Three lessons from our first month running an online school
Updated: Jun 2, 2020
We set up AimHi in March in response to the global school closures. Since launching we’ve been overwhelmed with the support and positive feedback. Although we just started this journey we’re already learning a lot; here’s some insight into our discoveries.
1) Engagement builds community During the live lessons it’s fantastic to see students debating big topics with our teachers, and praising each other's contributions via chat. We’ve also noticed pupils chatting with each other before and after lessons, Showing how our digital classrooms can mimic real classrooms, fostering interaction among students from across the country, and in some cases the world! What’s been even more exciting is to see that lots are returning every week. By teaching online, we not only overcome challenges of distance and separation, but we also free our teachers from the need to control the class, so they can focus on being charismatic and engaging. It’s becoming evident that engagement with our teachers and with the other students is part of what keeps AimHi students coming back. Social media and the news are full of stories of parents struggling to keep their kids entertained during lockdown. In guidance on BBC News, Prof Gillespie says that getting kids to focus for just one to three hours a day is positive for their education. However, in between full-time work and running a household, many parents don’t have the capacity to become teachers even for a few hours a day. Our lessons run for 30 -45 minutes, and due to their interactivity, can keep students occupied for the whole lesson. So far we’ve found that 90% of our students will stay online for the full session. Engagement is key and we’re so pleased that it’s helping us to build an online community full of individuals who are excited to learn. 2) Resource access is a privilege Educating kids from home is challenging for parents and schools. It’s taking time for everyone to adjust, and to access the right resources.
But resource access varies across the country. While some students have been able to get online immediately, through owning personal devices and attending schools that are set up for digital learning, plenty have not. Many don’t have access to a device, internet, or in some cases a consistent supply of electricity. This discrepancy in resource access is a huge challenge for society. Some fantastic organisations are working to ensure kids have a personal tablet or laptop, such as this Yorkshire based renewable energy company. And the government has promised laptops and 4g routers for some of the most disadvantaged pupils across the UK.
Unfortunately once kids are online resource disparities continue. For example, some kids are fortunate enough to afford private tutors, and to attend schools with better resources and more teachers that can offer contact time via video calls. Similarly some students will have their own room and desk, allowing them to focus on their distance learning, while others might share that space with family members, or only be able to use it at certain times of day. Dr Daniel Nicholls writes about these factors, which are contributing to a widening education gap that will intensify through school closures. He urges educators to take action now to mitigate further societal asymmetry. We agree; the pandemic is shining a light on pre-existing educational inequalities and the need for fair, open-access teaching platforms that will remain post-COVID-19. While AimHi can’t bridge the physical resource gap, we believe we can be part of the solution when it comes to making sure kids can access inspiring teachers for free every weekday. 3) We can inspire kids by helping them discover answers to big questions With so much knowledge and entertainment available online, we need to find novel ways to inspire and educate kids. We believe kids would love learning a lot more if there was less of a focus on memorising and recalling information for tests, and more emphasis on developing skills that help them learn. Through AimHi we want to equip students with the ability to understand and solve problems, by showing them how to break down complex ideas and reach answers themselves. In a recent lesson our Geography teacher, Hannah Lewis, asked what the world would be like if everyone earned the same amount of money. She began with an intro to key political concepts like capitalism and communism, and how they influence our views on money. Students were then asked to name case study countries that had applied these concepts. The lesson concluded with a debate about the pros and cons of universal basic income, which Hannah introduced in simple terms in the last 10 minutes. Hannah’s approach gave everyone the opportunity to ask questions, steer the journey, and think critically on their feet. She showed them how to approach a big open ended question in a manageable way. Students left the class saying they had heaps to think about, and that they felt more confident to engage in other online classes. Our goal is to empower students to become critical thinkers and problem solvers. Ultimately we hope to determine our success by how enthused and inspired students feel, how much they’re left wanting to learn more, and how much they’re equipped to do so!