Su Temlett joins us for a special edition COVID-19 episode to outline how teachers can incorporate asynchronous learning into their teaching strategies, easing teacher difficulties and providing maximum value to students while operating under the new remote arrangements.
This episode brings us to the end of our first season of Atomi Brainwaves. Thank you for tuning in and if you'd like to get in touch about anything you have listened to be sure to send us an email or reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn. We will be returning for season 2 with brand new gusts, so be sure to keep an eye out for that!
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Hey everybody, thanks for tuning in to another episode of Atomi Brainwaves, our podcast on education for educators.
Brainwaves is produced by our wonderful team here at Atomi.
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It’s an online teaching and learning platform for secondary education. We provide engaging, curriculum-specific video and text lessons for over 190 subjects, as well as matching quizzes and exam practice that can be used for both learning and formative assessment.
We also provide powerful analytics that can help teachers diagnose how their students are progressing and zero-in on who might need a little extra help. Our goal is to help make life easier for our teachers, give them more time to work on the most important things and ultimately help to generate better outcomes. If you want to find out more about Atomi, head over to our main site at getatomi.com and feel free to try it out, for free.
Today’s episode is a special edition and comes as our response to the global pandemic caused by Corona Virus. Several schools have had full or partial closures due to Corona Virus scares, and we’d like to help where we can. If your school has to take drastic action, we extending complimentary access to our platform. This will provide teachers with an online library of curriculum-specific content and assessments to minimise any disruption to student learning.
If you’d like to explore this, don’t hesitate to email us here.
In the meantime, we’ve put together this special edition episode on using asynchronous learning during the lockdown. With the help of our resident teaching expert, Su, we explore different methods and resources for employing asynchronous learning and how to incorporate both asynchronous and synchronous elements into online teaching.
If that sounds good to you, make sure to prescribe to us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or whatever your platform choice is, and we’ll never say no to a quick five star review. For now, have a listen and enjoy.
Simon: Hello and welcome to another special edition Coronavirus episode of Atomi Brainwaves. I’m your host Simon and I’m joined today by our Resident Teaching Expert, Former Head of English, Digital Learning Leader for Curriculum and Pedagogy, and Director of Curriculum, Su. Hello Su.
Su: Hi Simon, how you doing?
Simon: I’m doing okay, still adapting to the home set up. We were just discussing the differences between how far along we are in Ireland versus in Australia, but it’s all pretty strange no matter where you are I guess.
Su: Yeah, I think adapting is the way that everybody’s going at the moment, yeah everything’s different.
Simon: Everything is different, it’s a...we’ll all be institutionalised by the end of the month, we won’t want to go back to the old ways with my, not quite positive take, but I guess hot take.
Su: I think in Australia cause obviously we’re going into autumn and winter, you can see...a bit more cosy on the couch in the evenings, we just changed the clocks so you feel like the nights are drawing in a little bit, but yeah in Ireland and the UK approaching summer, I’m sure you’re more just wanting to get out rather than stay in.
Simon: Yeah I was gonna say, it’s the exact opposite...been blazing sunshine here in Dublin for the last week which has been...looks so nice and I guess for the, I don’t know, 10 minutes when we’re allowed to run around avoiding everybody outside it’s nice, but that’s only gonna get worse and worse. But anyway, were not here to bemoan all of the issues with self-isolation, we are here to hopefully provide a little bit of help to teachers out there who are adjusting to the new strictures and systems around having to bring a lot of their learning online. We obviously had our first episode on how to deal with the new situation a couple of weeks ago. Now we are going to get a little bit more specific about what teachers can do by focussing on asynchronous learning. So right off the bat, I am going to ask you, put you in the hot seat, and ask you to explain to the listeners what exactly asynchronous learning is.
Su: Sure, well it’s quite different to synchronous learning that we would normally do in the classroom, so it is where you take most of the learning activities and you’re doing them on your own. So, I saw a nice phrase the other day, “That you’re learning together just not all at the same time”. So a synchronous model is where you’ve got students together in a classroom, you might have some homework, but mainly the teaching is in class. And if you think of that at one end of the scale, the teachers they might not obviously all be learning at exactly the same time, but the learning is being delivered at the same time. And then along the scale you’ve got blended learning, flip learning, and then at the furthest end of the scale would be this asynchronous learning. And really what you’re looking at there is students are given work to do, maybe videos of the teachers teaching or materials presented to them, but the kids mainly are able to complete the work when it suits them. So much more of a “do it on your own schedule, your own time”.
