As one of Australia’s leaders in remote learning and training teachers to use educational technology, Dr Sarah Prestridge is comfortable thinking ahead of the curve.

Dr Sarah Prestridge

When politicians were deciding on whether to shut down schools to limit the spread of COVID-19 in early March, she anticipated the once unthinkable, a mass shift of mainstream schools to remote learning.

“I thought to myself, teachers aren’t prepared for this. But they’re certainly very capable people and that’s when the rapid response videos emerged,’’ she said.

Within 24 hours, Dr Prestridge and Dr Denise Cox, a then PhD candidate from the School of Education and Professional Studies produced 16 short-form videos for teachers faced with the daunting challenge of teaching students through a computer screen and a webcam.

“The videos were developed to build teacher confidence and introduce them to key concepts in the research. We focused on turning teachers into learning engineers with the ability to use a range of digital tools to actively engage students.”

Within hours the teaching community took notice and a week later they had 15 more videos responding to specific questions and topics from teachers across Queensland.

Dr Prestridge said their approach to the production of the videos were a lesson in themselves.

“Stay authentic, allow imperfections and create bite-size and responsive content.”

“You want to quickly pick up on what students are engaging with in the virtual classroom and use it.”

Going online with Ormiston College

Dr Prestridge was soon approached by one of the Redlands largest independent school’s Ormiston College, which teaches students from Prep to Year 12.

“They had teachers who were willing to develop an effective remote learning model. They wanted to ensure a high level of quality was maintained.”

Dr Prestridge worked with a focus group of teachers in Primary and Secondary, with particular attention to subjects like Geography and English which require a different approach to subjects like Mathematics which adapt more easily to online.

“We knew if we could solve Humanities, we’d have a model for every subject. When you’re in a classroom, the first thing you do is turn to your peer and discuss something or work collaboratively on a problem.

“You won’t get deep learning until kids start talking to each other and being active in the learning process. My goal was to work with the teachers to find ways where we could orchestrate student to student engagement in an online space.”

Another positive outcome from the collaboration with Ormiston College is incremental feedback from students on the experience of remote learning.

“Over 1200 students completed our survey and there is currently no literature in the field about this yet. We found two distinct groups, kids who love the flexibility and the other group who did not like it, with very few in between.

“In the future we need to provide some flexibility for those students who enjoy the current setup. But for the students who don’t like it, they need to be able to develop the skills to live in these types of models or they will struggle in the future where they’re used a lot.”

Dr Prestridge argues the experience has been a positive disruption in getting teachers to see learning can be designed to happen outside of the face-to-face classroom model.

“Teachers are conditioned that the classroom is the best education experience, it’s what we’re used to. But once we’re past this pandemic, we need to build online and flexible learning pathways into mainstream education.”

“One of the biggest things to emerge is the fact that we have to look to our students and their interest in how they want to learn in different ways now, so we’re co-learning with them. That’s exciting and something we shouldn’t lose with a return to ‘normal schooling’.”

Dr Sarah Prestridge, a lecturer in the School of Education and Professional Studies, was recognised in The Australian’s 2020 Top 250 Researchers as a field leader in Teaching & Teaching Education.