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Schools may be closed, but we’re still open for learning

Susan Stewart, OU in Scotland DirectorAuthor: 

Susan Stewart is the Director of The Open University in Scotland.

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on all of our lives in ways that we could barely imagine three months ago. At The Open University in Scotland, we have done our best to be responsive, supporting students, helping workers in furlough to upskill, and advising other educational providers on how to develop their distance learning offer. 

Our work with schools in Scotland spans over a decade through the provision of an online bridging qualification for S6 pupils that introduces them to university level study.

Over 7,500 young people across Scotland have participated in the Young Applicants in Schools Scheme alongside their normal classroom study with schools in all 32 education areas taking part.

The feedback has been amazing, it’s a confidence builder, an introduction to independent learning and it helps these young people stand out whatever their next step, be it university, college or employment.

Fully funded by the Scottish Funding Council, we think YASS is a very good example of an online delivery programme that works extremely well alongside classroom teaching.

It’s been an attractive curriculum addition for schools with a small pupil roll or with limited numbers staying on to S6.

We have worked with some schools to extend it where subjects can’t be practically offered, for example offering a German module for an island school which can’t resource a dedicated teacher in this subject. 

Person holding iPad with a view of books on its screenAnother significant way we have been able to support pupils, take the load off parents and offer structure and support for teachers during lockdown is through our free educational resources on the OpenLearn platform.

It hosts almost 1,000 courses and over 15,000 articles, video, features, games and more. 

We know that teachers and secondary school pupils are making much more use of the site during lockdown with material from the BBC Blue Planet series a particular hit with young people and hugely relevant to the curriculum.

Last year there were over 310,000 unique visitors from Scotland to OpenLearn. This year visits during lockdown have surpassed what we would typically achieve in a year, with over 340,000 unique visitors between 23 March to 24 June.

We responded to this in the early weeks of lockdown by quickly putting together some resources which were more suitable for this age group.

Our academic teams are now systematically working through all resources to identify more material relevant to younger learners.

From the science of healthy eating to forensic psychology, OpenLearn has accessible resources for families to keep learning during lockdown, in the summer holidays, and beyond. Or even catchup for those who feel they’ve fallen behind.  

We also have a YouTube channel which hosts bite-sized learning videos on a wide range of subjects including our globally popular '60 Second Adventures' in subjects such as philosophy, economics, astronomy and religion.

You can also enjoy our free eBooks on Google Play and Amazon Kindle.

Schools will always be the best place for children to learn, but there can be a role for other bodies to complement and support our teachers and parents in a way that works for them.

But if contingency planning means that longer-term online provision is part of our forward approach, it needs to be carefully planned taking account of the right pedological approaches, teaching strategies, quality production and infrastructure.

At the OU with 50 years of experience of delivering online education and a social mission to make it accessible to everyone, we are hugely committed to supporting Scotland’s learners at all levels and are ready to play our part.

OpenLearn includes OpenLearn Schools Resources. OpenLearn is on YouTube and you can also search for Open University on Google Play or Amazon Kindle.

The deadline to register for The OU in Scotland's Young Applicants in Schools Scheme this year is 4 September.

This blog was originally published by The Sunday Times.

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