The EdTech Demonstrator School Programme

Back in October, I absent-mindedly posted a little Twitter flurry about the vital importance of professional learning with technology for teachers and how schools can support each other in this, but if schools don’t have enough money to even buy computers there definitely isn’t any to pay for such training.

Unbeknownst to me, the UK Department for Education — that very day — announced what they called the EdTech Demonstrator School Programme. The idea for this was that the government would identify schools who are doing effective things with educational technology and then provide funding for them to support other schools in developing their own EdTech strategy and approach.

As a school already both doing innovative things with technology and supporting other schools as well, we registered our interest and then formally applied for the programme. After a brief purdah hiatus (thank you Brexit!) we were then invited to interview for the programme where we had to present our plans for spending the funding. Our proposal was basically to run a 5-day course throughout the year for computing leads and senior leaders, helping them explore all the elements required to make EdTech work in a school. The majority of the funding was to go on paying release costs for schools for delegates to attend, plus providing a baseline of technology to use through the programme (hello iPad!). The course would culminate in a celebration event, where each school would present about what they had learnt over the year and how their vision and strategy for EdTech had developed.

Then coronavirus hit.

Suddenly schools up and down the land realised that maybe they did need EdTech after all, starting…right now!

In light of this, the DfE repurposed the EdTech Demonstrator Programme as a way of supporting schools with distanced learning. It turns out that my school was one of the successful 22 applicants and now join 20 schools in being part of this revised programme.

If your school is looking for some support at this time, please visit https://edtech-demonstrator.lgfl.net to register your interest!

The Lowest Common Denominator

We are fortunate to have a 1:1 iPad programme in my school. As a Primary school, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) wasn’t ever really an option, mainly because I am not sure how many parents would be willing or able to provide a computer/device for their child to use at school. But this is also to our advantage: because we provide the computers, every child in the school has the same device and so teachers can plan and teach with a confidence that all students will be running the same operating system (baring the odd iPadOS hold-out), with the same apps and hardware that supports all the same features. This is incredibly helpful because it reduces the potential friction/annoyances of technology not working as part of the learning process.

Joining schools across the globe, we have now moved to home learning in response to the current COVID-19 crisis. Our approach has been to leverage the existing experience and confidence of teachers and students in using Showbie by using it as our remote learning platform to deliver learning resources to students, provide tools for students to complete the work (i.e. through annotation tools, voice memos etc) and submit it back to the teacher who can then give some sort of feedback (either individually or as a class) and use it to inform future planning. This seems to be working well, with 82% of children logging in at home so far.

But because we are relying on whatever computer devices children have access to at home, Showbie to all intents and purposes becomes the lowest common denominator for learning. Some pupils are using ‘tablet’ devices, which might be a low-powered Kindle Fire or maybe an ageing iPad. Others are relying on negotiating a time slot on a laptop shared between several siblings and a working parent, or maybe even trying to complete tasks using an iPhone or an Android smartphone. Because Showbie offers both an iPad and a web app, this becomes possible. But it also becomes the ceiling as well – we can’t push the sorts of learning tasks beyond annotating PDFs, typing comments, recording a voice note or visiting web resources. When we’re used to designing learning using the range of apps and tools possible on iPad, this can be a bit frustrating!

Now one way around this could have been to have sent home all our iPads, like they have done in other 1:1 iPad schools. It was something we considered, but things moved very fast in the UK – from ‘we’re not closing schools!’ one day to total lockdown a week later.

And if we were a Chromebook school, maybe all this would be totally normal and fine, with teachers used to learning and creating just in a web browser. Maybe.

But I guess the main takeaway is that, with EdTech, you need to make sure your lowest common denominator is as high as possible: work to have a common technology platform that gives teachers and students the most leeway for learning.

Why we still need schools

With schools across the world getting their heads around home learning (with varying levels of technology and success), I don’t think anyone is seriously suggesting that we get rid of schools in the long term. But the fact that they are, for the most part, physically closed at the moment does help bring into focus some of the reasons why they exist in the first place.