Simon: Yeah, I was gonna to say just listening to you explain it there, it did definitely call to mind a few of things that we’ve already discussed before just as a general idea, blended learning, flip learning but as you’re saying, it’s the extreme end of that scales, it’s taking those ideas and bringing them almost to the nth degree.
Su: Yeah, and you can certainly still do it in a face-to-face model if you were really collapsing the traditional structure of a classroom and putting more of your learning online and students doing say a mystery path through the learning, so they’re working through the material and doing as it as it suits their level of understanding, and the teacher sought of chipping and chiming in face-to-face when it suits. But what we’re looking at here obviously in response to the Corona Virus is that teachers are not having that face-to-face connection, or they might be having it in synchronous sessions but mainly the learning is asynchronous and they’re sort of working mostly by themselves with very limited individual supervision.
Simon: To bring us back away from the theory side of things and onto again what, as I say sparked this, the issue of what we’re dealing with at the moment, what teachers are dealing with at the moment, I wanted to kind of dive a little deeper with you into the increased importance of asynchronous learning in the current climate. Obviously teachers are being forced now to bring their learning online, the face-to-face classroom interaction is off the table, so specifically what does asynchronous learning bring, how does it help teachers and students operating onto the new strictures?
Su: Sure, well I don’t know how things are going over in Ireland, but just to sort of contextualise it over here, it seems that there’s been really two models adapted by schools at the moment in response to the Corona situation. One is a very synchronous model where the students and teachers are still following what’s a very typical timetable even down to, I’ve seen some schools they take rollcall at sort of the normal school day maybe 8:30 in the morning, kids are dressed in school uniform, and a lot of the sessions are delivered in a webinar format through Zoom or some other platform and they’re very much forward facing teacher to student facing in a synchronous design for however long that classroom period would have been. Kids are told to mainly stick to the normal breaks of the school day and the lunchtimes, that sort of thing. And it’s very much like the computer has been a substitute for the face-to-face interaction. So that’s one model that a lot of schools have looked at. And then the other model is the asynchronous model where maybe at the beginning of the week teachers are releasing the work for that week and either like a matrix that goes with it of the activities that kids need to do during the week, maybe some sessions where the teachers will be available for synchronous sessions, but mainly the work is set and kids are sort of navigating through it when it suits them, which could be like 5:00 in the evening or it could be their normal school day, depending on their situation.
Simon: I certainly know my timetable has definitely been affected by everything that’s going on. It’s almost impossible for it not to be, so just hearing that it makes perfect sense.
Su: Well yeah and I think with asynchronous there’s quite a few reasons for it being a model that’s quite a good one in terms, if you’ve got students at home and you’ve got parents working at home, if you’ve only got certain bounds with your internet and say you’ve got parents who are having themselves synchronous sessions with their work, they’ve got to Zoom in for meetings, they might even be conducting training, like I’m doing sort of Zoom training during the day, and you might have kids with only one device. If you’ve got three kids at home and one device, it’s kind of impossible to do asynchronous learning for all of them if you’ve not got that sort of access to the internet as well. So I think the asynchronous model is increasingly becoming popular because the demands on the parents to sort of hold a normal school day, the demands on the technology and all of that sort of stuff is also proving quite difficulty. And then as you say, we’re all adapting to a very difficult situation and I think within that, as we adapt to that, things do change. So I know my kid is 6, he’s been set work from his school, they use a platform called Seesaw which is a really awesome little communication and two-way communication tool. But because of my work schedule, we often start his work about 3:30-4:00 o’clock which is the end of the school day, and it’s the next day when his teacher checks the work, but that’s how it works for us, I can’t sit with him and help him until my day has calmed down a bit so I’m kind of grateful that we’re not doing synchronous learning with my child because I don’t know how I’d do it.
Simon: Yeah, well I guess what’s really coming across there is a big advantage of asynchronous learning is the flexibility it affords in a time where we’re being forced to be flexible. There isn’t really a choice element to it, everyone has to accept that the situation is different and what asynchronous learning brings is I guess a wider scope to adapt and be versatile with the situation. Would that be fair to say?
