I woke up this morning to the planes flying into Heathrow and a nip in the air. After the strangest six months ever – with very few planes and weather than felt more like Spain than London, not to mention all the more obvious anomalies of life under lockdown. This week my son goes back to school, back to friends and teachers, but also back to taking the tube and uncertainty around how long the new normal will hold. I’ve learned a lot about online learning during this period – as a professional in the field, through our own courses, and through our own experience of online school.
As a parent, I can see that not all online time is created equal. My son has had some courses that went well and some that went less well. Teachers and schools had to rush to online learning in some cases and some had more experience, tools, and just comfort with that than others. At its best, online learning has been engaging, effective and even social. At its worst it has been frustrating and much-deprecated version of face to face learning, if it happened at all. In a lot of ways my son prefers the face to face, he misses his friends and all those moments of bumping into each other and hanging out. He’s pretty skeptical about what the new year is going to bring, given the precautions being taken around the virus. He’s 17 and the more independent learning style has suited him, but that surely would be much harder if he were a lot younger. During the hard lockdown he spent time regularly socialising with his friends online through video games and houseparty calls. As a parent I can see how much harder it would have been to keep our kids learning and socialising without technology.
As the kids head back to school, I am looking to see how the school has planned for the eventualities of school vacillating between face to face and online. We’ve signed my son up for a range of extra curriculars – basketball if they’ll play it, but also an online course for fun (and uni applications) and a music group that offers an online alternative when they can’t meet face to face.
After School Clubs
Fire Tech is offering After School Clubs and Courses this year both face to face and online. Those schools that have signed up for the face to face have the comfort that if we can’t actually deliver those at the school then the kids will still be able to take them from home and have that continuity. We are also seeing parents sign up for the purely online After School programmes, often with friends. They know that if school goes forward the kids will have an engaging and constructive activity that’s not at risk, and if school winds up online again, their kids will have the structure in their day, the social opportunity, and also will have this positive experience of online that can help them keep a positive view of it.
Behind the scenes
As an educator and professional in this field, this transformation has been fascinating. The online learning industry has accelerated and Fire Tech itself has made it through the plans that we had for several years of development in the course of a few months. We look to make the most of the advantages of online learning – bringing great speakers and events to our families, creating new cutting-edge short form content that wouldn’t have worked if families had to travel to take advantage of it. And bringing our courses to students that might not have ever been able to access them before – either because of the physical locations, or because of the price. Where we have made savings we have been able to pass those on to our customers. As a result we’ve seen new clients from all around the country and the world.
We’ve brought best-practices to our courses, in engagement as well as safeguarding, and we’ve had amazing feedback from our kids and parents. With so much change happening so quickly some of the administrative side of that has felt like building the rocket as we were flying in it, so thanks to everyone who has been on that journey with us as we’ve smoothed out the rough edges around sign ins and communications which were in some cases manual over the summer.
We have exciting plans going forward. More than ever we appreciate your feedback so that we can innovate in ways that serve our families’ needs. We appreciate your openness to the online medium, and we hope that we’ve earned a place in your child’s weekly activities, with our new weekly and Self Guided formats, and our short Experiences. We’ll still deliver our school holiday programmes – online for now – and we hope parents will see our courses as an important part of their child’s learning journey and social outlet all year long. Watch this space for more exciting developments and for opportunities to be a part of shaping those.
We wish all of our families a safe new school year, and we’ll be there to accompany your kids in exploring technology, no matter what their school day looks like.
~ Jill Hodges