  • Children need the important socialisation process of mixing their peers. Parents are vital for those first few years, but after that children learn how to relate properly with the rest of the world by learning how to get along with other children their age.
  • School provides an external institutional structure for kids, bringing an order to children’s lives. As children learn how to play by the rules of school, they then can become responsible adult citizens who know how to play and keep on playing the game that is civilised society (see Piaget).
  • Teachers provide the external motivational impetus to direct learning. Of course we want learning to be intrinsically motivating and engaging, but the reality is that reading, writing and maths is hard! Training your hand to write, your eyes to read and your brain to think might not be fun at the time but it pays off over a lifetime, and often requires an adult to direct a child to learn it.
  • It takes a village to raise a child. Schools provide much of that ‘village’ experience in our modern crowded and urban life. Kids get a range of input from a variety of people, both academically but also pastorally. This can be done remotely, to a degree, but is so much easier if everyone is the same room or building!
  • People who become teachers are generally the sort of people who are good at teaching (one hopes)! Not everyone has those skills or aptitude, nor indeed the depth or breadth of subject and pedagogical knowledge to introduce learners to a domain of knowledge. You generally need a piano teacher for a child to learn pianoforte…
  • Parents have to go to work. In Days of Yore, children were very useful to help their parents with agricultural jobs, such as bringing in the harvest (which is partly why we ended up with a 6 week summer holiday in the UK). It certainly is a challenge for parents to carry on doing remote working from home whilst juggling children and their learning as well.

It looks like schools in Demark are reopening, and I look forward to this happening in the UK too (at the appropriate time!).

Remote Apple Teacher

In order for us to become an Apple Distinguished School, one requirement was for at least 75% of teachers to gain their Apple Teacher status. Apple Teacher is an online learning tool from Apple that celebrates the skills and knowledge educators have in using Apple technology for learning inside and outside the classroom. As the Greenwich Apple Regional Training Centre, we put on courses after school throughout the year, covering all the different badges needed to get the Apple Teacher status (intro to iPad, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iMovie and GarageBand). Because the after school training was onsite (and included lovely biscuits and tea!), teachers were happy to come along and get any support they needed in learning more about the different apps and then passing the quizzes. That, and some friendly competition between year groups, meant we hit our target by the end of the school year in 2019.

Support staff in school had been asking about whether they could do Apple Teacher too, but there never seemed to be the right opportunity to provide the training. So when the schools closed at the end of March due to COVID-19, we decided to set our Teaching Assistants (TAs), Early Years Practitioners (EYFPs) and Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs) the challenge of completing their Apple Teacher status whilst on lockdown and now working from home.

It was quite a tall challenge in many ways as they would have to work through the materials on the Apple Teacher Learning Centre by themselves rather than attend any specific training. At the same time, we had been assigning our support staff an iPad ever since we went 1:1 iPad and so they were used to using Apple technology to support children with their learning in the classroom.

We posted some instructions on how to navigate through the Apple Teacher website to start learning and earning the badges, and quite quickly we had support staff coming back to say that they had finished! I normally celebrate with a certificate in staff meeting everyone who get their Apple Teacher status, but this will have to wait until lockdown finishes and we return to school. 14 so far and counting…

I think it’s a good way to help our support staff learn that bit more about the educational technology they are already using every day, but also to recognise and celebrate their successes.

Google Drive and the Uncanny Valley

In 1970, a Japanese robotics professor called Masahiro Mori wrote a short essay entitled ‘The Uncanny Valley’. In this he described the relationship between the degree of ‘affinity’ humans have with a robot and the how realistic a robot is. To begin with, there is a a positive correlation between the two, with increasing human likeness resulting in increased affinity. However, as the human likeness approaches that of a healthy human, affinity drops to negative, with the robot actually becoming eerie and repulsive. Mori calls this the ‘uncanny valley’ – a chasm between the real and the simulated that is really hard to cross.

It has been pointed out that the user experience of websites, particularly if they are offering an online equivalent of a desktop application, can fall into the uncanny valley trap. Here, the web service tries to mimic how a traditional application might look and feel but the restraints of web technology means it just doesn’t quite work or behave as expected.

My proposition is that Google Drive, it all of its various incarnations, at times falls down the perilous ravine of the uncanny valley.