Su: Yeah I think so, and that’s why it’s sort of reminding you of the models that we’ve talked about such as personalised learning and things like blended learning to its furthest degree of actually the kids having control over the pace and place and time, and I think that model is what we’re looking at here more so, and I get that it’s going to vary with age group, hopefully you would be expecting a high school student to be much more responsible for their learning than say primary age group, but I think that that recognition that things are very different and parents have been massively thrown in the deep end and kids adapting, their mental health is worrying at the moment as well, everyone’s adapting so having a little bit less pressure I think to always be online for a certain time and being present for synchronous learning all day, I think is kind of like a valuable approach at the moment.
Simon: Yeah definitely and certainly I guess hearing you talk about it there and that difference between older students, younger students, it’s immediately obvious to see the benefits to a student in the situation that we’re in now, all of the factors that you talked about to do with competing voices for the internet at home and all the rest. When we talk about from the teacher perspective for a moment though, just to almost play devil’s advocate here, if you’re a teacher who is only ever known I guess that more synchronous style of teaching within the classroom and they’re having now to, they’re already learning to adapt to having to hold classrooms online and shift all of their learning there, that obviously is an overwhelming challenge. It’s very difficult to deal with and then bringing in asynchronous as this whole new method on top of that, can definitely I would say seem quite overwhelming for teachers. So within that context of asynchronous versus synchronous for a teacher in that situation, you know, what would say to a teacher who is in that position, to what extent can they marry both sides, what’s an easy pathway for them to learn as they go, because it really is learning as you go, to adopt these asynchronous methods which maybe they would not have ever used before?
Su: Well I think either way is quite scary if you’ve not used either before, because holding a synchronous lesson where you got say 30 kids zooming in or whatever, that’s pretty frightening to work out that technology and now you’ve got kids who can do multiple faces. I saw Snapchat had put like a face overlay that kids can use, I’ve seen people in the office use them, various different faces...
Simon: Not just kids!
Su: No, various different faces...
Simon: It would be so much easier if we were able to...kids...it’s all of us...
Su: I saw a colleague in a meeting becoming different animals throughout the meeting which...
Simon: Which I’m sure was brilliant for productivity!
Su: It was terrible. But say you’ve got 25 students all doing things like that, it’s not like you’ve got any of the normal school comebacks of any punitive measures you might take at school, because what are you going to do at the moment? I think the synchronous method is also pretty scary and on top of that you’re trying to deliver a class whilst monitoring what can be internal chat, live chat, video faces, people talking, so I think in many ways if you don’t need to use a live webinar and you can do your lessons through a short video recording, or a narrated PowerPoint, or something like that that can be accessed by students, does it have to be synchronous basically? I think in many ways that’s actually less frightening, and then you might have things like drop-in sessions where it is a webinar or you might have particular teams of kids that you taught together. Like Microsoft Teams has been quite popularly deployed across high schools and primary schools and that often has a lower number than Zoom, and the idea that I’d do there is like I’d have groups of kids, take 24 kids, split them into groups of 6, and talk to 6 at a time, and maybe group them by ability or understanding or however you want to do it, but I think managing a smaller number is a lot less frightening than doing a webinar with 25, particularly if they have that ability to use some creative tools it can be very challenging.
Simon: Really, even just thinking about it is bringing me out in a cold sweat having to control a group of 25 little faces on a screen in front of you, it must just be the most daunting thing. So I guess it’s the perfect counterpoint that even if you’re used to standing up in front of a classroom, it’s an entirely different kettle of fish to do that.
Su: Well standing in front of a classroom you’ve got that, you’ve got your presence, you’ve got the consequences, you’ve got everything else normally at your disposal and if you haven’t got those things and if you couple that with being quite unfamiliar with the technology, I think it’s gonna be a very difficult experience. There’s a lady that I follow in the States called Kaitlyn Tucker and she’s like a blended learning guru, I’ve probably mentioned her before but I just really love her work and she put a post on the other day about three ways to use video conferencing, and her first point was brilliant which I thought was really first of all a question, “Does this have to be synchronous?, What’s my purpose of making this synchronous?”, and if it does then she sort of created this table of “Am I trying to hook a group into the learning, in which case make your short webinar by being a hook? If you’re trying to explain or model something, then it’s kind of like the “I do, we do, you do” approach and you can use kind of like shared tools like a Google document etc. to keep engagement going and things like that. Maybe it’s an assignment checking and reviewing for an assessment task, that’s a really good thing for a synchronous session because you do want all the kids to know and I think generally kids would be better behaved if it’s something to do with an assessment. But maybe it’s a present thing, so you might present for 3-5 minutes, pause and discuss, or that sort of thing. But she really tried to identify “Why are you doing a webinar?” and it can’t really fit in one of those categories then you’re probably best making a video and being able to do that asynchronously. And I thought that was really good.
