After months of disruption, governments around the world are encouraging their citizens to get back to business as usual. But in the education sector, it’s not that simple. Social distancing, remote learning and the use of masks in classrooms have all proved controversial. Whatsmore, teachers themselves are often caught between conflicting guidance.
To find out how classrooms around the world are adapting to the new normal, we asked three teachers to share their experiences of lockdown and how they’re now adapting to new challenges in the classroom.
Real Teachers Share their Experiences of the Crisis
It’s 7 am in Dubai and English teacher Leigh Pope is getting ready to begin class for the day.
“At the moment, we have 50% of the class physically present and 50% joining via video conference,” Leigh explains. “We teach wearing a mask and visor. It’s a safety precaution for those in the class but it can take the dynamism out of a lesson- children learn so much from facial expressions. For those on VC, the mask can muffle sound, which is also a challenge. We’re always looking for ways to liven up our lessons. Running polls, sharing videos and having students present their own work over web meeting have all been working well.”
In Cyprus, the story is different. As one of the safest countries in Europe, schools have reopened to all pupils. Jean-Marie Yhuel, Headmaster of the French-Cypriot School of Nicosia told us how his staff adapted during the crisis:
“Covid-19 has highlighted the professionalism and flexibility of our teachers! They had to completely review their way of working, switch to remote working and find ways to capture students attention when there are other distractions at home. They have also learned to work with parents as “spectators” beside their children. However, returning to school in September has highlighted how important social learning is. Children learn from contact with each other and their teachers- remote platforms need to mimic this where possible.”
The experience of Cypriot pupils stands in stark contrast to pupils in the UK where the COVID infection rate is continuing to rise. Local lockdowns are also in force. “We’ve got students coming in full time at the moment,” Tom Jenkins, a Maths Teacher from Yorkshire told us. “It’s been a great opportunity to get back on track after extended summer. However, the prospect of another lockdown is looming so we’ve got to be ready to take classes online again at any moment. It can be quite distracting for pupils who have to constantly adapt to the changes.”
Adapting Education to the New Normal
Speaking to teachers, two things become immediately clear. The first is that remote technologies have been adopted as a quick fix. Often there’s a blend of virtual and classroom learning. This is creating a feeling that social interaction is being lost.
In part, this may be because teachers are new to distance learning and the approach to leadership and lesson planning it requires. With training from vendors and IT partners, teachers can learn how communications software can replicate that interaction virtually.
Steven March, ICT Manager at Unity College partnered with Murray Computer & Office Shop to roll out their 3CX solution. Staff training was included in their onboarding from day 1. We asked Stephen how staff are using the system 3 months after implementation:
“3CX is ideal as it allows the teacher to control chat, microphones and webcams and enable/disable them when needed. The option to fall back to a voice connection has also been useful for students in remote areas with poor internet connectivity. We installed the 3CX softphone on all our teacher’s laptops. Now they can communicate with peers and parents, even if they’re teaching remotely, without exposing their personal mobile phone.”
The importance of structure
Our second take away is the challenge posted by structuring virtual classrooms. Often pupils are in mixed ability classes or classes need to be available both on and offline. This needs to be taken into account when creating a virtual learning environment.
If we support teachers during the structuring process, online lessons are focused and provide an environment conducive to learning. For example, using 3CX’s Office 365 integration teachers can view their class schedule directly from their calendar. Webinars can be organized simultaneously enabling classes to be split by ability. Using an integrated calendar also highlights space available for other activities, such as parent feedback and office hours.
Frank Gleichman, Director of Employment-Relationship Studies at Gymnasium Bad Königshofen shared how organising classes with 3CX Web meeting benefitted his students:
“In the midst of the crisis caused by the closure of our school; 3CX offered us an immediate online teaching solution. We created 3CX webinars schedules for 650 students who follow 25 different classes. As a result, our students were adequately prepared for the end of year exams.”
3CX Partners can support education providers by providing in-depth training that highlights the full capabilities of 3CX and by helping teachers to structure their new timetables. As today marks World Teacher Day, let’s support the incredible work our Teachers have and continue to do during the COVID-19 crisis.