Education and the Virtual Transition

Russell Cailey
5 min readSep 28, 2020

It feels like we are a long way from John Dewey’s educational dream of learning-by-doing. How does an educational model based in the trenches of Google Hangouts and Zoom measure against Dewey’s vision of having the “child at the heart of every educational process?” Even with such questions to ponder, success stories are filtering through on forums such as LinkedIn and Medium of educators winning the day and smoothly transitioning into the new virtual frontier.

In the following paragraphs, there will be some reflections of Think Global School’s (TGS) journey. The focus will be on our adaptions in the virtual world with a specific emphasis on maintaining curriculum design initiatives, timetabling, and utilising project management systems & software. With virtual learning predicted until at least October conversations towards the lessons learned from this online experience will only become more rigorous.

A concept that underpins the TGS curriculum design philosophy and our mental schemes are something closely aligned to what Roger L. Martin called in The Innovation Catalysts, D2D thinking, or ‘Design for Delight’. Moving into the new August term, virtual sacred space will be kept free during the week for innovations within teacher-led modules and experiences. Innovations meticulously tracked will allow TGS cohort staff or innovation groups as a collective to see a significant breakthrough and then actively support student advisors to embed such findings into personal student projects where opportunities arise.

Educators must, even in the virtual space, be able to apply discovery methods to their design methodology. Staff must reinforce as stated as far back as 1970 by outspoken educationalist Mary Warnock in her manifesto A Common Policy for Education that what a child finds out for themselves is to be deemed as real and usable knowledge, while what they learn ‘parrot-fashion’ is not. As a collective, it is hoped that with students learning environment currently embedded within their home space, this familiarity with multiple tech devices continues to exist moving forward. Are we to sacrifice their newfound creativity with their educational tools, in a desire to return to normal? As an institution, we have been vitriolic in our support for a more tech integrated future for students, as this tech familiarity within the curriculum creates a smoother landing into a virtual space for our students.

Bluntly, seven or eight daily back-to-back Zoom calls with subject-specific teachers is a robust theatre of operations for students. Online students need to be trusted to thrive in open curriculum spaces within a timetable. With a focused Project-Based Learning curriculum, it has been much more comfortable to design a schedule that does not create Zoom-fatigue. At TGS both Monday and Tuesdays are dedicated to a community call, an advisor call and the rest of the time spent on personal and mastery projects (further requests can be arranged with Mentors if desired). Changing pace, Wednesday and Thursday’s are focused on teacher-led modules with Friday directed at mental health (the TGS Inside-Out Course) and academic writing (Advanced Placement: Capstone Program). If COVID19 concerns mean online learning continues into August and September, a solution for schools could be the collapsing numerous traditional individual courses and moving temporarily to a team teaching multi-disciplinary project model as a jumping-off point for the rest of the academic year. Meaning that firstly schools can temporarily trial PBL, and secondly, schools can implement a manageable student timetable and subsequent experiences.

For Think Global School (TGS) as I discussed on a recent podcast with Melbourne based consultants EduChange, at the heart of success has been a trusted project management system (Headrush) which allows staff and students to centralise student projects and workflow. Staff have complete buy-in to Headrush and it software stores all projects in a virtual warehouse, monitoring assessments, student learning targets, project tasks (set by themselves and educators) and logistics. Cutting back on emails sent by staff members prevents students from feeling overwhelmed. As schools close down for the summer and begin preparing for the new academic year, one of the top pieces of advice for any school leadership is to get students onto a suitable project management system.

Should technological freedom be maintained (TGS in Spain)

An educational tidal wave could be approaching, the emergence of COVID19 and the abandonment of mass testing means we could be standing on the brink of a revolution, or at least at the minimum a reimagining of our examination systems which have previously been stubbornly resistant to reform. Schools are not playing by the traditional rules anymore; sudden appearances in virtual spaces means that schools that were once outliers can jump ahead. Institutions can take risks and adopt high tech solutions that can help deliver quality learning experiences like never before.

Solving such obstacles as academic timetabling and trying to remain creative within educational virtual spaces is now especially urgent if the forthcoming term is going to be an improvement on the last. Recent articles by schools leaders have indicated that more adaptable curriculum models can move online more seamlessly. An example is San Francisco based Latitude High School with multimedia and technology integration already pre-built into their curriculum design model; students are all ready and prepared for COVID19 induced virtual spaces. Schools that fail to adapt to this new online world could find themselves becoming distanced from their students.

Are new innovative schools growing as centres of online expertise? If so, is their adaptability in devising quality student experiences the key to success? What is working at TGS isn’t the cookie-cutter solution for all schools, schools that are committed to an in-person methodology for an online reality should consider raising red flags. There have been many learning moments for TGS in this new virtual existence. Some of our learning will remain as part of our culture long after COVID19 is gone, simpler timetabling, multiple online forums, and designing dynamic virtual spaces.

Confidence at this midway point if only a possibility because of a strong commitment to the virtual systems that make learning coherent. There is also a realisation within the community culture that the online existence mus exist for the online reality, and not for anything else. We might never again be able to thrive in these new frontiers as we do now, it might be wise to design solutions, however painful in the short term, that can apply not just to this reality but to further lockdowns and shutdowns that await.



Russell Cailey

Managing Director of THINK Learning Studio | Curiosity Anywhere, Learning Everywhere.