Thomas Carr College presses pedal to the metal on 21st century learning

Students using tablet

Teachers at Melbourne’s Thomas Carr College have telescoped a full year’s worth of professional learning into just 3-4 months in response to COVID-19.

In Term One of 2020, the College – which teaches around 1,100 students across years 7-12 – rapidly shifted from classroom lessons to online learning. The full transition took just two weeks.

When Victoria faced a second lockdown, the school again swung into online mode armed with all its earlier insights, and also started a series of new initiatives including online assemblies, virtual home rooms, live events, whole school celebrations and liturgies online parent-teacher interviews, parent information and education nights, online assessments and an outreach program to connect with parents and guardians who were grappling with the challenges students faced as they transitioned to remote learning.

While the College had a learning management system in place, it wasn’t geared for video lesson delivery, so the school turned to Microsoft Teams as its communications and collaboration platform. Over two weeks the system was rolled out allowing teachers to connect with students, and one another. The House Leaders used the Teams platform to create important connections and a sense of fun, despite the physical distancing.

The silver lining of the experience, according to Andrew Bryson, Deputy Principal, Learning and Teaching is that; “This has now allowed us to operate in the 21st Century. Schools are now where they are best placed to be to truly use digital technology to enhance learning and teaching and support the wellbeing of students.

“This has fast tracked where we need to be and allowed people to see what is possible. We have now seen the true power of what it can do. It’s allowing students, teachers and family to connect – so there has been a positive despite the challenges.”

Microsoft caught up with Andrew Bryson, Chris Knaggs, Thomas Carr College Business Manager, and teacher, Ashley Saliba to learn how the College community has used digital technology to cope with COVID and transform learning.

MS: This was a rapid transition – tell us about that?

Chris Knaggs (CK): We went ahead to remote learning in two weeks – teachers and support staff had some very intense training and learning on the job while practicing with students in class. Besides the LMS a lot of teachers started using OneNote and now some are using the assessment side to run some online tests.

MS: Did you use Teams for all classes?

CK: When we decided to go with Teams – it was initially for VCE students in Years 11 and 12. Teachers had a week of training in class on how to use and set it up. Over that week they found that it was so easy the teachers pushed for years 7-10 as well.

MS: Did you change anything in the second lockdown?

CK: Early in Term 2 we allocated our support staff with a call list. Teachers were checking in with students, and support staff were checking with the parents. Overwhelmingly the feedback has been that the constant communications was great and the vast majority were really positive and complimentary of the teachers and support staff.

Andrew Bryson (AB): We took advantage of the ability to use Teams to have separate channels for students needing additional support. Part of the teaching strategy in the online environment is to use Teams to look at ways to allow students to collaborate in the classroom and also support students who need additional support while respecting their dignity.

We’ve also found Teams has been helpful to support students who are absent from class – or don’t have the confidence to put their hands up – through Teams they have a voice.

CK: We heard from the teachers that if they are on screen for all six periods, they get drained. This time we tried to express to the teachers – ‘don’t go on and do something for the full 50 minutes’ – be available but let students self-direct and do the work.

MS: Did all students have their own computer and internet connection?

CK: We have been moving to BYO designated device. That presented a number of issues as at the start of the year 40 per cent hadn’t got their devices. We had a portal – they just had to go and buy it. COVID dried up the supply chain though we had a bank of devices in the library we were able to loan out. With the internet, we were printing some things off, and then sometimes had to get some students on site to allow them to catch up and use the internet. They have headphones and tune in like their peers at home – but onsite.

MS: How have teachers coped with the transition?

Ashley Saliba (AS): This is my first-year teaching. Many students are reluctant to turn on their cameras – so it’s been a bit of a challenge to make sure they are up to date and taking in what you are saying. It’s pretty user friendly and easy to work out what to do.

This time around we are more prepared. Students know to sign in, go to the call, then go and do your work. But everyone getting a bit over it – the kids are finding it hard to stay motivated. In my VCE classes I have a call with them at the start of every lesson – check in how is everyone going and most are keeping up to date.

MS: How has Teams supported teachers?

AS: We have group chats quite regularly – and with the Years 7/8 classes we do a lot of collaboration through OneNote that we can distribute to classes.

AB: We walked into a staff meeting on a Monday and said ‘by the end of this week you need to set up classes using Teams.’ Because of the need to flick the switch immediately the response was fantastic. It was the strength of our community to work through this together and the ease of using Teams. All our teaching staff were able to connect to it in a short time; their confidence in using the platform transferred to our students having confidence, and parents having confidence.


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