What will replace the ‘School Bell’​ in the online home classroom?

April 3, 2020 10 MIN READ Eddie Blass

I recently had the good fortune of visiting Thebarton Senior College, and I was so excited to find that they didn’t ring a bell or sound an alarm to signal the end of the lesson. Instead, they relied on students and staff to manage their own time and get where they needed to be. I’m sure there are other schools with this way of doing things, but not many.

The school bell signals that the set period of learning is over. Doors open, kids spill out into the corridor, another bell sounds, and everyone disappears behind closed doors again. The bell is a key feature in the management of the school timetable.

How does this work when kids are being schooled at home? Well, it comes down to the parents. I was chatting with a friend earlier today, and he is dreading next week. He has four kids of different ages, all of whom have been set a ‘traditional’ school timetable at home. That’s between 4 and 8 tasks per child, or between 16 and 32 tasks to help organise across the day. On top of that, my friend works from home. Unfortunately, he won’t have a bell to tell him when to move from one thing to the next.

The school bell indicates that during the day, time is managed for the student. When children learn at home, time is managed differently. It could be unrealistic for schools to think that parents will comfortably maintain a traditional school timetable in their home, particularly if they have more than one child and have to share a limited number of devices.

Most schools are planning to offer the existing educational model at home, through technology. Regardless of how well prepared they are, things might not go so smoothly. Homes aren’t set up to be schools, and they lack the constant time manager of the bell, as well as the various teaching resources available at school. What happens when kids start to fall behind? Do we blame the parents? No. What about the teachers? No. The fact is that blame doesn’t apply here – we are just asking the wrong questions.

Rather than asking ‘how do we do what we do now online?’ we should be asking ‘how do we provide a full year of online learning?’ The answers to these questions will be very different, because once you take school out of the school environment, many of the assumptions that underpin the current educational model change.

The school bell and timetable no longer drive the student’s routine, and access to learning resources is no longer guaranteed. A physical space conducive to learning can no longer be taken as a given – interruptions to learning cannot be managed by closing the classroom door. Moreover, the physical space is managed by someone whose priorities differ to those of the person delivering the lesson. Given all this, how do we provide sustainable learning online? I doubt the answer is in streaming the traditional classroom to the student’s home.

While the thought of implementing a new model is terrifying for some, it will be less scary in the long term. The Inventorium offers two separate curricula – one for years 7-9, and one for years 10-12. It is taught with a 1 to 20 teacher-student ratio, so each teacher has just 20 students. Students negotiate work with their teacher on a weekly basis. The teacher holds small group chats and provides ongoing feedback and guidance, but it’s up to the student to manage their time. The base curriculum is already there for them to work with, so they can move at their own pace.

Would this work for a whole school with a bell that signals the start and end of each class? Probably not. Does it work in an environment like the one my friend has to manage now? Absolutely, and that’s the point: teaching online is different. Most teachers are trained for the classroom, so they naturally try to emulate that online. The fact is, though, that it demands a different approach to pedagogy. Any teacher can learn how to teach online, and because it is a new experience for everyone, no one has a particular advantage. We have found that it takes new teachers about four weeks to settle into an easy online routine, depending on how comfortable they are with changing their existing habits and assumptions.

If you’d like support, staff development, or would like to see how the Inventorium works and whether it could help you at the moment, contact me: eddie@inventorium.com.au – we’re here to help.