Now we use Google Drive at my school, which in so many ways is really excellent. For us it solved quite effectively the problem of ‘how can I get secure access to all my files on whatever device I’m using’. It’s particular strengths are as follows:

  • Shared drives. All files on these drives are owned by the drives rather than individuals, allowing for a genuine replacement for the SMB Windows share.
  • The iPad app. Users can directly browse, preview, organise and work with files on a shared drive. This is much better than our previous WebDAV hacks that we used to give iPads some semblance of access to a Windows shared drive.
  • Unlimited storage. Enough said!
  • Access anywhere. Because all the files live in the cloud rather than on the school premises, teachers don’t need any weird VPN or remote access hacks to get at their stuff.
  • File Stream on the Mac. This is quite a clever bit of technology that means each user doesn’t have to sync (ie. download) all of the files on Google Drive onto their desktop account, but instead files are downloaded discretely in the background when they are required (i.e. double-clicked on).
  • Online collaboration. Google Docs, Sheets and Slides provide online productivity software (ie. Word/Excel/Powerpoint respectively) that lets multiple people edit files in real time. Which is pretty neat, and has become increasingly important with our move to remote learning and working in the current COVID-19 crisis.
  • Clever integration with Slack. We use Slack in school for internal communication rather than email. With the paid version of Slack, there are lots of thoughtful integrations between G-Suite and Slack, such as the ability to log into Slack with your school Google account, sharing files from Google Drive as a web link (which Slack then checks that everyone who is in the channel has permission to view) and notifications within Slack for comments on documents and share requests.

So, lots of great stuff

But because Google would totally prefer us to do everything and anything inside their Chrome web browser, there ends up being some weird and uncanny quirks wherever Google Drive connects in with anything that isn’t Google-y.

Here are some things I would love to see Google address to make Google Drive even better.

Google Drive on iPad

So, my BIGGEST complaint with Google Drive on iPad is that they just don’t integrate with the whole Files app on iPadOS. They do provide support for files in ‘My Drive’ (with a very buggy implementation), but not for files on ‘Shared Drives’. This means that you can’t create a file in Pages directly onto a Shared Google Drive and edit it there, but instead you have to use ‘Open In’ and then save a copy to Pages (which then gets saved on iCloud Drive or wherever) and then share it back to Google Drive once you’re done.

Which is very frustrating and leads to whole set of workaround workflows that would be entirely unnecessary if Google just played the game and hooked up Google Drive to all of the file system hooks that Apple have kindly provided in iPadOS.

I suspect that Google are playing a strategy game here of not properly supporting iPad because they really want you/your school to use Chromebook instead. Hopefully as iPad grows in the enterprise, Google will realise they can’t cut off their nose to spite their face.

Google Drive File Stream

The great thing about Google Drive File Stream is that it lets you use Google Drive (including Shared Drives – I guess Google engineers use Macs even if they don’t use iPads!) as if it were a mounted SMB network share. But this is also it’s weakness, because it doesn’t quite behave like one.

Once you’ve got Google Drive File Stream installed and all signed in, a little menu bar status menu lets you know how it’s all going. Because if you open and edit or create a new file on the Google Drive in the Finder, it has to sync up the changes to Google Drive before you log out. And when you first log into Google Drive File Stream, it has to download the file hierarchy and files (just placeholders, not the actual files) before you can start using it.

The upshot of this is that you can end up in a situation where a user might save a file to Google Drive on one computer, log out and then be unable to find it again on a different computer. This might be because the file didn’t sync to the cloud before logout, or it hasn’t yet downloaded again on the next computer.

It’s not an insurmountable problem and usually just requires checking that everything’s synced up before logging out and being a bit more patient when logging in elsewhere. But the reality is that you need to have a decent conceptual model of how Google Drive File Stream actually works because it’s not the same as a network shared drive that it’s pretending to be.

Google Docs

I think the biggest ‘uncanny valley’ moment is with Google Docs/Sheets/Slides. Google have done a sterling job of figuring out how to actually make a half-decent word processor/spreadsheet/presentation software just in a web browser. But there is the problem – it’s still in a web browser and so doesn’t really behave like a real application.

