“I like being at school with all my friends, but I have more time when I’m learning at home and it feels less pressured. I miss working together, though.”
Like the majority of young people right now, this twelve-year-old has grown used to the recent months of online learning but is keenly aware of its limitations. Like adults in the workplace, he can see the benefits of flexibility, a lack of interruptions and zero journey time, and enjoys a plethora of digital tools to help him learn and communicate with teachers and classmates. However, people really do need to be around other people and when at school children learn social and emotional skills, get exercise and access to other support services. So, by beginning to forge a path that blends the two, it is possible to pick the best bits of the on and offline experiences in order to adapt to our new circumstances.
Of course, the flipside of this is that educational settings are experiencing their own very distinct challenges. Firstly, educators have had to entirely change the way they teach, completely reframing and adapting the curriculum to tools that they may never have encountered before. Keeping the delivery fresh and students engaged is a challenge that grows harder as time progresses, as is coming up with new ways to facilitate active learning and collaboration. And motivating students from afar with limited resources is reported as being the number one issue for many teachers. Perhaps it’s time to think differently.
A new era for ‘blended learning’
The concept of ‘blended learning’ has been around for quite some time. However, prior to Covid 19, combining in-classroom learning with online activities was largely viewed as a way to implement more personalised strategies. Today, however, it’s necessary in achieving long-term engagement and delivering effective learning across locations. A new kind of blended learning is beginning to take on a life of its own, where the digital aspect adds a dimension of exploration for students and, for teachers, the ability to open a virtual door on new and often deeper experiences for their classes. By looking further afield with facilitation from educational charities, schools are discovering that partnering with the right businesses can not only improve student engagement and motivation but stretch their resources and incorporate areas of the curriculum into wider, more engaging, project work. In a world where knowledge is increasingly interconnected and employers are looking for creative problem-solvers and lifelong learners, inviting companies into the virtual classroom makes very real sense.
But what does this look like in reality? For Canon, Covid 19 meant swiftly transferring its UK Young People Programme (YPP) from classroom-based activities to a pilot online learning forum, which created two, very welcome, new benefits to an already acclaimed initiative, which aims to ‘Inspire, Educate and Engage’. The programme has traditionally brought experts, mentors and partners from the Canon world into schools and is designed to provide tools and coaching to students, channelling their innate creativity to address issues that are important to them. During their time with students, they teach both the practical (how to use specific tools, such as a DSLR or Language and Design) and the formative (developing a narrative, looking at perspectives, characterisation and the like). Both of which can still be achieved online, but suddenly the pool of students – and teachers – becomes much, much larger.
“Yesterday we had an astronaut, two schools from Cumbria and three classrooms in Manchester dialling in.”
Adam Pensotti describes an unlikely scene from a recent YPP session. He runs the Canon Imaging for Good initiative and has seen first-hand the positive power that a huge corporation like Canon can bring to the classroom, with the ambition, scale and ability to partner with the right people and organisations. “It was hugely beneficial for them [the participating students]. Plus, they feel invested in because they’d never held a DLSR in their hands before and we made that happen.” The astronaut in question was creative polymath Richard Garriott, who made his fortune as a video game developers and is now an explorer and entrepreneur whose ability to inspire is worth its weight in gold.
Access to these kinds of group experiences online, while only in their infancy right now, have the potential for huge geographical reach and the capacity to far increase the numbers of young people with access to the programme. Plus, even at scale, safeguarding is less of an undertaking than in making physical classroom visits. “It’s entirely possible that we could connect up programmes across the region,” says Adam. “So, Dubai can be on a call with the UK and they can see each other’s classrooms. Or in France, or South Africa. Whatever shape this takes, we as a brand take the responsibility very seriously and feel that everybody benefits from the long relationships we want to have with students.”
We’re laying the foundations for a whole library of
Join live or learn later – both work
The preferred format for the Young People Programme is that students are taught new skills and then must apply them to a challenge – or brief – that addresses real-life issues. This might be creating an advertising campaign to encourage people to reduce their consumption of single use plastics. Or going out into their area with a camera and taking powerful photographs to raise awareness of a local issue. From an educator’s point of view, students are flexing their intellectual muscles in areas such as language, design, visual communications and more. But moreover, they are thinking laterally, collaborating widely, solving problems and focusing on goal-oriented outcomes.
Combining this with more traditional classroom-based approaches also sends a message of preparation to students. They will, of course, be expected to approach projects in their future working lives in a very similar fashion, applying extensive complementary skills and working with a very high degree of independence. They will also be expected to be extremely IT literate, flexible and ‘self-updating’, with a willingness to learn that extends far beyond an educational setting.
Of course, it almost goes without saying that making participation open for all who want it is incredibly important here and naturally these educational resources, live lessons and creative briefs can be polished and packaged into suites of materials for access by anyone and can be used to support personal development or by teachers as valuable educational resources. At the time of writing, this process is already underway, and the plan is a long-term one. “We’re laying the foundations for a whole library of content we can share across the region,” Adam explains. “You can reach so many more people, and it is great inspiration and an opportunity for students to express themselves in a different way. Every school has its challenges and engagement has got to be one of the biggest, but if you give children the inspiration through a brief and show them they can make a difference, they will express themselves and do a very good job of it.”
For a taste of what’s in store, head to the Ideas Foundation website, where you’ll find a pilot Canon digital storytelling toolkit that spans the creative process – from concepts and language to technical execution.