Pilot of online participative lessons to be extended from September 2015 | Economics and physics A levels to be offered | Students across United Learning’s Academies and Independent Schools to benefit
A pilot conducted in two United Learning schools – Lambeth Academy and Surbiton High School – is to be extended across all the national Group’s schools.
‘United Classroom’, believed to be the first programme of its kind in the country, allows students to study for GCSE and A-level courses wherever they are in the country through actively participating in lessons being led in a classroom at another United Learning school. In this way, the Group is able to offer specialist teaching for subjects which only attract a few students or where recruiting expert staff is particularly difficult.
The pilot has shown that the combination of classroom and online participation works well for the students and staff involved without compromising the quality of the teaching the pupils receive. In the study, conducted as an after school activity, a group of pupils at Surbiton High School have studied GCSE Astronomy with their teacher Dr Rob Bastin whilst a group of students from Lambeth Academy have simultaneously participated in the lessons and learning online using Google’s ‘Apps for Education’ tools from their own classroom.
During these joint lessons, students in both classrooms have been able to ask questions, lead learning, collaborate on work, present to each other and have discussions with Dr Bastin and each other as if they were all in the same room.
Every lesson is recorded and students can watch it (or any part of it) again at any time to help them with homework and revision.
Now, from September, United Classroom is being expanded to cover more subjects for more pupils. Specialist staff are being recruited to take the initiative forward across the country.
Commenting on the pilot study, Dr Rob Bastin said:
‘The part I’ve found most exciting is the multimodal aspect of the environment. Videos, slides, collaborative tasks, live conversation and group chat all combine with an easy workflow to make this a very enjoyable teaching and learning experience.
‘The ability to capture everything that goes on in the sessions is also a great benefit, allowing students who would like to review a topic to do so. It really has changed the way I think about my teaching and allowed the students to work and communicate in the ways that suit them best.’
Students who participated in the Pilot Study have thoroughly enjoyed the experience which has given them the opportunity to study for an additional qualification.
Evelyn Deans from Surbiton High School who took part in the pilot study said: ‘The course provides a balance between independent and group work. It often relies on collaborated work, suits different learning styles and gives everybody a voice.’
Admir Ujkaj from Lambeth Academy said:
‘The course makes it easy to research about the lesson and improves your computing skills. We’ve all really enjoyed it.’
Ramjah Smith also from Lambeth Academy said:
‘It's exciting to use the laptops in a classroom making lessons more futuristic. It's a lot easier to research information.’
As part of United Classroom, some courses will require short residential study sessions which will be hosted at one of United Learning’s boarding schools thus giving participants the opportunity to meet their online and video-conferencing class mates.
Announcing the decision to extend the pilot, Jon Coles, Chief Executive, said:
‘Our aim in developing United Classroom was simple: to offer young people A level and specialist courses in subjects which are not currently available to them. Sometimes, an A level subject cannot be offered either because a suitable expert teacher cannot be found or because the group of pupils studying it would be too small to be viable. United Classroom makes teaching these A levels financially and operationally possible.
‘This isn’t a technology project. It is an educational one. Our concern is to make sure that all young people in our schools can benefit from excellent teaching from subject specialists in a full range of disciplines. Nationally, it is difficult for many schools to attract physics specialists; and many schools struggle to attract large enough groups of economists to offer economics A level. So, we are now extending United Classroom to A levels in those subjects, aiming to solve those problems for more schools.’
Dominic Norrish, Group Director of Technology who developed the initiative and is responsible for its roll-out said:
‘What is so encouraging here is that we are able to maintain the quality of teaching whilst opening up access to students across the country. We have taken our time to identify the most suitable platforms for delivering the curriculum and ensuring that what is offered is comparable with the best classroom teaching anywhere.
‘Above all we are interested in delivering excellent education. Technology is one vehicle for doing so but only when driven by exceptional, inspiring teachers who can use it to share their love of their subject with their students.’