– Zeeba Shroff, IGCSE Coordinator and Faculty- Cambridge ICT
2020 emerged as one of the most difficult years ever in education. The extensive school closures occurred suddenly and forced schools across the world to adopt digital learning almost overnight, whether they were ready or not.
For schools in India, the pandemic accelerated the uptake of technology in education in a more systematic way. Yet while tech tools are better than ever, teachers and students still faced significant challenges in adopting online learning techniques and technologies.
At Bombay International School (BIS), teachers showed resilience in overcoming these challenges, and adopted technology and blended learning successfully to continue learning.
Challenges and issues
For many schools, this was the first time that digital platforms became stand-in classrooms. Suddenly teachers had to find appropriate online resources for daily classes, as well as innovative ways to teach practical subjects online and tools to measure progress. There were also concerns about mental health issues and loneliness amongst students because of the lack of interaction they were about to face.
At BIS, teachers had limited experience in teaching online, partly because they never imagined this scenario would happen. So, they were learning ‘on the job’ and soon realised that the quality of each online tool varied enormously.
There were also challenges for different subjects. Maths and sciences classes were more difficult to teach remotely than languages and humanities. Practicals for science classes and teaching graphs for maths were challenging. The allotted time for each subject was reduced to 1 hr 40 mins from 2.5 hrs per week to provide time for asynchronous tasks. There were some gaps in learning as students needed support to become independent in completing these tasks.
The online classroom environment also created other challenges for teachers. It was difficult for teachers to give one-on-one feedback and assess student understanding. When asked questions, some students would remain silent, and it was hard to gauge engagement levels in class.
The switch to remote learning was hard for students too. They missed social interaction, and frequently sought assurance and comfort from peers; however, this interaction was limited during online teaching. Students with learning difficulties were most affected due to this pandemic. It became difficult for them to navigate through this change in their learning styles. Suddenly, the onus for learning fell squarely on students’ shoulders. Lastly, familiarity with the use of technology tools and connectivity during class posed problems for students.
Adapting to change and learning fast
BIS has had an ongoing Instructional Coaching mode since 2018. When the school moved online, the focus shifted to virtual instruction and technology in the classroom. The first intervention which BIS put into place was organising professional development training sessions for teachers to ensure learning continuity. Training revolved around the tenets of ‘reflect’, ‘reimagine’ and ‘redefine’ to ensure student involvement and engagement. Under these tenets, teachers were trained to use technology for lesson planning, communication, sharing best practices and data tracking purposes.
To address some of the early transition issues, BIS modified its timetable for online classes and experimented with different platforms and tools such as Google Classroom, ManageBac, Nearpod and Kognity. They were introduced and teachers learned them swiftly so that they could make the online learning experience effective for students.
Teachers regularly carried out online surveys of virtual learning preferences for grades 9 and 10 to assess their understanding of different concepts. The surveys highlighted that students were becoming independent learners and were exploring new learning tools and opportunities. Teachers reviewed their online classes every week to ensure that their teaching practices improved. They also utilised the extensive resources on Cambridge International’s School Support Hub.
Support provided by Cambridge International who acted quickly to design a series of teacher professional development activities. They held regular webinars on topics such as how to teach online, how to support students with special educational needs, and how to maintain wellbeing. Cambridge International also arranged extra online training for teachers and provided additional online resources to support teachers and learners in the ‘Teaching and learning when school is closed’ area of its website.
To make up for the lost in-class teaching hours and delayed examinations, teachers at BIS introduced integrated projects on Covid-19 for four subjects: Maths, Biology, Cambridge Global Perspectives, and ICT. Students were divided into groups to work together on topics like artificial intelligence, data collection, technology and its impact on education, health, etc. and present their research for assessments.
Teachers used tools like Quizlet, EdPuzzle, Teachbacks, E-portfolios and Screencastify to help assess students’ understanding. They also held ‘open-book’ assessments for grade 9 students to prepare them for taking exams in timed conditions.
Looking ahead in 2021
Looking ahead to the benefits of online teaching, the school has started to consider integrating educational technology in their curriculum, rather than as a fall-back solution. Moreover, teachers are finding that technology has its advantages in ways which they hadn’t realised before, such as allowing for differentiated learning and flipped classrooms.