Part of the issue is that people are used to the idea of an application that does something I want and a resulting file that I can do stuff with. Google Docs isn’t really an application, but rather a web service. And it doesn’t really have files, but rather a link to a page that will display the database information in a document-like manner.

Which result in questions like:

  • How do I actually create a Google Docs? If you’re using Word, you open Word and off you go. But with Google Docs you have to open a website or the Google Drive website and then start from there. There is the iPad app, which makes a little more sense, but it’s a profoundly crippled and un-iPadOS-like piece of software.
  • But isn’t this already a Google Doc? In a bid to be super helpful, Google Drive will let you open up Word .docx files within Google Docs. Which can do some sort of collaboration if you’re on the website, but not if you’re using the iPad app. This can result in data loss as multiple people work on the same document, presuming it’s already a Google Doc.
  • So how do I turn this document into a Google Doc? On the website on a Mac, you have to dig around in the file menu to convert it (but not in the File menu of Safari or Chrome, but rather the menus within the web browsers…confusing!) once it’s already opened in Google Docs. On the iPad there is a very friendly button to convert the file, but then it saves it to ‘My Drive’ by default rather than onto the Shared Drive where you had opened the file. So you then need to open the Google Drive app and move that ‘file’ to where you want it.
  • How do I share/upload this Google Doc? As it’s not really a file, it has to be exported in another format before you can upload it to a website or emailed as an attachment.

We are having to lean into Google Drive a lot more now we are all working remotely, which adds in the challenge of offering professional learning on the fly to a dispersed staff team; I wonder if some of these wrinkles will iron themselves out as people get more familiar with the conceptual model of what web-first productivity and file systems looks like.

The Cloud

Ah, the cloud: a wonderful metaphor dreamed up by the marketing departments of Big Tech companies to describe how your data doesn’t have to live on your own physical computer or server but can live inside their data centres instead. We, the user (whether that’s a big organisation or just an individual consumer), no longer has to worry about how that all that computery stuff actually works: instead it can be abstracted away into a nice little diagram of a cloud.

And it’s not a bad idea! Steve Jobs introduced iCloud back in 2011, which was mainly just a marketing concept to bring together an IMAP email service, online backups for your iPhone, some photo storage, file storage and a few other bits and bobs. As internet connections have increased in speed an ubiquity, it has made more and more sense to have certain online services hosted somewhere ‘out there’, rather than inside a school’s network. Many schools might still run a Windows file server, but I doubt there are many that still run their own mail server – this job has been farmed out to ‘the cloud’.

So what are the benefits of moving to the cloud, particularly in the current situation we find ourselves in?

  1. Someone else runs the server for you. Particularly in a small school, this is no joke! Running servers efficiently and effectively isn’t easy and requires a certain level of technical expertise.
  2. It’s cheaper. Because of economies of scale, it usually works out cheaper to buy a slice of someone else’s cloud computing power rather than do things for yourself, particularly if you factor in the true cost of running your own server.
  3. It allows for access outside of your network. It’s possible to set up VPN connections to on-premises servers, but it’s much easier if you’re using a ‘cloud’ service that is designed to be accessed anywhere.
  4. It tends to work better with modern computing devices. If you’re running everything on Windows PCs, then your legacy server setup is fine. But if everyone’s using iPads, then you need services that play nicely with modern apps, file systems and workflows.

So, what might networked services in a school might need to end up in the cloud?

