A single action can spread like wildfire. 

A chemical process, fire, requires three reactants in order to occur: oxygen, fuel and an ignition. The success of a fire starting is dependent on all three factors, otherwise the fire will either burn itself out or won’t start in the absence of one.  As with all chemical processes there is a transfer of energy between stores as molecules rearrange themselves. In the case of fire, the process is rapid and called oxidation; this is when atoms of oxygen combine with hydrogen and carbon to form carbon dioxide and water. We can change the rate at which oxidation occurs by adding further fuel sources, once started it can spread contagiously in the blink of an eye to devastating effect.

Unlike fire, knowledge doesn’t always spread as quickly or to such, potentially, catastrophic ends. Knowledge gained from research and a shared network, local or national, should therefore increase productivity and outcomes assuming that the contact rate with said knowledge can be increased for researchers and other stakeholders. Knowledge is contagious to this effect. However as competition and innovation peaks, thanks to globalization, the emergency of and accessibility to knowledge and media that can transform education rises at breakneck speeds. While having technology doesn’t necessarily engender a redefinition of task or empower the few, accessing a greater depth, breadth and wealth of knowledge can lead to just that: transformation.

In recent weeks COVID 19 has extended across the globe, its worldwide surge causing schools to close and contingency planning is either under way or schools are already in the midst of the blaze of remote/online learning. 

Much like fire, the three factors for successful online learning are:

  • Teacher
  • Student 
  • Parent


Technology serves as the medium through which online learning can transpire, much like the gas surrounding a fire contains oxygen enabling oxidation. However, it is not the only molecule in that gas around the fire. The technological tools schools are adopting are facilitating an action; learning at a distance. They should not be the primary focus either, as their shine will fade and it will become another ‘thing’ to students once the contagious excitement passes and reality sets in. Coupled with this, there are a number of factors which can ignite things for teachers… for some it might be anxiety at what lies ahead, working in unfamiliar surroundings or with unfamiliar tools. For others it might be how they get their head around making videos, conference calling, being videod knowing it will be shared, parents potentially sharing their work online, the illusion that closing schools is less work (it’s not) and so on. Reaffirming that schools really are places of awe and wonder where, thanks to the passing of knowledge and building of relationships, educators make learning contagious in a safe environment for students everyday. 

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) recently released a report (image above) identifying how parental engagement matters when it comes to a child’s success at school (see tweet here and summary poster here). While this has been no hidden secret amongst educators, utilising parents during online learning can help build parent efficacy while also helping to support their child’s regulation of learning. Much like a fire needs oxygen to continue to oxidise, parents can fuel them with encouragement and much much more. Their role proves vital as cabin fever may set in for students across the world due to issues relating to isolation and loneliness. Often turning to technology for social media, TV and/or computer games as a distraction or out of boredom, there’s a safeguarding and mental health issue here too as they proliferate device usage. Parents can make a huge difference here simply by starting up a conversation, asking about their learning, sharing in a household ‘chore’ together or insisting their child gets some exercise and puts any technology away for a few hours. It’s vital that schools are conveying messages regarding remote learning to parents clearly and planning to use technology responsibly and purposefully, it is a means to an end; an ignition to the fire of learning, not the fire itself. 

With parents (and teachers) in mind National Online Safety have many free resources covering a wide range of topics and two especially good resources spring to mind which will be ever more prevalent in the wake of remote learning. The two key documents which parents (and teachers) should look at are; supporting children’s mental health (download here) and online safety tips for children (download here). A great ignition to fuel parental learning at this time!

Andrew Salcido and Jessica Cole have written about best practices when teaching online here, their infographic (above) highlights a few key aspects for online learning: instructor presence, real world applications, teach (!), clear expectations, share learning objectives, provide prompt feedback and be sure to engage students. It’s a great read to get teachers thinking about how they will construct and conduct their remote lessons. 

UAE educator Luke Rees made a great infographic identifying the need to keep safety a priority with respect to online learning, focusing on 15 key questions we should be asking in schools as we move to learning in a digital space. You can see his infographic here. Niall Statham also made an infographic, which you can see here, on what students should look out for when keeping safe online during remote learning. Both serve as handy reminders to raise all stakeholders awareness of and identification of safeguarding issues around online learning. 

Ian Phillips offers some great advice to school leaders in a blog for the ISC Digital Strategy Group (read it here), what specifically resonated with me was that “Your plan should work from where you currently are…….this is not the time to change culture and embark on an intense training period but you could resort to publishing SoWs and teaching resources and discussing with departments how they help students continue to make progress.” This is echoed by the EEF recommendation that we should consider how technology will improve teaching and learning before we introduce something new (read the summary poster here) otherwise it becomes a problem in search of a solution. 

Another sweep of fuel to the fire has been the rapid offering of free solutions to schools from technology companies. While I admire this from many of them, as they truly are more concerned about the loss of learning and impact on students and teachers across the world, there still seems to be something that doesn’t sit right with me. Adding in a new resource without effective training is not going to help the mental wellbeing of pupil/teacher/parent in what are already unfamiliar times. Make best use of the resources you have, carefully strategise how and what learning will look like for your students and become excellent at what you do with the familiar tools at your disposal. 

The effective introduction and implementation of edtech supports the complex dynamic between content, pedagogy and the technology used, all while perceptively supporting the specific context and culture of a school/classroom. Once you have the technological knowledge for the systems in place, look to make additions to your toolkit (for further reading on the TPACK model, check out Mark Anderson’s blog here or go to http://www.tpack.org/). Key indicators in the successful adoption and impact on learning will need unique approaches, as after all the combination of factors is complex, messy and often unpredictable, similar to that of a naturalistic environment fraught with uncertainty….like that of a fire. 

Online learning should ensure that it caters for and cares for all stakeholders in a manageable, controlled and realistic fashion. While it is a chance for educators across the globe to innovate their usual practice and test their systems out, learning is the end game and we shouldn’t place too large a wager on the dice we are rolling for our students. This is akin to tempting fate with the ventilation near a fire, as central heating or air conditioning units in buildings provide routes for smoke (and fire) to ventilate/spread and while we want to ignite learning for our students we must be careful not to create an uncontrollable wildfire. 

In summary, be careful when stoking the fire. Keep your systems in place and communicate effectively to parents and students how those systems will be used during online learning. Be visible for your students where possible while clearly articulating what learning you will be completing, how long it should take and what success will look like. Provide feedback, routinely. Keep in mind digital safeguarding and the wellbeing of all stakeholders, be sure to check in on this regularly. Ensure that the technology you use is robust and familiar to all parties, if you are instigating something new out of necessity make sure your staff are trained to deal with any possible issues that may arise so that they can realign and focus on the learning taking place. Ensure your teachers are supported during this time and understand your schools procedures, raise their awareness of digital safeguarding and have clear expectations around working online. And remember, not all tasks need to make use of technology…this is a great time for wider reading and non-tech related tasks or projects that can be returned to at a later date or review and enhance prior learning.

While a single action can spread like wildfire, we can control the boundaries within which the fire operates. 


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