An online bank of prerecorded lessons that has been built up by Scottish teachers now contains 1,000 uploads and covers 15 secondary subject areas, with videos also available to support learning in primary.
The West Partnership Online School – which can be accessed via the national online learning platform Glow – has been gradually accumulating content since the summer.
It started out as the brainchild of the West Partnership regional improvement collaborative, which includes eight local authorities in the west of Scotland – East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Glasgow, Inverclyde, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire
However, it is now being added to by teachers across the country, with over 200 videos uploaded in the past fortnight alone.
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Each video lesson lasts for around 10 to 15 minutes and usually involves a teacher narrating as they move through a series of slides.
The lessons cover anything from understanding a character and preparing for performance in Higher drama, to animal welfare and threats to biodiversity in Higher biology.
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The lessons start by outlining the learning intentions and success criteria, as well as going over the prior knowledge that pupils need, and at the end there is a "try it yourself" section where pupils are asked questions about what they have learned. They are encouraged to pause the video and draft a response, before moving on to the example answers that follow.
There are also videos of practicals for use in science lessons – including how red cabbage can be used as an indicator of acidity and how to turn magnesium into magnesium oxide – which have been produced by Edinburgh Napier University in conjunction with Education Scotland.
Paul Downie, science faculty head at Hyndland Secondary in Glasgow and West OS coordinator, stresses that the store of lessons is constantly evolving and has been made for teachers, by teachers. He estimates that approximately 100 primary and secondary teachers have contributed content, often at the same time as juggling their own classes and homeschooling their own children.
The idea, he says, is to give teachers back some time so they can concentrate on other aspects of teaching, including giving good quality feedback, checking-in with their pupils and engaging with them live online.
Mr Downie says: “The lessons are part of a learning experience that the teacher has to produce and they will be used in different ways by different people, but they will help teachers to be efficient, which will free up time for other things, including just being there for the pupils in their classes.”
Mr Downie is not just excited about what the platform offers staff in the current lockdown but also what it could be in the future, given that “there are always going to be kids who can’t make it into school”.
He says: “The period of probably greatest isolation for all of us during the national lockdowns ended up being one of the most collaborative times I have witnessed in teaching, and the West OS is a good example of that. Its potential is massive. In 2021 kids are used to being able to access things when they want to, so why can’t they access a lesson? Why can’t they – when they are doing their homework – listen to a lesson again?”
Currently, the video lessons have captions in English but in the future they could have subtitles in other languages, suggests Mr Downie, and link to other resources.
Tina Visovan is a biology teacher at Hillhead High in Glasgow who has contributed to the lesson bank. She has used the videos – which she describes as short and easy to follow – to introduce new topics. Her pupils watch the narrated videos and then summarise what they have learned by creating mind maps and diagrams. She then interacts live with them to answer questions and address any common misconceptions.
Julie O’Sullivan, also a biology teacher who has contributed to the lesson bank, is based at Montrose Academy in Angus. She says that having the lessons available for everyone is “amazing” because it will free teachers up to give good feedback and interact with their pupils – especially if they lack confidence generating this kind of content themselves, or have technical issues that make it difficult.
As for the pupils, she says, they like the lessons because there is a teacher talking them through it and they can “pause, rewind and relisten”.
She says: “It will be useful in the future to go back and revise from, but for me it's definitely the freeing up more time to do other aspects of teaching.”
Meanwhile, Claire Cassidy, a modern studies teacher at Notre Dame High School in Glasgow, has – like Ms Visovan – asked her pupils to watch the lessons and summarise the key points, as well as think about how they can build on that content and explore some of the points raised further.
Again, she highlights the advantage of pupils being able to pause the videos and go at their own pace and watch them “over and over until they get a better grasp of it.”
For Maureen McKenna, Glasgow City Council’s director of education, the beauty of prerecorded lessons is that they offer flexibility.
For families trying to balance the logistics and demands of parents working from home with homeschooling, life can often get in the way of live lessons, she points out.
She says: “We are excited that young people will now have access to a user-friendly, safe and secure platform in West OS to support their learning at a time that suits the needs of them and their family. Learning doesn’t have to be during the normal school hours and we also have to think about the legacy benefits of West OS as a great study tool when face-to-face teaching resumes.”
The West OS is part of Scotland’s national e-learning offer. The other strands are the live lessons provided via the e-Sgoil and a resource bank pulling together materials created by schools and teachers to support learning.