A Reflection on Remote Learning

Director of Information Services and the School’s longest serving staff member, Mrs Kristine Cooke, has seen and adapted to many educational changes in her almost 49 years of teaching at BGGS, but Kristine says nothing compares to the enormity of ensuring an education of the highest quality continued to be delivered during the period of remote learning.

In an article written for Girls Grammar’s School Wide Pedagogy Newsletter, Mrs Cooke discusses interpersonal communication as the heart of education, and how she developed online learning environments to ensure the unique classroom culture was not lost while learning remotely.

Unforeseen circumstances surprise you. Unexpected students surprise you. Sometimes you surprise yourself.

I started teaching at Girls Grammar, almost by accident, in January 1972. I was 21 years and one month old, five years older than my oldest students. I experienced and started teaching in the final year of external examinations, saw the advent (and demise) of ROSBA and internal assessment, and the introduction of the new hybrid version of Year 12. I was in the final Year of Year 8 at primary school and later welcomed the Year 7s as the first year of high school. However, perhaps the most unprepared-for and drastic development occurred this year with the global pandemic and the immediate switch to remote teaching and learning.

Technology is a part of everyday 21st century life and the ability to change and learn new ways of doing things the norm. I accept this. After all, I was given a slate in Year 1—and technology has certainly changed my personal and professional life since then. However, little did I know that I would have to learn Teams and Zoom in one day! Little did I know I would have to teach my class by looking at 25 faces on a laptop screen.

Teachers and students alike had not even experienced one complete term together before we were all launched into this new adventure. It takes time to learn about one another, to appreciate the unique culture that is a class, to build that rapport that encourages the mutual acceptance so necessary for the encouragement of thinking. I have always believed that a class is like a family and my 2020 English class was just starting to become one. I was just beginning to see beyond those first impressions to appreciate my students’ curiosity and wonderful quirkiness. From one day to the next, we were separated. How would that work?

I knew I could prepare content, devise the worksheets, locate the articles to read and analyse but how was I to deliver them and still maintain that fragile relationship between me and individual girls, and between me and the class? Would we be able to learn together from different homes all over Brisbane?

In reality, the technology proved to be the least of my worries. IT ensured that I had Teams and Zoom loaded (with a little remote help and a couple of phone calls). And I must admit that a tech-savvy husband was also beneficial. The trickier, and much more important, aspect was the interpersonal. But that is really at the heart of education, isn’t it?

That teacher fear of running out of prepared content and ‘space’ in a lesson initially meant I overcompensated in terms of volume of work, but my students soon taught me to pull back by asking questions and telling me they needed more time. It did not take long for me to learn that some me, some them, some thinking, some talking, some planning, some doing was the simple and obvious approach (Doh!). I learned to embrace the silences and give them time simply to breathe.

Screen share works and takes the camera away from your face (I still have to learn to stop those crazy cursor movements that are so dizziness inducing). Direct questions from the class, chat, and email are ways for individual students to clarify and contribute in ways they feel comfortable. Minerva offers a safe place that is just for the class.

However, the most important learning I have taken from this whole experience is that we must hold the personal the dearest, not bandwidth or Internet speed, but the connection one person makes with another. I have offered an optional Zoom session each week in which girls can pop in and out to ask questions and clarify tasks and instructions. However, the most touching aspect was the number of girls who did not have a question, but were quite happy to quietly go on with their work, but who turned up and just wanted to be in class, smile at me, show me their cat, and connect with other students. After all these years, those little gestures still mean the most.

Mrs Kristine Cooke
Director of Information Services