Simon: Yeah definitely, it makes a lot of sense. And what I’m hearing in that and also in what you were saying before was that it was less, I guess would it be fair to say, it’s asynchronous versus synchronous thing or about using the two in tandem in an intelligent way?
Simon: There will of course have to be a time and a place, even in a circumstance like we’re in now, where that synchronous element of face-to-face element it has to occur but this idea of splitting into groups and using it in tandem with videos and all the rest kind of suggests it’s about picking and choosing how to match the two sides, asynchronous and synchronous, in the right way.
Su: Yeah I think so because it would be a lot to lose if you never did anything synchronously because kids thrive off relationship and so do teachers, I’ve seen so many of my teacher friends at the moment, they’re just missing their kids. The schools are empty, they’re missing the main purpose for them to be there which is their love of their kids, their love of their subject, and the love of learning, so I think for everyone’s mental wellbeing, you’ve got to sustain some part of the synchronous discussion and time together, but to have that as their only thing is actually super hard for not only the kids sitting in front of the internet all day, maybe their family situation too, but also the teachers. If I was teaching at home now, like a lot of my friends are, and I’ve got Harry there who’s 6, I don’t know how I’d be able to sustain both if I was doing a 6 hour synchronous day. Like a lot of the teachers have got their kids at home, everyone’s in a different situation, so I think having predominantly asynchronous allows flexibility, it allows it to be more sustainable and better paced for a self-paced model for learning. It sorts out those equity issues for digital sort of skills and bound with and all that sort of stuff. And I think it takes the pressure off the teachers in some ways to be able to also design their learning in the times that they’re probably grabbing from their family and things like that to suit them too.
Simon: Yes of course, and what comes through there as well is of course that this is not, this situation is so far from ideal and nothing is going to be, as you say that face-to-face in the room, unfortunately nothing can perfectly emulate that but finding these solutions, marrying the different methods we have to find the best available solutions, the best that we can hope for and predominantly asynchronous, but with synchronous at the right time, sounds like the way to go. I’m just going to ask, we already touched on a few that have come up here and there, but I’m gonna ask if we can dive into just some real life examples of asynchronous learning with the idea being specific focus on practical methods the teachers can use in this current moment with the situation that they’re in now, just to get a few kind of...maybe for teachers out there who themselves are still figuring out how to deal with all of this...just to give them a few kind of grade...maybe even easily mastered methods for how to bring asynchronous learning into their classrooms. As I say, you’ve already touched on a few already, but if we could just get a few examples of those kind of outlines so the teachers can hear them and go actually “I can bring that into my day-to-day teaching”.
Su: Yeah sure, I think maybe we deal with those in three different areas. So you’ve got your learning materials, you’ve got the support for learning, and then you’ve got assessment and feedback.
So if we kind of block it around those ideas, I think with learning materials, your kids would already have a range of things that you have provided for them in past so this may be as normal as a printed out worksheet, like a booklet, it might be textbooks, it might be any sort of learning resource that you’ve already given them. If you’re a school that has say Google Classrooms or an LMS, then you can present your learning materials through those as well, so kind of using PDFs imbedded into any of those. If you really want to teach over a particular point and material, I think every teacher can identify in their program what are the real teachable moments they need to have, and for those I’d recommend something as simple as narrating over a PowerPoint. You can export that as video and that becomes something that kids can learn and work from. There’s free tools out there like Screencast-O-Matic where you can actually do a screen recording, you can have your face on that, or you can just have your voice. Anything like that where you are able to do that real teachable moment. You can record even through Zoom. And then leverage anything that’s already sort of open educational resources, so things like TED Talks, CARD Academy and stuff like that, there’s a lot of free things around. I know we’ve currently got an access platform during the COVIC emergency kind of thing as well, so there’s quite a few companies that are really trying to help teachers out at this point in time, so have a look at things that you can actually use to deliver content and then just try and I would try and make some sort of structure in how you’re going to deliver your learning materials so that you don’t have to think about it every time, and it becomes kind of like consistent for you and for the kids so that they know what to expect, so that might be like working in an LMS, that might be providing a page template, it might be that you always release the learning on a Monday and you’re gonna do a synchronous session Monday what would normally be Period 4, Wednesday Period 3, probably share on a timetable so they know when you’re available, that sort of thing. But I think sort of think of the first bracket learning materials and see what you’ve got at your fingertips already for that.
