In February, my wife handed me a small piece of plastic. A pregnancy-test-shaped piece of plastic. With lines on it. Lines I'd never seen before.
The lines meant I was going to become a dad. In October. A dad. Me.
Once the initial hectic, ecstatic terror and excitement had subsided and those first few weeks had flown by, it was time to announce my news and start planning for life as a dad...which got me thinking not only about my personal life and the transformation my wife and I would have to perform on our home life, but also on my work life. I, as do many other teachers, throw myself into my profession fully – I hold myself to a high standard and I did not want this standard to drop. I realised I would have to come up with a way of working smarter, with the resources and time I have available now, so that future-me would thank the past-me.
Need to know: Teachers' maternity rights
My problem was simple – I was going to be off on paternity leave for two weeks during a crucial time of year. My colleagues are great and I know they will provide guidance and support for my learners during my absence but I wanted to ensure a smooth experience for all, colleagues and students alike. Needless to say, the start of term is as crucial for teachers as it is for students and I did not want to feel like a burden to my colleagues.
To give you some context and background, I am a huge lover and advocate for all things tech and I love to constantly experiment and implement new innovative tech in the classroom. Sometimes, as we know, educational tech can be a flashy gimmick to get students engaged. However, sometimes there’s genuine value in doing something differently.
Throughout this academic year I had experimented with utilising a form of video recording called a “screencast”. A screencast is essentially a video recording of a computer screen, often overlaid with a video recording from a webcam and some annotations thrown in too. Think PowerPoint presentation, recorded. Screencasts had been great this year, for example my level 2 learners had video recordings of me explaining assignment brief handouts to them at the start of an assignment – something that had previously been a real barrier for some students grasping the essence of a task or criteria. Many learners commented that they found the video more useful in explaining tasks for many reasons; primarily the fact they could access the video anywhere and at any time made it feel like a more personal experience.
With this experience in mind of how screencasting had been successful I began to formulate a plan for how I could use this form of video for the benefit of not only my learners, but myself as well. My rationale for focusing on this type of video was very straightforward – knowing my learners, the majority of their online time is spent on video streaming sites such as YouTube. I wanted to invade that space and make their learning a natural, seamless extension to their online activity.
After considering the format and style these videos would take and drawing up a rough plan of attack, I began to record some videos. Some were explanations of complex topics (how do the RAM, CPU and hard drive work together?) involving demonstrations, some were explanations of assignment briefs (how should you go about answering task 1?). Some videos took 10 attempts to get right, some were perfect the first time. Sometimes I’d forget what I was talking about halfway through and have to re-record the whole thing. Each video I created became slicker, I was much happier with the latter videos which, annoyingly, made me want to re-record the initial videos. The process was refining itself in an iterative fashion as I was doing it.
Once complete, the videos are uploaded to a YouTube channel and then embedded into an online OneNote notebook which follows the structure of my scheme of learning. Learners can log in to this notebook anywhere, watch a video and complete some work with my virtual guidance. The students can pace themselves appropriately and take some ownership of their learning. I am in the room, but not in the room. I am pre-emptively answering their questions. I am integrating my teaching with their daily digital lives.
Ultimately, my aim of bridging the paternity-gap will remain to be seen, but my hope is that my efforts will keep learners engaged, motivated and progressing. My colleagues should be able to cover my lessons with minimal effort and stress (in theory!).
Mark Beetlestone is a curriculum area lead at Fareham College