Teachers at UTC Leeds have been going the extra mile to help students working at home
Teaching staff at UTC Leeds have stepped up provision for students still required to stay at home under current government Covid-19 guidance. Whilst the college is open for Year 10 and Year 12 students, other students continue to be based at home, so staff have been delivering live, real-time virtual lessons. Students are able to talk to their teachers face to face and interact with classmates, overcoming some of the barriers to home working which have caused students around the country to disengage with school.
Gemma Wright, Assistant Principal at the UTC, explains, “As a University Technical College, we feel passionate about being at the forefront of technology and innovation. As a leadership team, we felt it was vital from day one of lockdown for our students to have some form of real interaction with their teachers on a daily basis.”
UTCs are government funded technical colleges that specialise in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. Students study technical qualifications alongside GCSE and A Levels and develop professional skills for the world of work, supported by employers and universities. UTC Leeds specialises in engineering and admits students in Year 10 and Year 12.
The college was already using Google Classroom on a daily basis to set and collect classwork and homework, as well as using it as a resource and revision bank. When lockdown was announced, staff asked students to work independently on lessons that had been pre-recorded and uploaded to the Google Classroom, with the teacher available on Google Chat (a chatroom facility), but staff soon felt this was not enough.
Gemma explains, “This worked well in the short term, but soon staff and students alike felt this didn’t replicate the real classroom closely enough, and that by not hearing or seeing a face, the human element of school was being lost.”
Within a few weeks, the UTC moved to a position where staff had trained themselves on a whole host of educational technology (EdTech) and were able to begin delivering live, real-time virtual lessons to all students.
January Sambrook, mathematics teacher at UTC Leeds, was one of the pioneering teachers in this development. She says, “I love a good challenge, especially when tech is involved. Live teaching means instant feedback and students can listen to the teacher, but to each other too, which is vital in the learning process. New technology platforms like Classkick and PearDeck are a godsend as you can see the work students are completing in real time, like looking over their shoulder in the classroom.”
Along with Classkick and PearDeck, the staff at the UTC have become proficient in a wide range of interactive tools which enable the teacher to watch the students working in real time, whilst talking to them and teaching them simultaneously through Google Meet. All of the staff team have attended numerous virtual training sessions hosted by their UTC Leeds colleagues in order for all teachers to ‘keep up’ with the latest interactive teaching tech.
The impact of live teaching on the students has been measurable. Kimberley in Year 10 says, “Working at home has its limitations. When the live lessons started, I was thrilled to be able to talk to the teachers face to face, even if it was through a computer. It made living in lockdown easier. My teachers have helped me so much and I am very grateful that my school started teaching live. It made me feel like I was in the classroom, even if it wasn’t the real deal. It has also been nice to see my classmates.”
Year 10 student Sam agrees: “Online learning can be a struggle, but it really helps to have live lessons where we can talk and interact with a teacher. It makes it easier to ask questions in order to develop our understanding. I concentrate better as I can see and talk to the teacher. It’s not the same as being in school, but it’s definitely a big help.”
Live teaching also enables the staff to monitor the students who are completing the work much more simply, using the Google Attendance extension to take a register at every session on the teacher’s behalf – something which will prove invaluable in ascertaining where students’ gaps are when schools reopen again.
Staff were also concerned about their Year 11 cohort, whose GCSE exams had been cancelled so their learning had been stopped prematurely. To address this, the college introduced four daily ‘bridging to A level’ live, virtual lessons for each Post-16 subject the college offers. Students from the UTC’s own Year 11 can join these sessions, as well as students from other schools who are considering joining UTC Leeds in Year 12.
Summar, a Year 11 students, says: “The live bridging lessons have been a great experience. I have had the opportunity to interact with teachers and students just like I would at school. The live lessons have been really useful in giving me a head-start into my A Levels.”
The mathematics team saw more than 40 Year 11 students join their live bridging lessons within the first week of their introduction, testimony to how the Year 11 students are keen to continue their learning.
Assistant Principal, Gemma Wright, summarises the UTC approach: “Our vision was to be doing 100% live, online learning before the end of the academic year. I am proud to say we will have beaten that target with four weeks still to go!”