And then learning support I’d see this as where you’re actually encouraging the students to do things. So you’re supporting the learning. So this is like within Atomi, when we set lessons for kids, it becomes part of their “to do” list, so that becomes very much like that’s on their calendar that they have to do. And the same in an LMS, if you’re setting something with a deadline, you’ll get a “to do” list. I think there you can then have evidence of them completing tasks. If you’ve got things like forums and discussion posts and stuff, make sure that the kids have contributed, so maybe make things like discussions one mark to them as complete and not complete. And then have some time when you communicate and you can actually keep them up to date on their learning. And there’s a few things around communication in this kind of learning support piece that are worth mentioning. Most schools I think would have come up with some sort of policy now for how teachers and kids are going to communicate, particularly now that it is video communication. I’ve seen quite a few things over LinkedIn where school leaders have set expectations that kids cannot talk to their classmates and to their teacher from their bedrooms if at all possible, obviously, very much encouraging any parents listening to think through anything like that.
Simon: Just very quickly on that, the logic behind that, what would you say that is?
Su: It’s very much that that’s a personal space and very much like we want to steer away from anything like that in terms of the world of the internet can be quite awful in some ways, and we often protect our kids from that within the school environment. We’ve got, and any school will have an absolute plethora of Firewalls and everything like that to protect the kids when they are in schools. And obviously that’s not the same at home and some parents will or won’t have their own kind of security settings, etc. So you’re now in a brave new world of communication happening in the home in video learning and I think just the first few weeks that schools were using Zoom, there were so many instances of people, if their meetings were open meetings, of Zoom bombers became like a new phrase in our dialect, language.
Simon: Something I never heard of but I’ve definitely heard that phrase popping up here and there...
Su: And awful behaviour happening and so obviously it got very much...there was different security settings changed and that sort of thing, but this whole idea about some digital etiquette I think is just protecting both the teachers and the students, so it’s worthwhile checking out your school’s policy on this. And just personally, for example, I’d be much more comfortable talking to kids in groups, like having out of your class, you’ve got a small group maybe a tutorial sort of groups of 4 that you check in with, so if two don’t arrive, you’ve still got two to talk to, that kind of thing. I don’t think you can record every conversation that you have, but normally in a school when you’re having one-on-one conversations with a kid, there are people around and if you’re at all worried about any possibilities of allegations against you or anything like that then you’ve got a colleague with you or you have a chat in the open. So I think having chats just over a video where things might be able to be misconstrued or...I think teachers have to protect themselves and kids have to also be aware of this difference, and I think that nice expectation of not having conversations in bedrooms or sat on a bed. It may be, for example, their desks in their bedrooms and that’s not so bad, but curled up in bed having a conversation I think is not a goer.
Simon: It actually really does, as you explain it, make a lot of sense and this idea of digital etiquette, it’s almost a strange concept because it’s so new and it’s something that so many of us...even when I’m hearing it, it’s such a thing that would never have crossed my mind. It absolutely makes sense. It’s makeshift like everything at the moment but it does maintain that, I guess, the professionalism of it for want of a better word. Keeping that in place which of course is important because it is still the teacher to student...
