Effective timetabling for remote learning

Ngaire Gardiner

Ngaire works in marketing at Edval Education. Experts in the art of timetabling, Edval Education has been focused on solutions-based software and services for school timetabling for over 20 years. We aim to help schools get better outcomes for teachers and students through smarter timetabling. To learn more about our software and services, please visit our website.

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How do we create remote timetables that best serve teachers and students?

As an education industry, we’re in a time of upheaval. Teachers and students everywhere are learning new skills every day to overcome the challenges of online learning, paused curriculums and inequalities of resources.

Some schools are fundamentally changing the way they deliver their curriculum to their students and some are trying to figure out how to continue to run their current timetable, while others are also adjusting timetables, possibly without the notion of bell times, and no easy means to communicate the continual change to students.

Innovating your standard curriculum delivery

Creating a mix of self-guided learning and teacher touchpoints

For some schools, trying to implement a full timetable for students may not work. In these situations, a flexible timetable that assumes self-guided learning may be more appropriate. To strike a balance between this learning while trying to maintain some engagement and relationship between teacher and students, consider timetabling each class a ‘meeting time’ with their teacher where they all get online together. This could be used for sharing important messages or announcements, exchanging personal news, or even a little fun.

Assess their current timetable and allocate each year the appropriate amount of ‘face-to-face’ access with their teacher. This could, for example, be achieved by condensing the current timetable by running a percentage of their normal classes as online lessons, rather than all of them. The rest of the timetable can be blocked assuming self-guided application of each student's allocated lessons. This would open up for more teacher planning and availability for one-on-ones or small group tutorials, or other activities that may apply. 

In this model, extra support to help some students learn self-directed learning and discipline may be required (we know it won’t work for everyone).

Extracurricular activities

In the absence of other activities provided at school, you may have limited resources for certain programs or courses to offer extracurricular options online. Alternatively, some of your teachers may be willing or able to provide an online version of their activity. Some ideas may be; learning a skill together like graphic design, playing online games like scrabble, creating a dance together (maybe you could perform it once school reopens) and much more. 

To best allocate these, consider them like subject or sport preferences to help you build lines for access. Whether they’re delivered in a live classroom simulation or through self-guided learning, treating them as finite resources will help create equity amongst your students.

Alternatively, you could rethink how you offer extracurricular, adjusting them to be allocated according to roll call or homegroup, years or houses. Meeting and practice of the activity can then take place at an already timetabled activity like an assembly. 

Moving parent-teacher interviews online

With less time between students and teachers and more time with parents involved in their learning, parent-teacher interviews are more important than ever. In the absence of parent-teacher evenings, schedule parent-teacher interviews online through zoom, google meet or whatever video conference software you’re inevitably already using. 

Due to the changing working conditions, like people working from home, you have added flexibility to do this and can cater more easily to the needs of both teachers and parents. We’ve got some best-practice ideas for how you can do this in Edval Interviews at the bottom of this article. 

Adjusting your current timetable for remote learning

If you’re still looking to deliver a full timetable for your students to adhere to remotely, it is unlikely your current in-person timetable can be easily implemented. Ultimately, as providers of education first and foremost, the focus should be kept on delivering quality pedagogy using online platforms. This can be quite a challenge!

As you assess adjustments to your current timetable, consider the implications of making significant timetabling changes. These would have to be communicated to the entire school community, and feedback potentially sought from students and teachers. 

If your executive team has decided that an adjusted timetable is in the best interests of your school community, we’ve got a few suggestions for adapting your timetable to reduce some of the remote timetable teething issues. 

Increasing double periods for a two-fold benefit

While we often steer away from double periods in many cases, when you’re outside of your normal environment it can be a blessing. Increasing double periods has two particular benefits to help your ‘remote school’.

Lessen the communication load

It’s much more difficult to indicate a period’s end without the school bell (a lesson some of you may have already learned). When we’re navigating the newness of the remote environment for our students and teachers you cannot always rely on people keeping their own time. In the same way, a change every hour is too much to ask your admin staff to try to communicate with each teacher. With an increase in double periods, you create fewer changes of lesson during the day - reducing the amount of change communication needed.

Improve lesson sequencing (and reduce student mental tiredness)

We’re all feeling a bit more stressed and tired as a result of all the change and uncertainty brought about by COVID-19. This means students are likely doubly so overwhelmed and struggling to adjust to all the changes. 

Increased doubles means fewer changes of topic per day and more time for teachers and students to explore topics and learn new things. More time in the lesson helps to account for inevitable tech problems and other remote errors that often happen along the way. 

Restructure ‘bell times’

In keeping with the concept of combining more periods into doubles to improve communication, restructuring your virtual ‘bell times’ can also help in a similar way. Depending on your particular needs, the timetable can serve to change the period on the hour, institute a later or earlier start to account for changes in routines or even give more time between classes so teachers have enough time to prep their remote classrooms. This can also include changes to the recess and lunchtime break times; for example, more (but shorter) breaks across the day, rather than in big chunks.

Eliminate ‘room requirements’

With most teachers and students working from home, parameters around rooming are no more. Now that your timetable is only constrained by the teachers, the option exists to re-process lines and allow for more classes to run at the same time. 

Re-processing your lines and creating a more condensed version of your timetable helps to take the load off your teachers, potentially opening up more time for them to work on their changing work requirements or fulfill their now different family responsibilities. 

Your timetable is a vehicle for delivering quality education, a concept that may seem somewhat unattainable in these unprecedented times. We know that as educators you have drive, intelligence and passion to still deliver the best possible experience you can online - and that a good ‘remote’ timetable can help enable that.

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