Learning in lockdown across the globe: The challenges facing Shropshire's teachers and students

With students who would normally be sitting in classrooms in Shropshire now scattered across the globe, learning in lockdown has proved a challenge.

Charlene Neo
Charlene Neo

The transition to online learning has been tough enough for some, but international students at Acton Burnell's Concord College are having to learn from a variety of different time zones.

While teachers have had to overcome significant challenges, commitment to studies have continued with one student in America even getting up at 2am to turn up for his virtual morning lessons.

Just before Covid-19 struck, staff at the college had written a document focussing on ‘anywhere anytime learning’.

English teacher Joni Stephens

Concord has been working towards developing online resources to supplement classroom lessons since 2018, and there are opportunities to develop this even further in the future.

Staff are using Microsoft Teams with Office 365 to deliver remote teaching and more than 100 Surface Pros have been distributed to teaching staff.

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Dr Richard Beard, ICT lead and chemistry teacher, said Concord’s senior management team gave ‘clear guidance and support’ which enabled the delivery of six months’ worth of training to the teaching staff in two weeks.

“The teachers have done really well to learn a new set of skills so quickly,” he said.

“This whole thing has come together through a huge team effort."

Clive Webb

Clive Webb, head of economics, said they were teaching around 300 students in their original class sets following the same timetabled periods as last term.

“Students join their class from around the world, frequently from more than six or seven different countries across a variety of time zones," he said.

“They actively participate in the lessons, asking and answering questions as well as completing tasks in real time through their OneNote class pages.”

Meanwhile, the maths department has been delivering 524 online lessons per week.

“Everyone has found their own way to teach in their own individual way within the systems we have available," said maths teacher Emma Charles.

"It is great that we can have department meetings via Teams which is a really useful way to keep in touch and allows us to share ideas as well as help solve each other’s problems with online teaching."

Art has also been a subject that has presented a unique set of challenges, but teachers have been determined to keep students engaged.

Molly Banerjee

Head of art, Anthony Hudson said: “It has been wonderful to see our students creating their own mini studio spaces wherever they may find themselves and working even more independently than usual in lots of cases.

“Although it is time-consuming and exceptionally hard work for teachers, our students are responding positively, keen to share their work and hopefully will look back on these times as some of their most creative, brave and productive.”

Head of English Phil Woods says he is finding students are chatting to their teachers more online during lessons.

“Despite being given permission to attend recorded sessions for our morning offering, one student in the USA has continued to turn up to live morning lessons so that he can be part of it," he said.

“This means him getting up at 2am for tutor time at 2.35am and lessons from 2.55am.

"He has his lunch at 6am. More astoundingly, his mum is getting up early to make sure he has his breakfast.

“And, he is possibly one of my most reliable contributors with all work up to date. As well as of developing quality.”

Sixth form students have adjusted their lives, and are sometimes having to contend with technological and connection issues, but many have hailed online learning a success.

Thomas Hodges

Thomas Hodges, 16, is living in Hong Kong and says it has been challenging to balance studying, sleeping and eating all in the same room.

“It has been a struggle to get the proper motivation to study and focus when our bed is just inches away," he said.

“This is what I am currently facing and have found ways around this. For example, my sister and I occasionally switch rooms in order to study in a different environment. Overall, it has been challenging, but we must remain rigorous.”

Liza Mikhaylova

Liza Mikhaylova, 16, who is studying from Moscow, believes online learning has been a success.

She said: “One of the most important features is that the lessons are recorded, so any student who has troubles with internet connection may watch the lessons later. There is no other possibility to keep the same high standards of receiving education at the current world situation, so we are highly privileged.”

Anna Zhang

Anna Zhang, who is living in Beijing, China, says she has found it easier to concentrate, with lessons reduced to 30 minutes long.

“Overall, I would say that I feel extremely privileged to be at Concord where the outbreak of this global pandemic has had little negative impacts on my learning," the 17-year-old said.

“Although distance learning may have increased communication difficulties, I am still able to ask questions both during lesson time and after school as well as to get feedback on my homework.”

Hannah Kim

Hannah Kim, 17, has joint British and Korean nationality and lives in Acton Burnell.

She said: “The most important thing I learnt during this time was to be thankful for the technology available to us and, of course, for the helpful, patient and supportive staff who are committed to keeping us educated.

“A very big thank you goes to all teachers, to the IT staff and to the management team for making all the right decisions in this difficult time.”

Emma Charles

Thanking the teachers for their efforts, principal Neil Hawkins added: "It is a significant endorsement of what we are doing that student absence rates are so low and I have also had a number of very positive comments from parents who are particularly grateful for our interaction with their children."

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