Su: Yeah, it’s still a formal relationship and I think for any parents listening, the more that you can have sitting at the kitchen table for anything that is a synchronous session, by all means when it’s asynchronous let them be wherever they want, but I think for synchronous sessions it’s worthwhile kind of being a presence in that and making a thing of it. So I think that kind of under that basket of learning support, sort of checking in, particularly if you are doing an asynchronous model, you’ll have to work out when your check-ins are and what tool it is that you’re gonna do those check-ins with. If you’re using our platform, you’ll see things like quiz completion and that sort of stuff, and if you notice that the kid has not completed the last two quizzes, then that’s probably time to phone the parents and have a conversation around that. I wouldn’t let things linger as such. And then I think the other piece that is, I like the phrase earlier of “makeshift”, you know we’re all kind of thinking in a makeshift way, but I think the other thing to think about is assessment and feedback, and the way that we would typically do assessments is changed, it’s basically changed overnight. So I think thinking back to when I was Director of Curriculum, the last week of Term 1 would have been assessment week for Year 11 and 12, so the last two weeks, so these two weeks that we just finished. So a lot of that would have been timed responses in classes, not formal examinations cause, in New South Wales, you’re not allowed to do too many of those but sort of like a timed response in a class and obviously you can’t do that now. So how do you protect against plagiarism, how do you make sure it is the kids’ work, etc. So I think teachers are having to think very much on their feet as we look at this for Term 2. What are my assessments coming up? And how can I re-envisage them for the online space? And so I think some ways there is to lean on the tools that you’ve got. It might be that you need a synchronous session where you can see that the kids are doing their assessment, like set them the question and you’ve got this hour to complete it and you watch them type, that kind of thing. Or a quiz that you built in one of your platforms and you release it and they have 30 minutes to complete it, and then it’s done. You’re gonna have to think very differently about what the assessments look like for this term. You know, you might have to...
Simon: A continuous assessment is probably another thing that becomes more important than it already was.
Su: Yeah, well that’s where you do that support of learning to make sure that they are engaging with the content, they are sort of learning the steps they need to along the way. It’s difficult because obviously assessment schedules are already published and it takes a lot to redo those when you’re in that position in a school, but there’s gonna need to be some changes made because they just can’t be the same as what they were before this happened.
Simon: Of course, plenty of changes that need to be made but plenty of good suggestions on how they can be made. I’m sure there are plenty of people thankful to hear those and hopefully bring them into their own classroom. The last thing I was going to ask you about was resources, but I feel like you’ve almost already touched on them with the idea of learning materials and some great suggestions there. So I might fast-forward straight to Su’s hot tip which generally speaking, as regular listeners will know, is just a general piece of advice from the world of education but for this one given the nature of the episode, I might Su if your hot tip for the day could be perhaps a little more skewed towards the current situation and maybe a little bit of advice for teachers who are now being forced obviously to adapt and come up with these makeshift solutions and all the stresses and pressures and difficulties that that brings, what little bit...doesn’t even have to be serious, doesn’t even have to do with teaching...but any little advice you might have for teachers in this current moment?
Su: There are so many, I feel like I want four...
Simon: Well pick the best, choose the best.
Su: I think be kind on yourself and on your learners. There’s so much to adapt to right now in the middle of a global pandemic, if you’re not working at your best and feel stressed, and your kids feel stressed and it’s not the way you envisaged the year, just be kind to yourself and don’t make life overcomplicated. Keep it simple, look at your program and think what’s the absolute core of the things that need to be covered here, and take away some of those icing-on-the-cake activities and just sort of strip back what you need to do to its bare bones. This will pass and you can fill in some gaps if they occur, but I think just be kind to yourself. It’s a phenomenal job you’ve been thrown in to do to adapt to synchronous or asynchronous learning overnight, literally in a week for some schools and stuff, so just breathe and be kind to yourself.
Simon: It might sound simple but especially in a time like this where our face-to-face contact is limited and people can bring up all sorts of difficulties, it really is sound and safe advice so thank you for that.
Su: You’re doing a fantastic job teachers, just hear that loud and clear. So many people around the country, around every country, I think they’ve had a window into the life of a teacher which they’ve never had before and I think our importance is more than ever has been risen to the forefront.
Simon: Exactly, we can’t congratulate you face-to-face unfortunately but we are congratulating you virtually. Well that is all that we have time for on today’s episode, everybody out there look after yourselves and make sure you’re washing your hands, maintaining your social distance, following the advice that has been given and being kind to yourself and others most importantly. In the meantime, you can check out any other episodes we have up on whatever platform you are listening to this on, or check us out at our main site at getatomi.com. Until next time, it is goodbye from Su...
Su: Bye everyone.
Simon: And goodbye from me. See ya.