UK educator helps college and students successfully launch remote learning

Picture of Pooja Pun at Bett 2020

From time to time, we feature stories about Changemakers, as we call them, educators who are making a difference in the lives of students around the world. Today’s Changemaker blog was written by Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Pooja Pun, the Learning Technologies Manager at Birmingham Metropolitan College.

For the past 16 years, I’ve been working with students and faculty here at Birmingham Metropolitan College to bring new technology resources to the classroom to deepen learning, create efficiencies, and boost engagement. Never did I imagine we’d be putting those skills and tools to the test in the manner we’re doing now.

Our college buildings closed on Friday, March 20, after the government announced all schools must be shut due to the global pandemic.

As the Learning and Technology Manager here, my team and I have since been tasked with training and supporting our employees to deliver instruction remotely. Our first priority has been to get everyone using the Microsoft Teams platform to ensure the college can continue to teach students. So far, that’s going well and our faculty members, across fields, are providing students with engaging remote lessons and delivering assignments effectively.

Meeting the needs of diverse learners

Birmingham Metropolitan College serves a diverse array of students. We’re a further education college for students ages 16 through 19 with various courses for adults too. Courses range from those with a focus on vocational and job training, as well as academic courses in preparation for further studies at the university level. We’re a large organization, with numerous campuses across the Birmingham area. It’s no small feat to get everyone working remotely, but we’re getting there and I’m proud of our efforts.

I started off here as an IT/Computing lecturer and moved into my role of Learning Technology Manager four years ago. My role is to engage staff in using technology in their lessons and improving students’ digital skills.

This year, I also teach on the PGCE program team, which is a post-graduate course for new qualifying teachers. The module is based on e-learning, where my biggest focus with my students has been on using Office 365 Education, which is free to educators and students at eligible institutions and includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Microsoft Teams.

I first got involved with Microsoft Education when I attended a Microsoft training program for educators in London. The three-day boot camp was so motivating. It was there that I learned all about the Microsoft Educator Center, a great site for professional learning that I’ve taken advantage of and shared with my colleagues. I love the community of educators I’ve worked with and come to know through the Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Expert program. If you’re looking for support at this time, Microsoft has a host of helpful remote learning resources.

Before the world was upended by the pandemic, I was fortunate enough to spend time with my peers in the MIE Expert program at the BETT technology conference and was honored to be recognized for my work by Microsoft, earning a trip to the Microsoft Education Exchange (E2) conference in Sydney, Australia. Unfortunately, that was postponed, but I hope to be part of the incredible gathering when a new date is set!

Microsoft Teams and OneNote: Great communication and collaboration tools

Even in ordinary times, my students have appreciated the ability to work remotely, and flexibly, once they have the tools and training to do so. Obviously, they’d rather the reason not be related to a global health crisis, but today’s current events are a good reminder that we need to be nimble and trained up on technology for whatever may come.

My students have actually been using Teams all year. They love that they can access it from anywhere and on any device, and the way it helps them communicate and collaborate with peers. They also find it quite easy to use.

Late last year, we had a water main break at school, and the campus was closed. I heard about it in the car on my way to work. I pulled over and got onto my phone—my lesson was going to be in next 15 minutes—and pulled up the Teams app. I alerted my students to what was happening and told them not to come in but to look for my lesson on OneNote. No learning lost!

One of my favorite features of Teams is the way OneNote Class Notebook is integrated into it. We have student pages, a content library, and a collaboration space all there and working seamlessly within Teams. I archive my online notebooks by year, and I have every lesson I’ve taught in there. Every year, at the start of the year, I use the previous notebook as a basis for my new Class Notebook, just adding my new learners. It’s such a time saver.

Forms and Flipgrid bring data and engagement to the classroom

Even before the transition to remote learning, several of my students had taken the tools I introduced them to into their colleges. They particularly find Microsoft Forms, a great tool for creating quick quizzes and surveys, to be useful with their students. It’s a remarkable formative assessment tool, and those I teach have come to see the beauty of the real-time analytics that Forms gives you. That can really inform your practice as a teacher and drive data-based decision making in the classroom.

I was in a training session a few months ago and we had to do a quick evaluation of the program. The session leader started to give out bits of paper and pens, when I suggested she try using Forms. I pulled out my device and typed in the questions. We accessed it through QR codes on our phones. It took 10 minutes to pull together and everyone was impressed with how easy it was to use.

I’ve also recently introduced my students to Flipgrid, the social-learning tool that allows for video-based discussions. It’s been wonderful to see my students try new tech tools, apply them to their own learning, and then share them with others—in this case with the students they teach.

And now, given the situation we’re all in, I’m so glad I’ve empowered my teaching students, and my peer teachers here at the college, with the tools and resources they need to keep the learning going remotely.

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