If Gavin Williamson had to teach a live lesson...

The education secretary says live online lessons are best - so maybe he should teach one himself, says Zoe Crockford

Zoe Crockford

Coronavirus and schools: If Gavin Williamson thinks live lessons are best for online learning, maybe he should try teaching one himself, says Zoë Crockford

To appreciate this article fully, you should ideally be logged into Teams, wearing a headset, showing an appropriate profile picture, with your microphone muted.

8.25am: Mr Williamson is ready for his live lesson. He sits at his laptop, poised to deliver the mother of all art lessons to Year 8. 

In order to be fully ready, he has prepared a PowerPoint, recorded an audio commentary, written detailed instructions and posted these on his school virtual learning platform ahead of time. Better still, he has a practical demo planned to support his students’ learning, thanks to his visualiser, and plenty of screen sharing. 

Not only has he done this for today’s lesson, but for all 27 lessons that he will be delivering this week. But the jewel in his teacher crown is his live delivery of the educational gems he has lovingly prepped for today. Because Sir knows that, despite the wide range of learning methods available to the youth of today, being there in the moment is the absolute best way to force knowledge into people

Online learning: Is there anyone out there? 

8.30am: Mr Williamson logs on to his preplanned online meeting. He sent out the request last night after he had done the washing up, cleared up the house from the fallout of the day, hung up the laundry that had been sitting in the machine since breakfast, answered the messages that he had ignored while online teaching, spoken to his wife and kids and uploaded all the marking he had done from the previous day’s lessons.

8.32am: Mr Williamson sits patiently at his laptop, waiting for his students to arrive.

8.35am: Mr Williamson sits less than patiently at his laptop.

8.36am: Mr Williamson posts a message to the group: “Hey guys, anyone up yet? I am here ready to start your lesson. Let me know when you are here.” He hesitates a moment, and then adds a thumbs-up emoji.

8.40am: Mr Williamson has begun his lesson. Sixteen out of his class of 30 have logged in. This is a good day. 

“OK, guys. Hopefully you have seen the assignment and read through the instructions and listened to the commentary and checked your emails…but, just in case, I am going to talk at you for a while so that you totally get it – yeah?”

“OK, guys. Can you just either switch on your cameras or microphones?”

“Guys, maybe use the hands-up emoji if you want to say anything.”

“Guys?”

“Anyone?”

8.50am: Mr Williamson has delivered his amazing intro to the lesson and, despite the lack of engagement from his class, has set them on a task with the expectation that they feed back to him at the end of the session. Which, considering this is a 50-minute time slot, gives them about 25 minutes to work before having to log back into the meeting. Slick.

'My dad has done the task, too'

8.55am: Mr Williamson is fielding questions in the chat.

“I don’t get it.”

“What do we have to do, Sir?”

“I don’t have any paper.”

“Do we have to use the stuff you showed us? Only I haven’t got paint or pens or paper or glue.”

I am sharing a laptop with my three brothers, and I can’t do the research you said we should do because they are all trying to be on a live lesson, too.”

“My mum says I have to drop food off to my grandad. Can I hand this in later?”

“I can’t download the PowerPoint – our broadband is glitchy and I don’t have data on my phone.”

“My dad has done the task, too. Can he email it to you? He says you sound like a geek.”

“Does it have to be like you showed us or can I do SpongeBob?”

9.10am: Mr Williamson is monitoring his students’ submissions, while drinking a cup of tea and answering several really important emails from his head of department and head of year about the forthcoming online parents’ evening, and trying to sort out some materials for students who are struggling to access learning. 

His head is pounding from staring at a screen since 6.30am, but it’s OK, because he only has to sit there until 4pm.

9.15am: Mr Williamson has asked his class back into the meeting to share their work.

“Guys, now is the time to share what you’ve been making. So cameras on, and let’s see your amazing work. Let’s have some really valuable and meaningful discussion about our learning experience…guys? 

“Come on, put your cameras on…please? I’ve got mine on. Check out my superb bookcase and my carefully placed awards, trophies and family photos…

“OK, so maybe just post something in the chat? Anyone? OK, so I will look forward to seeing your work when you upload it…

“And we are out of time… OK, guys. Bye for now. See you next lesson, and take care.” 

9.20am: Mr Williamson is ready for his live lesson with Year 7…

4pm: Mr Williamson scrapes himself up off the desk, wipes the sweat from his brow and blinks into the fast-disappearing daylight. He staggers into the kitchen and slumps on Mrs Williamson’s resilient shoulder

“Tough day?” she asks.

“It’s just so relentless,” he says.

“But you’re the one who said live lessons were the absolute best way, my darling.”

Zoë Crockford is an art teacher at a secondary school in Bournemouth

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