Having previously lived in Australia, I understand that though bushfires are tragic, they are a necessary occurrence in nature – by burning everything in their path, they create a mass of carbon that lines the outback floor.
This creates perfect conditions for the growth of new plant life and levels the playing field by giving all plant life equal opportunity to compete for resources when growing back – with the strongest emerging on top as they compete for light and space.
When the pandemic began, it was just after the Australian bushfires tragedy. I remember thinking that something similar would happen in education: the previous educational ecosystem would be cleared away and new and potentially better ideas would emerge.
Coronavirus: How tech has improved education
Driving this, though, was not carbon but technology.
Without having to compete with traditionally embedded practices – "that’s how we have always done it" – technology has shown what it can do and that in many instances it is better than what came before.
One of the ways in which tech has improved the efficiency and potency of teaching is through improved feedback for students – particularly verbal feedback.
Programmes such as OneNote, Showbie and Seesaw have enabled teachers to provide this verbal feedback to students, linked directly to the piece they are working on either in the moment or at a later point during teacher "marking".
For example, in a lesson where a teacher is live tracking a student’s work as they work through an activity, the teacher can provide verbal feedback – just as they might in a classroom – but with one main difference: the verbal feedback lasts forever.
The teacher might highlight a specific point in a paragraph or in a specific place on a diagram or model, and then leave feedback that notes an error, highlights a better way of working or leaves suggestions for making something even better.
A helpful point here is that all of the student’s questions raised for clarifying the teacher’s input are also logged, including the teacher’s responses to these queries.
For example, if a teacher talks about the importance of prioritising causes, but the student does not understand what a cause is, then with traditional marking this feedback is purposeless.
But with online systems students can respond to feedback left for them and ensure they have properly understood what it means – a better outcome for pupils and teachers.
This means students can come back to this feedback at any point in the future, whether for a topic test or GCSE revision 18 months down the line and recall with exact clarity their teacher’s insights, ideas and suggestions – including the issues on a topic that had stumped them at the time.
The flexibility of audio feeback
I think this is what Ofsted was looking for all those years ago when it wanted to see a learning dialogue between teacher and student – but the means at its disposal at the time (teacher marking in a student’s book) was woefully inept and had a damaging effect on teacher workload.
Most teachers saw this type of marking as totally meaningless – and it was.
The value you can add with a written sentence is so limited compared with when you are fully articulating yourself verbally, and this is the significant difference here.
Speed of delivery
This back and forth could be seen to take more time – but the reality is audio feedback is far quicker.
Black and Williams talked about the importance of formative feedback being related to the next steps of learning, with objective advice as to how to get there.
Many people miss the equal importance of the timeframe in which that feedback is given.
A typical history teacher might see their class once a week, so any feedback, in the best-case scenario, will be given to a pupil after 30 hours of other lessons.
With verbal feedback, this can be almost instant.
No more marking?
This sort of audio-recorded feedback would never have been given meaningful exposure in the pre-pandemic education ecosystem.
The traditional educational ecosystem blocked out any light from reaching the desert floor where these ideas were trying to grow.
However, now they have had the opportunity to grow, they have shown their worth and how they can positively impact student outcomes and teacher workload through the reduction, if not elimination, of traditional pen-to-paper marking.
This does not mean no more feedback. Quite the opposite. in fact: feedback is richer, of greater depth and quality and has an impact for far longer as it can always be retrieved.
Just like the bushfires, good can come from chaos.
Paul Gardner is secondary school deputy headteacher at Deira International School, Dubai. He tweets at @DubaiDeputy