– Spokey Wheeler, Director and Head – Heritage International Xperiential School
Covid-19 had a volcanic impact on all of us: learners, parents, teachers and leaders. Overnight homes were transformed into classrooms and schools impelled into a virtual space. The shock waves of that eruption are forcing all of us to embrace a virtually real education world that is plagued by challenges but is rich in opportunity.
Within days, our students and families were living with online learning. The challenge for teachers after introducing emergency remote learning to ensure the continuity of their schooling was how to create a rich learning environment. Fortunately, at Heritage International Xperiential School (HIXS), we had already adopted a blended learning approach. Along with our investment in technology, this meant that before COVID erupted we were operating a learning management system that provided students and teachers with a virtual platform for learning.
The challenges faced by all students everywhere as they navigate this new world are immense – their flexibility and fortitude as they work out how to learn and to live afresh, in this virtual medium are remarkable.
- The absence of human interaction and social connectivity – the face-to-face school and social environment provided our children with the opportunity to engage with their classmates, and to sustain friendships outside of school contributing to their welfare and wellbeing. Today, many students find it challenging to sustain social interactions through the virtual mode.
- Adapting to a changed home environment as parents and their children work, study and play at home together.
- Getting used to the norms of learning in a virtual setting – establishing a daily routine, finding a quiet, undisturbed space for studying, keeping their systems on mute when participating in class, keeping their videos on, and learning how to be even more self-disciplined.
- The temptations of virtual distractions – the novelty of being connected online can distract children by prompting them to access other websites while attending their class.
- Impact on child’s health – while we monitor the number of hours our children are exposed to ‘screen time’, many children spend more hours outside of the ‘classroom’ engaging with their friends, playing games online, interacting on social media. Such extended hours of screen time can result in various physical problems such as frequent headaches, bad posture and eye strain. Essential family agreements on how to be virtually are important.
- Lack of physical exercise – with school occurring virtually and buildings and societies locked down, many children no longer have access to physical exercise in the sports grounds as they did before.
At HIXS, we have worked hard to mitigate these challenges. We now place an even greater emphasis on relationships. Virtual classes are conducted in small groups of 5-6 students so that there is deeper learning, more engagement, and greater participation from the students. This also gives teachers an opportunity to observe the students and understand any challenges they may be facing. Our youngest students meet their teacher with their parents for one-on-one each week. We are increasingly flipping lessons with carefully designed pre-learning tasks, creating break out spaces for small group learning, to augment rich discussions during the synchronous time. This is increasing student agency and facilitating greater ownership by students. Our Social-Emotional Learning curriculum which focuses on promoting student well-being actively encourages students to talk about themselves as they come to terms with this post COVID world. One-on-one teacher check-ins after class hours also enable students to discuss problems that they may be facing. For younger children, we begin the day with family yoga that promotes physical exercise and mindfulness. Regular breaks are woven into the class hours and children are encouraged to move away from the screen so that they get relief from screen time.
While Covid has posed many challenges, it has provided the school and its families with unexpected opportunities. Classes are becoming more meaningful with small group environments, utilising innovative technology to make classes more engaging, allowing more opportunities for differentiation and paving the way for a future of blended, anywhere learning. In my nightly conversations with parents what I also hear is that amongst all of the stresses many are rediscovering family time.
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