available to the students on the VLE (via Firefly: extension work for the more academically able; GCSE practice papers (with answers); support for struggling students; key vocabulary lists; and enrichment material for the more academically curious.”
Most boarding schools now also have an online parent portal where parents can go and follow their child’s academic progress. However, as Caroline Nixon, General Secretary of BAISIS (British Association of Independent Schools with International Students), says, “The true value of the portal is how much easier it is to share meaningful news about each child with parents so they can feel really involved. The children themselves also like to know their parents have this additional information, so they know their parents have a real understanding of their new lives and this can improve family communication.” For example, many schools now post regular photos of each child immersed in school activities. Also, videos or live streaming of sports events and plays can be added to the portal. These technological advances are a very important addition to the quality of pastoral care provided by many schools.
Online English language development
The proliferation of online language providers is also a critical tool for many UK boarding schools, looking to support face-to-face EAL classes. Online language apps can enhance classroom learning by making language learning fun and interactive in new ways.
FluentU is a favourite of Pete Collier, Head of EAL at Kings College St Michaels. The app separates itself from its competitors by using authentic videos, such as celebrity interviews, music videos and adverts as a basis for teaching students. “I have found that students really enjoy the use of these authentic videos, giving each lesson a sense of accomplishment and worth as they interact with texts that native speakers themselves expose themselves to instead of the often stilted, generic texts plucked straight from the pages of a textbook,” says Pete.
Of course, learning in a second or third language can be really demanding, so games-based learning is a good way of keeping all pupils, but particularly international students, engaged in their studies, in an interactive, fun way. Kahoot is one company at the forefront of this development. It hosts millions of educational quizzes covering topics such as climate change and world history. Whilst the content is based around the U.S. curriculum, the platform offers teachers, wherever they are based, the opportunity to create their own quizzes adding video, images and diagrams as needed.
Many schools are also now embracing google classroom tools allowing all students, but notably international students, to experience life in the UK in ways that would have previously been impossible. For example, the google expeditions app allows teachers to take pupils on over 900 VR expeditions from their own classrooms. The expeditions can be experienced via Chrome browsers and by downloading the expedition app. An optional cardboard VR headset is also available. Examples of UK ‘expeditions’ include a VR tour of Charles Dickens’ home in London and a pilgrimage to Westminster Abbey. Use of technology like this helps provide international students with a grasp of British culture, history and heritage that could previously only have been provided by multiple ‘field trips’.
Clearly, this tech can also be used to help enhance academic programmes too.
Learning Management systems (LMS)
Whilst previously only really embraced by the higher education community, Learning Management Systems that embrace all aspects of learning and teacher communications are now increasingly being adopted by schools.
The leading LMS is now Canvas, owned by Instructure. Canvas has overtaken Blackboard* in the North American higher education market, and is gaining adoption in schools as well.
An LMS enables schools to add all learning resources on one platform – regardless of media – so webinars, video lessons, quizzes and homework can also be hosted on one platform, which, in the case of Canvas is cloud based. The true value of the LMS is that is reduces fragmentation of resources, pupils know everything is in one place and they can access it anywhere in the world, at home or at school.
5G will bring even more ‘real-time’ learning opportunities.
For schools with online students like Brooke House College, the greatest change in academic delivery is the ability to engage in real-time, remote teaching, allowing for immediate interaction and feedback from pupil to teacher and vice versa.
The introduction of 5G technology will also reduce reliance on desk top devices and allow for more learning via mobile technology. ‘M-learning’, as it has been christened, is likely to focus more on ‘fun’ aspects of learning, but nevertheless will also provide a new tool for teachers to engage with pupils whilst they are on the move and not classroom based.
New tech raises ethical & privacy challenges
Finally, whilst there are huge benefits to the introduction of digital technology, schools also need to be mindful of new challenges this presents.
Alexa is already being used in classrooms but privacy issues still remain and lawsuits have been filed regarding how Alexa devices might listen in on users and store and share data. See here.
Also, whilst internet access offers lots of new learning opportunities, there are risks to address; conducting academic internet research and questions around authenticity and plagiarism needs to be clearly addressed by all schools. At Kings Colleges a Communication and Study Skills module within its Advanced Level Foundation course covers aspects of this and has been found to be particularly helpful to international students if they come from countries where rules and regulations around this are less stringent.
This article was published by ST Magazine on 15th August 2019 https://studytravel.network/magazine/news/2/26808
Pat Moores is the Director of UK Education Guide, an independent resource on UK secondary schools options for UK and international families.