Zooms, Looms and Google Classrooms. Seesaw, Aladdin, Dojo and YouTube tutorials. They're just some of the many ways that primary students are learning remotely. And just like the platforms being used, the amount of live and pre-recorded lessons students are receiving varies widely.

Some parents, particularly those who are receiving limited or no live interactions with their schools, are calling for more.

Among them is Sinead Cosgrave and her husband who live in Dublin and both work in the health sector.

The Cosgrave family

Their daughter, who is in First Class, has had one live engagement with her school since remote learning began last month while her son, who is in Fifth Class, has had none.

While Sinead is happy with the work that's being assigned and the feedback her children are receiving from their schools, she feels they could really benefit from some live interaction with their teachers.

"I think with the live classes there is much more interaction. They'd be more motivated and obviously the teacher understands the curriculum, much better. I think children do learn by interacting with each other as well as with the teacher."

Sinead said she would like to see daily 20-30 minute classes, in particular for subjects like Maths and Irish, where she admits she is struggling to help her children with their work.

"If they could maybe concentrate on things that parents would find difficult to help with a home. I mean they've managed to redesign maths. It's new maths I've never learned. And you do feel they are giving you the curriculum to do and you feel if you don't get it on, you risk that when your child goes back, they'll be behind. There's a reason I was never a teacher, they have a tough job."

But other parents feel they are receiving more than enough work and live engagement.

"They're losing interest in this as the weeks go on, it's getting harder and harder to keep them engaged and to keep them interested."

Elaine and Paul Stacey from Dublin are the parents of five boys under the age of 10.

The Stacey family

The four school-going children receive two 30-minute Zoom sessions each a week and the rest of their work is assigned via the Seesaw app.  

They say they have to focus on core subjects as, with five children at the table and both parents working, they say life at the moment is hectic and exhausting

"We find that that the school are making a very good effort in what they're doing, but we find that we're not really able to keep up with the pace of the curriculum or the teaching that's going on.

"So we're constantly trying to scramble to keep up with various activities, and we have to be very selective what we do. We're not keeping up to be honest. So we wouldn't be those parents who are calling for more. We would be happy with less."

The Stacey boys hard at work

The couple also don't believe they will be able to sustain the work for another four or five weeks.

"I'd say we're slowing down. And we probably will grind to a halt. They're losing interest in this as the weeks go on, it's getting harder and harder to keep them engaged and to keep them interested.

"They're good, they try their best, but unless they have somebody beside them, kind of coaxing them along, we just don't have the capacity to do because we take turns and in how we manage it. There's never the two of us available to work our way around the table. And so they're slowly but surely, stepping back from engagement on it."

But the variety of approaches to remote learning at primary school has led to much debate and concern among parents about whether their children are receiving enough so called "live" lessons or interactions.

Some primary schools are holding several live classes a day for pupils, others are doing one or two live interactions a week which are mainly social gatherings of classes with their teachers and some are offering no live engagement at all.

In the latter case in particular, principals and teachers are coming under pressure to deliver more live lessons.

"Doing live lessons, effectively ensures that you don't reach all of your pupils."

But Simon Lewis, Principal of Carlow Educate Together primary school in Carlow town said doing live sessions means they don't reach all their students.

Simon Lewis says its live interactions have about 60-70% attendance

He said the school has about a 90% engagement rate with its pre-recorded sessions but its live interactions only have about 60-70% attendance.

"I would think, using a live online video isn't the best methodology for continuing the curriculum for a number of reasons, whether that's device poverty or whether that's just parents are working particular shifts and things like that. I think having a balance works for most people. The people who tend to be looking for more live online lessons may need them for different reasons.

"But what I ask them to think about is the children in the class can't do that. And my job really as a teacher, is to try and reach all my pupils, not just some of them. Our job is to follow the Department of Education guidelines and they're very consistent, that we continue the curriculum and reach all of our pupils. Doing live lessons, effectively ensures that you don't reach all of your pupils."