  • Email. This is a quick win, as more than likely you’re already getting someone else to do this for you! We make use of London Grid for Learning‘s Staff Mail, which has a web interface as well as offering Exchange access on a Windows PC, a Mac and iPad/iPhone. But Office 365 or G-Suite for Education are good options too!
  • Calendar. Our Exchange email can do calendars for each individual, but we use Google’s calendar for the whole school calendar. Only certain individuals can add new events, but it means that everyone can see what’s going on across the school.
  • User Authentication. This needs some careful thought – how are your staff (and students) going to log into the cloud services? As the number of online services increases, so can the number of different usernames and passwords. This is both annoying for staff as it’s one more password to remember and can also become a real security risk as staff may reuse passwords etc. We use LGfL’s Unified Sign On (USO) as the core identify and then are able to sync this up with G-Suite, our on-premises Active Directory as well as Office 365.
  • File Storage. We use Google Drive, as schools get unlimited storage. It also has quite a few ‘hooks’ that allow us to weave it into existing workflows: there is an app for iPad, there is the Drive interface on the web (that Google would much rather you used), and you can also use Google Drive File Stream on the Mac (which adds Shared Drives in a comparable way to a normal network drive). Because the files are all stored in the ‘cloud’, they can easily be accessed when working from home.
  • Photo Storage. iPads make for handy cameras, generating gigabytes of photos and videos over time. Thankfully, Apple offers 200GB of free storage for schools with Managed Apple IDs. This means that photos can be backed up to the cloud from iPad, along with device backups and iCloud document storage.
  • Management Information Systems. In the UK, Capita SIMS is the market leader for managing student data, whether that is home contact details or attendance registers. Capita do offer a ‘hosted’ version, which allows you to run the software on their cloud servers instead of on an on-premises server, but it still is very much a Windows PC-only piece of software. Nearly 5 years ago, we moved to a web-based MIS called Pupil Asset that provides much of the same functionally but inside of a web browser that can be viewed on any device. It’s not all been plain sailing, but we’re now in a much more agile position when it comes to accessing student data remotely.

Moving to the cloud does mean a change in workflows and you have to make sure staff are on board. It does need to be carefully planned and communicated, with potential issues identified and addressed quickly. If you are able to articulate the ‘why’ for a switch to ‘cloud’ computing, plus do all you can to make it as easy as possible for people, it can be a real success and make a big difference.

Shared iPad for the kids still in school

When it was announced that schools in England would close as a response to the COVID-19 crisis, it was also announced that schools would remain open for vulnerable children and children of ‘critical workers’ (i.e. doctors/nurses/delivery drivers etc). So as well as thinking about how we would keep learning going for children at home, we also needed to consider those who would be staying in school too.

In terms of the educational provision to be provided for the children remaining in schools, the guidance from the government was as follows:

Schools have flexibility to provide support, activities and education in the way they see fit at this time. No school will be penalised if they are unable to offer a broad and balanced curriculum during this period.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-school-closures/guidance-for-schools-about-temporarily-closing#practicalities

As we are delivering all our home learning via Showbie, we decided that we would provide time during the school day for children to log on and access this learning whilst at school. But on what devices?

We are a 1:1 iPad school, so it would surely be easiest to just let students use their existing iPad? In theory, yes. But this was compounded with a few difficulties:

  1. The list of possible ‘critical worker’ children vs. the children who would actually turn up each day was quite different. We would end up with a large pile of potential iPads that staff would have to hunt through each day.
  2. Our school is across two sites with the second site now entirely closed during the pandemic, so getting hold of the iPads for those children is a little more tricky.
  3. Whatever solution we decided upon would need to keep on working without any on-site tech support.

In light of all this, I decided that we should give Shared iPad a try!

Shared iPad mode allows for devices to be logged into by multiple users, with all of their data stored in the cloud and synced to the device upon login. It makes use of Managed Apple IDs, both to store all the data in iCloud and to organise the classes that students belong to.

We already had Managed Apple IDs in place for Y1-6 students, so it was a case of making some new ‘classes’ in Apple School Manager containing the various children who potentially might still be attending school. I then had to set up a set of spare iPads in Shared iPad mode, which involved sorting some settings in our MDM. We then installed all of the required apps and restriction profiles and then assigned those devices to the new classes that were synced from Apple School Manager.

The upshot of all this was that we had a set of iPads that any of the students could pick up, tap their name from the list and then log in with their passcode. Handy!

It also nicely coincided with the release of iPadOS 13.4, which added in a ‘guest’ button on Shared iPad. This means that a user who is not on the list on the Shared iPad can still log in and use the device – once they log out, all the temporary data is removed. This means that Nursery and Reception children can still use the devices to play games etc. without the need for a Managed Apple ID.

What about Early Years Foundation Stage?

