When the coronavirus crisis started and the idea of teaching remotely became a reality, the immediate thought was that video lessons, conducted live or prerecorded, would be the solution.
However, soon enough the issues with video started to become clear: for many, the idea of presenting using video is quite intimidating and not what they are used to, while safeguarding is also clearly a major consideration.
To overcome some of these issues, one thing I’ve been looking at is the power of audio. And the more I have, the more I think it should become a key medium for teachers working with students remotely.
How audio can help with remote learning
It's worth noting, too, that recording audio is not as hard as you may think. Most computers have an ample microphone for recording, and simple tutorials online will show you how to do simple editing or take advantage of some of the ideas below.
One way in which audio can be used is through live modelling. Writing a response and narrating what you are doing emulates the kind of live modelling you would be able to do in class.
Not only does this approach ensure that you are effectively showing students how to do things, but it also means that they can work in real time with you.
An audiocast coupled with live chat comments can be a powerful teaching tool, especially if you are able to use a visualiser or a live-cast of your screen to show students how you respond to a problem or question.
Complex topics like Shakespeare and algebra can be disambiguated really quickly and easily if the visual element is supported by audio.
I’ve worked through some really complicated passages of plays with minimal planning time. In fact, it’s like teaching a class with zero distraction and, what’s more, the students can repeat the part of the lesson over and over, so they can learn at their own pace – a distinct advantage over live video teaching.
2. PowerPoint recordings
You may know it but you can record yourself talking over PowerPoint. This allows for a lecture-style discussion for each of the slides that allows for a bit of human interaction that a presentation deck on its own doesn’t have.
Moreover, if your PowerPoints are low cognitive load, they won’t have a huge amount on anyway and they weren’t designed to be used in isolation. An added narration can be a huge help for students but it can also save you retrofitting your presentations with loads more slides.
Talking through the slides is much less work than rewriting, and what’s more, these will make great revision resources for next year when things are back to normal (hopefully).
CPD can also be delivered really effectively using this method. It has proven to be a particularly engaging approach with staff.
3. Clarity of information
Audio prerecordings are accessible at any time. Unlike videos, you are less exposed as a teacher and, therefore, these sessions are more likely to appeal to more teachers – and better help learners working from home.
Most of the videos and podcasts out there are by people who are no longer in the classroom...why not build on what you're doing in your context with your kids to save confusion when they return?
Yes, there are lots on YouTube, but your students will learn best with your input. I have done a short series of lessons for An Inspector Calls for our Year 10, simply because I want to maintain the commonality of language that we have built up with the students over the past years.
So much hard work has gone into teaching them skills and “conditioning” them to our way of thinking that it seems a waste to not be the one to continue to advise them. When they get back, we want them to be able to start off from where they finished.
It isn’t going to be easy, but it’ll be a whole lot easier if they are still on the same page and haven't been confused by conflicting input.
I’ve been contacted on a number of occasions in the past few weeks about how to manage workload when leaders are asking teachers to give feedback to students.
I have suggested simple voice notes as you read through work, emulating the marking that you may do in class. Working with another teacher, we were able to effectively give feedback to a whole class in 15 minutes between us.
If we were to have written the comments, it would have been significantly longer and possibly more ambiguous.
One of the big things that students miss out on when they aren’t in front of their teacher is the specialist understanding they provide.
One of the areas that this is applicable to is key vocabulary, and, more specifically, how to pronounce key vocabulary. In contact with parents, one of the things they say they are struggling with the most is the fact that they can’t access the terminology in the work and, in turn, can’t help their children as much.
Obviously, this issue is amplified in homes with less support. Hearing your teacher reading passages can be a real help for students and parents alike, especially where and when key terminology is involved.
We rarely have time as teachers to create resources such as this, so if it’s something you can embrace the benefits are there. What’s more, done well, there is no reason why audio can’t supplement future lessons to help home learning once we’re back in class as normal.
Adam Riches is a senior leader for teaching and learning, specialist leader in education and head of English. He tweets @TeachMrRiches