"There is no one size fits all. I think we think that live lectures or live classes are the panacea and they're not."

Aaron Purcell, who teaches Third Class at Rush National School in north Dublin, is delivering three digital lessons to his class daily either pre-recorded or live and a daily video conference via Google Classrooms.

He said it has been a steep learning curve but that he is glad to be engaging with his pupils.

Aaron Purcell, 3rd class teacher at Rush National School

"Every school is unique. And, you know, each school's context is different. There are pros and cons associated with live and recorded lessons. When you have a live lesson, there is that level of accountability, children being present and then with the recorded lessons you do have the facility to replay a lesson to pause or to rewind.

"It's great checking in with the class on a daily basis, listening to the children, hearing their news, what they've been up to, how they're negotiating this lockdown. But it's also great for them to be seeing their friends on screen on listening to their replies."

Aaron teaching on Google Classrooms

Ciara Reilly, Assistant Lecturer in Education in the Marion Institute said there is no gold standard when it comes to the delivery of remote learning for primary school pupils.

"I would be very slow to criticise any school for an approach that they're taking at the moment because each school knows their own school community best. There is no one size fits all. I think we think that live lectures or live classes are the panacea and they're not. There's no reason to think that pre-recorded or pre-organised content that is distributed is any less effective than live content delivery.

"Now I do think it would be advantageous if a school could make some effort for a child to see or hear a teacher's voice as regularly as possible. But I think it is not helpful to compare what one school is doing versus another school. A teacher or a school leader will make a decision based on the needs of all in the class. And while yes, your home may have access to multiple devices, and yes, your home might have good broadband, that may not be the case for every child in the class.

"And that's the approach that we have to take, we have to consider. Ultimately, we cannot replicate the school day in the home, it is utterly impossible. We can make every effort to try and supply the home with appropriate activities, resources and ideas for entertaining and amusing and supporting the child in their learning. But it is not the same so we can't compare both."

"If you visit any school in the country, walk down the corridor or stop at each of the classrooms, you will see a variety of approaches and experiences taking place within those classrooms. What we're seeing now is that variety is extending into the remote method."

Dr Enda Donlon is a lecturer in the school of STEM Education, Innovation and Global Studies at the DCU Institute of Education who specialises in digital learning.

He said while there is research on the delivery of digital education there is limited studies on emergency remote education which is what he says schools are currently engaged in. Dr Donolon says when it comes to the live lesson versus prepared material debate he said there is no magic solution.

"There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. So it's not necessarily that there is set literature saying that this is the secret sauce. This is the magic formula. And, I'm afraid that's fairly reflective of education in general. We'd all love to be able to find that magic formula, we'd love to be able to say this is the ideal, but we know that schools are different.

"We have seen the very positive beneficial learning interactions can occur through asynchronous methods. I think the most important thing to take from that is that just because it's not happening in a Zoom session does not in any way mean it's not educationally beneficial. In a house there might be a lot of pressure on the broadband, a lot of pressure on the devices.

"That approach means that people can get access to this at different times. It also means that when the work the student has completed is uploaded and the teacher gets a chance to give feedback on it, they are getting one to one feedback."

He said anecdotally, he believes that the delivery of online learning at primary level is going better than it did during the first lockdown and he says the different approaches being taken to it are a reflective of the reality of how education works.

"We're seeing a variety of approaches out there. That's not necessarily a bad thing. If you visit any school in the country, walk down the corridor or stop at each of the classrooms, you will see a variety of approaches and experiences taking place within those classrooms. What we're seeing now is that variety is extending into the remote method.

"It doesn't necessarily mean, one is better than the other. It means that schools and teachers are making choices around which approach they feel works better for them, based on a number of different circumstances, including knowledge of the pupils you're teaching, and what has worked best for them in a face-to-face environment and how we might think about translating that into a remote online environment scenario."

All agree that lessons will be learned from the second round of remote learning.

But the general hope is that this experience will not have to be drawn upon again.