So, in my previous post, I outlined the approach we’ve been taking with Years 1-6 and utilising Showbie (and the school website) to encourage home learning during the school closure. But what have we re we doing for children in Nursery and Reception classes?

For many years now, we have been using Tapestry as an online tool for creating children’s profiles. Teachers and Early Years Practitioners take their observations of children’s learning using photos, videos and notes and then upload this to the site, either on the webpage or using the companion iPad app. When compared to the old regime of writing post-it notes, taking and printing off digital photos, followed by sticking them into individual paper profiles and highlighting off different ‘Development Matters‘ statements, the digital route has been a HUGE time-saver! Go digital!

Tapestry also offers parent access, which allows parents/carers to see all of the observations of their offspring, as well as giving them the ability to leave ‘likes’, comments and even upload photos/videos of learning that’s happening at home. Parents love it, as do teachers.

So, when it came to considering how to communicate about home learning tasks during school closure, Tapestry was already part of the thinking. The original plan was to post learning activities on the school website, and then invite parents to upload outcomes from the different tasks. For example:

Our topic is ‘Crazy about creatures’ so we would like you to design your own crazy creature! You could draw, make, build your creature. 

Can you add write some labels or tell an adult:

– What colour is your creature?

– How many arms, legs, eyes does it have?

– Where does it live?

– What does it eat?

Please take a picture or make a video describing your creature and upload to your Tapestry account for us to see.

We look forward to seeing your designs!

http://www.heronsgate.greenwich.sch.uk/school-closure/eyfs/eyfs-week-1-23-3-20/

Tapestry closes that feedback loop, giving teachers/EYPs an insight into what’s actually happening at home that can then inform future planning, as well as giving the opportunity for feedback to parents. So far, so good – particularly as many parents were already signed up to Tapestry and using it regularly.

One question remained: was there a way we could share the learning activities within Tapestry itself, rather than directing parents to the school website? Well, it turns out there was, in the form of ‘Memos‘.

Memos is a new feature in Tapestry, which allows staff to post text (including web links), documents and media directly to parents within the website. Initially I used this to post the daily learning activities, mirroring what was on the school website. However, it also seemed like a great way for teachers to share a bespoke greeting every day to their individual classes, helping keep that connection with children and sense of the school community going.

Home Learning

At 3:30pm on Friday 20th March 2020, schools across the UK closed their doors until further notice as the government stepped up its strategy in combating COVID-19. We’d been tracking pupil attendance for the week previously, watching increasing numbers of pupils and parents self-isolate with symptoms of possible coronavirus infection, with the school basically shutting itself: by the time Friday came, we only had a mere 10% of pupils coming into school anyway.

With children now at home for the coming months, what was our plan for learning to continue? Taking an article entitled ‘Preparing to Take School Online?‘ as a framework, we thought through our options. At the time, school closure only seemed like a remote possibility, but as the days a weeks progressed we realised how inevitable extended home learning was going to be. So what was our plan? And what did we actually do?

Days 1-3

The plan was to have the first few days of home learning already prepared before the school actually closed, to give us a few days to get ready for ongoing learning. Initially, the plan was to post work for each year group on our school website as this would give a low-barrier method to share learning with parents and students. However, as school closure looked more and more likely, we realised that we needed to leverage our existing learning platform to make this work longer-term: Showbie.

Showbie

We have been using Showbie since 2015 as way of managing learning on our iPads, initially with shared devices and then as the learning pipework for our 1:1 iPad programme.

Showbie is a bit of a strange beast, but one that is very focused on what it does and does not do and one that has evolved to meet the needs of educators over the years. There is a free and a paid ‘Pro’ version (with all limitations removed) and the basic idea is that a teacher sets up a classroom and then students join that class with a class code. Teachers can post comments, voice notes, files, images and web links to the class or to individuals and then students can post back with the same, as well as annotate PDFs/images/documents with a range of digital markup tools. It essentially provides a digital version of the tried-and-tested paper workflow of exercise books: giving our resources (aka photocopying resources), taking back work (aka handing in exercise books) and giving feedback (aka marking).

