Advances in learning technology means that, during the current Covid-19 pandemic, teachers and students are well prepared to continue their learning journeys at home.
However, being able to use technology to connect with students and set work for them is one thing; motivating them to do this work is another matter altogether.
Second-level teachers are finding that the uncertainty over the state exams, which has still not been addressed, is adding to the general anxiety being felt by students during this unsettling time for everyone. This is leading to students finding it hard to concentrate and becoming demotivated.
As experts in learning technologies, The Learnovate Centre spoke to some second-level schools across the country last week to see how they were adapting to online learning. We also asked them how they were coping with the issue of motivating students who are trying to study in such uncertain circumstances.
Some teachers, who did not want to be named, spoke about how many of the stronger students were deflated by 100pc marks given to everyone for the oral exams. They also stressed that they might be marked harder in the written exams in order to average out the marks.
Other students in subjects such as art and music who have projects to be completed were concerned that they may not have time for whatever deadlines are set.
Teachers raised the issue of the poor level of broadband in some areas of the country which could affect students accessing the learning technology tools, which could lead to de-motivation. There was also concerns as to whether or not some students were able to concentrate at home especially if a parent had lost their job or if they were being expected to look after younger siblings while their parents were at work.
Michael Rooney, Deputy Principal at Coola Post Primary School in Co. Sligo, says the technology that the school has embraced over the last number of years has meant that the transition to working from home has been made easier.
However, as work is set by teachers, it's important for students to not get overwhelmed or demotivated.
“We have decided that teachers should generally contact students during the time allocated for them on the existing timetable. This allows students to know that during specific times, they can concentrate on certain subjects, without interruption. It also allows them to take breaks at specific times,” says Michael.
As teachers, we are giving them achievable targets — generally no more than three or four pieces of work per subject per week — so they can complete the work to the best of their abilities and stay motivated.”
At Coola, all teachers and students are working on Microsoft 365 and are connected on Microsoft Teams. This, they find, motivates each other – even the teachers, many of whom are trying to work from home and mind children of their own.
“When I log on and see activity on Teams, it gives me a boost and motivates me in my work. Also, I want to keep up with the students who are always a couple of steps ahead with the technology!”
Every student has their own email address and they have access to Teams, One Note and SharePoint and we have set up various Teams for the different subjects. Students can work offline as well and take pictures of their work and upload them to limit their time in front of screens. They all have the app on their phones.
Michael says that because the teachers and students are all fluent on the Microsoft systems — as part of Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim Education and Training Board, Coola recently received training — this has led to an increase in motivation and engagement.
“I can see — even over the time since the school closed – how as everyone is getting more comfortable with the equipment and the platforms, this is helping motivate them further.”