CfEM blog: remote learning during lockdown

Blog by Steve Pardoe, the ETF’s Regional Maths Lead in the East Midlands and South East regions, for the Centres for Excellence in Maths (CfEM) programme.

 

During the height of lockdown, the ETF conducted a short survey of CfEM colleges to capture their experiences of remote delivery of maths. Responses were received from 15 of the 21 centres and revealed some interesting findings.

Firstly, it became clear that two different models had been used.  The majority of colleges opted for a model of independent learning – with work either emailed to students or uploaded for them to collect from an online platform. Colleges utilised a wide range of software in the process – MathsWatch being the most popular. In most colleges, this was accompanied by one-to-one or small group support or feedback from teachers. In contrast, a minority of colleges opted to mirror the classroom experience by delivering online lessons via Microsoft Teams, Zoom and such like – often to the same pre-lockdown timetable.

In all colleges engagement was lower than they might expect under ‘business as usual’ – averaging around 50% – perhaps not entirely surprising given the cancellation of GCSE exams. Indeed, most colleges cited lack of learner motivation as a key factor. However, the biggest barrier to emerge was the lack of access to IT equipment and/or Internet – highlighting the very real issue of digital deprivation affecting a significant number of FE learners.

It wasn’t all negative though – many centres reported students who had been less engaged in the classroom becoming much more engaged with learning maths online. Interestingly, the opposite also appeared true – with some more engaged students in class becoming less engaged online – perhaps indicating two distinct learning preferences. 

Perceived benefits of remote learning included:

  • Greater flexibility for learners to learn at their own time/pace
  • Learners using ‘chat’ to ask questions privately to their teacher (rather than in front of the class)
  • Teachers providing prompt feedback to learners

Overall, it is clear there are some potential benefits of remote learning. Though equally some major challenges which colleges need to consider in planning their maths provision for next academic year. Digital deprivation and motivating learners to engage being key, which will require greater investment in both equipment and staff development.  Many CfEM colleges will be researching approaches to remote and blended learning next year, which will provide further insights into this important area.

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