New evidence and new approaches for shared education

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New evidence and new approaches for shared education
by Raquel GOMEZ for Shared Future News
20 June 2018

New evidence and new approaches for shared education were presented by Prof. Roger Austin (Ulster University) and Prof. Rhiannon Turner (Queen’s University Belfast), as part of the Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series 2017/18 (KESS). The presentation focused on how Information Communications Technology (ICT) can be used to make shared education more sustainable and accessible to children, and how a combination of face-to-face and online contact can improve and benefit an integrative future.

Shared education has been promoted and developed by an increasing number of schools across Northern Ireland. According with the Department of Education, in 2018 around 50% of schools in Northern Ireland are involved in shared education. In 2018, through the Collaborative and Shared Education programme (CASE), it was agreed that as a part of 30 hours contact time between schools in shared education, 20% could be online.

Furthermore, according to the report, the key role that ICT plays in our society cannot be ignored; as ICT skills are increasingly demanded, ICT has been implemented in the classrooms.

Here, Collaborative Learning Online for Shared Education and Reconciliation (CLOSER) is a model of professional learning related to shared education. The course involves two days face-to-face training in the use of a common Virtual Learning platform (Fronter), a real-time video-conferencing software package (Collaborate), and sessions on how these ICT applications could enhance and extend face-to-face collaborative learning. After the course, teachers are invited to deliver a six-week course with their partner teacher in their schools.

As a result of the teachers’ reports, a main conclusion is that blended contact has a positive impact on pupils’ experience of shared education, especially for developing friendships, preparing children to work together, and normalising relations.

Teachers highlighted that the most positive impact noted in students was in terms of the development of friendships: “More regular access to each other in online forums has meant that children have a chance to chat in a way that is familiar to them. Leaving comments for each other and then matching the comment to the person during face-to-face activities helped to build on relationships.”

Blended contact has a positive impact on normalising relations as well: “More regular face-to-face contact coupled with greater online collaboration…Pupils are no longer out-of-sight-out-of-mind. Using Fronter has let us develop and extend lessons within our own schools but pupils are still learning, sharing and responding to each others’ work,” emphasised one of the teachers.

In addition, teachers reported that children had worked well together online and face-to-face, and had improved skills in working with others and communication. Through blended contact pupils are more engaged with completing tasks online, and they improve not just ITC skills, but also spelling and grammar.

The teachers’ reports offer a strong endorsement of the use of blended contact as a way of sustaining and extending partnerships between schools in shared education. The data indicates that blended contact has been largely successful for pupils not just in academic terms, but also developing friendships and gaining skills to work together, a fundamental tool for their future.

According with the findings of the report, blended contact can provide much more frequent contact between students and teachers that would be possible only through face-to-face work. The need for schools to work together and the use of ICT as a part of the educational program could be solved through blended contact in shared education.

The application of the Virtual Learning platform (Fronter) and the real-time video-conferencing software package (Collaborate) are available to all schools in Northern Ireland at no cost as a part of the managed ICT service for schools.

For further details of this research, contact rsp.austin@ulster.ac.uk

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