Initially, Showbie was just an iPad app. However, to keep up with the G-Suite juggernaut in the US, where whole districts were ditching iPads and buying glorified testing machines Chromebooks instead, Showbie has now ported all of their tools to a web version with full feature-parity.

Because all teachers and pupils were used to using Showbie every day and because it could also be accessed on any device with a web browser, we decided we would also post all learning on existing Showbie classes as well as the website. This would allow the following advantages:

  • Teachers would know which children are actually engaging with the learning, something you just wouldn’t be able to tell from a website.
  • Children would be able to complete digital worksheets and activities within Showbie itself without needing to print anything off.
  • Because all the completed work is immediately viewable by the teachers, teacher can then use that to give general feedback to their classes (or individuals where necessary), which can then also inform future planning.
  • Children who needed differentiated work, due to their ability levels, could have specific work posted to them on Showbie. Trying to do this on the website would have involved something like emailing work home to specific children.

Getting ready

So what did we need to do to get this all ready before the school shut?

  1. I needed to email home all of the children’s existing Showbie logins. Thanks to our often-wonderful MIS Pupil Asset, I was able to import a custom data field with the child’s username and password onto each child’s profile, and then use mail-merge tags on an email sent home to parents. Result!
  2. I needed to build the ‘Days 1-3’ assignments ready for once school had closed. As I am a ‘teacher’ on all of the Showbie classes in school, I was able to build it once for each year group and then copy this across to the rest of the classes.
  3. To avoid potential digital vandalism and possible confusion, I went through and made sure all previous Showbie assignments were ‘view only‘ and had a ‘due date’ to the last day that schools were open.
  4. As a means to find out which children had actually been able to log in at home, I made a ‘Hello!’ assignment for each class, inviting children to respond back with a comment to show us that they had logged in ok. I set this assignment as locked, scheduled to open at 4pm on the closure day.

How has it gone so far?

We’re two weeks in and we’ve hit over 80% of children logging in at home, which I think is pretty good! Here are some common problems that children and parents faced:

  • I need my child’s username and password! Despite having emailed all of these home, some parents did not receive these. Further emails and even text messages with credentials helped sort this.
  • I’ve logged in but my child can’t post anything! We had previously set up ‘Parent Access‘ on Showbie, which is a cool feature that allows parents to set up their own Showbie accounts and then see a read-only version of all their children’s learning. However, many parents were still logged in with this account and so had to be walked through how to log out of this account and into the child’s account.
  • It’s asking for a class code! This usually meant that the parent or child had signed up for a new account rather than using the preexisting one. Sometimes the child had also managed to block themselves from their class, which was a simple fix from our end. When a parent got stuck at this point, a phone call home usually got things sorted.
  • I don’t have a computer/a spare computer! Even though home internet access is nearly ubiquitous these days, lots of households just have their smartphones and that’s it. We started collating together households in this situation and have started to send home some more elderly loaner iPad Airs, which have been gratefully received!
  • Showbie is taking ages to load! With the whole of the Western world waking up to the efficacy of digital learning, Showbie have seen a HUGE spike in usage. What this means is that Norway wakes up and starts pounding Showbie’s servers at 8am, followed by the UK at 9am. Showbie support have been fantastic and they are adding more and more server capacity over time.

From a learning point of view, it’s been quite a journey as well. We’re used to using Showbie in a classroom setting where the teacher is physically there and can help out kids and tell them which apps to use. In a home learning setting, we’re having to assume that students can only really use the Showbie web app and possibly the wider internet. This means that task instructions have to be crystal clear and any PDF activities have to be do-able in Showbie, ie with plenty of whitespace to annotate!

On a day-to-day basis, a colleague and I are creating six Showbie assignments each day, with the work teachers from Years 1-6 have created. This has involved a bit of a sanity-check on the tasks, lots of PDF creation and the occasional YouTube upload. Once we’re happy with these, we then copy the assignment to the rest of the classes in each year group. Thanks to scheduling and the ability to lock access to assignments, we are able to build all this without pupils seeing the work in progress! After everything is set, we then upload the learning to the website too. Phew…

It’s been a very busy and tiring two weeks, but it’s been very gratifying to see the sheer number of kids eagerly logging in and gobbling up the learning!