An Odyssey from Classroom Teaching to Virtual Teaching at International Pioneers School
By: Alka Pandey
During the month of January this year, we started hearing about the coronavirus, which had originated in Wuhan, China and was spreading to a few countries during that initial period. As usual, news channels had started paying attention to this news about a novel virus and followed by social media escalating and speculating the news and
sensationalizing without anyone knowing all the facts about this novel virus. In the midst of coronavirus ordeal and state of confusion - parents, in general, had gone under extreme paranoia and they started sending messages, sending emails and calling the school, requesting us to close the school and asked us to move on to alternative modes of teaching and learning, despite all the precautions and preventive measures which had been undertaken by the school to keep our school community safe - students, staff and parents. Also, we invited one of our parents who works in the Ministry of Public Health - MoPH (Dr Rossaporn Kittiyaowamarn) to disseminate first-hand information based on facts and figures from the medical personnel working on the frontline but still, it wasn’t enough to reduce the parents anxiety. In the month of March, the spread intensity and infection numbers started increasing exponentially and coronavirus started its world domination and kept spreading in many other countries on different continents.
Finally, we received directives from The Ministry of Education of Thailand (MOE) and the Ministry of Public Health announcing the forced closure of all the international schools - Thai schools were already in their Summer Break. This announcement was inevitable as even the MOE was in a lot of pressure to announce the closure of
The moment the news about school closure was announced, our senior leadership team had to adopt wholesale online learning and we started preparing proactively for the inevitable. It was challenging, in the beginning, even though teachers and students at International Pioneers School (IPS) currently use the full range of Google applications from lower primary through to higher secondary classes (Year 2 to Year 13). Teaching in class using technology and giving some online tasks to students is far apart from engaging students completely online for five to six hours - wasn’t a joke. Despite initial struggles and difficulties IPS community adapted to online teaching and learning quite quickly since we have already been using the G-Suite for Education (Google) actively
for several years, though never so extensively.
Even before we received the formal announcement for school closure from the authorities on the 15th March 2020, our Senior Leadership Team worked on solutions on how online teaching can be done effectively and efficiently so the students’ learning can continue in this challenging time. The very next day, training on how to set up virtual classes using Google Meet was conducted by our tech-savvy Assistant Principal Michael Braun for teachers and trial sessions were run to ensure that all our teachers were confident and proficient in using this teaching and learning tool. The rest of the school’s leadership team including our middle management were ready to assist the teachers encountering any technical or methodological issues. After a few days of online teaching, we fixed all the possible hitches and glitches based on our students, teachers and parents’ feedback. Our online programme allows for flexibility, keeping in mind the various unique situations of working parents as well as families who are unable to support their children because of the language barrier and different home
Our focus is on making sure that the students are disciplined and responsible, and that learning is not hampered in light of this exceptional situation. Each student is attending classes as they would on a normal school day, except that they are not physically present in school. The students need to have a sense of responsibility so that they are still mentally present in school while being at home. They should be able to survive this unprecedented, temporary situation and be better prepared and thrive in this sort of learning and future situations, online learning is here to stay.
For the past many years, IPS has been using the Google Suite for Education as it provides a wide range of tools for effective teaching, learning, sharing and editing. In particular, IPS teachers and students are well trained to use Google Classroom, Google Docs, Google Slides and Google Drive, which provide a great deal of flexibility for
students to complete their tasks online as per their convenience within the timeline given by their teachers. Moreover, students receive their teachers’ constructive feedback to improve their work. Since our teachers and students were already comfortable with the Google platform, it was easier for us to add additional Google tools
including Google Hangouts and Google Meet to make online teaching interactive and more effective. To make learning more fun, IPS uses educational video hosted on YouTube as well as Pearson and Cambridge Online learning resources.
Apart from the Google apps, we have been using a range of other online resources to complement our lessons, e.g. Seneca, Khan Academy, YouTube, Noredink and Newsela.
Fitness and staying healthy
To make online learning fun, our students are taught using the normal school timetable without missing any core or foundation subjects, including Physical Education (PE). Students are taught fitness lessons regularly, where dance, aerobics, yoga and meditation are common features. All classes are conducted virtually for the complete duration of the class period.
Wellness and mental well-being
Physical, Social and Health Education (PSHE) is one of the subjects where students are continuously guided and counselled by our school counsellors. Also, Career Counselling is conducted regularly for high school students aiming for university admissions in Thailand and abroad to lessen the students and parents” anxiety and
How do we ease the burden of working parents without them getting much
involved in their child’s online learning?
Many of our teachers are also parents, so we understand how stressful this a new situation can be for working parents. Therefore, IPS has shared clear guidelines for students, parents and teachers to follow during online learning. For example, teachers of younger students particularly, deliver as many live sessions as possible so that they can work directly with their students without placing the burden on the parents to go through the academic material and course content. Teachers are also required to record their live sessions on Google Meet so that students who could not attend or unable to follow the session can view it later at a more convenient time. Parents of kindergarten and lower primary students can easily keep track of the daily tasks using a live Google Doc that has been shared with them and is updated regularly. Older students who are expected to be more independent, receive their assignments via Google Classroom. Teachers regularly check in with their students to ensure they are on track. Moreover, communication is always open between the management, teachers and parents. Parents can contact the teachers individually by email, or contact the school through its
Facebook and Instagram pages or Line groups. Additionally, the IPS Parents’ Council (PCIPS) is doing an outstanding job exchanging ideas between parents and extending support when specific issues arise.
International Pioneers School e-learning facilities
As a school with a G Suite for Education domain, all our students and staff have Google accounts, which come with unlimited storage and access to all Google services such as Google Classroom, Google Docs and Gmail, which makes communication between students and teachers simple. Moreover, we took advantage of premium Google Meet features such as the ability to record online classes.
Differentiation and Special Educational Need (SEN) Inclusion
Teachers are using Google Meet sessions regularly, where they undertake their classes. Moreover, the online learning sessions are more individualized in nature, as all the students’ work needs to be checked and commented on after it is handed in.
Our counsellors are individually checking in with students to ensure their well-being, and our SEN (Special Education Need) coordinator regularly schedules sessions with students to support them.
Nonetheless, no matter how rigorous planning and preparation is done by teachers to engage the students and provide them meaningful lessons by adding a variety of online platforms to make the learning journey fun but in the end, virtual learning will never be able to beat the classroom teaching and learning. After all, Man (human) is a social animal - physical and social interactions are a must for students to have a happier,healthier and balanced learning experiences for now and for future.
International Pioneers School (IPS) is a progressive international school following British Curriculum and is accredited both locally and internationally by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges - WASC.