St. Francis College of Education rollout Virtual Learning Platform amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

The world is adjusting to a new reality that was unimaginable three months ago. COVID-19 has altered every aspect of our lives, introducing abrupt changes to the way governments, businesses, and communities operate. Globally, we are already experiencing closures in schools and universities, postponements or even cancellations of conferences and other organised events, and social distancing.

Most governments around the world have temporarily closed educational institutions in an attempt to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has impacted education systems around the world, forcing more than 1.5 billion students out of schools and universities. The crisis offers an important reflection point for education leaders to question the status quo and explore new approaches for delivering quality education to millions of students.

In all cases, closures are placing unprecedented challenges on governments to ensure learning continuity, and on teachers, students and parents. To ensure a continuity in students’ learning, most governments are looking to find a solution in online education initiatives. Such initiatives may include the use of online synchronous communication and the design, delivery and assessment of online learning activities within a virtual learning environment of which St. Francis College of Education is no exception.

THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE VIRTUAL LEARNING PLATFORM

The College, as part of its strategy to commence the Second semester of 2019/2020 academic year effective Monday April 27, 2020 subscribed to the Google Classroom as its official virtual learning platform. Management in consultation with the students governing body agreed to adopt Google Classroom because of its unique accessibility characteristics. It allows instructors to create classes, post assignments, organize folder, video conferencing and view work in real-time. It is very easy to use and consumes less data as compared to other online platforms.

Management of the College took the appropriate steps to ensure that the implementation of the online learning was effective, efficient and effortless. In that regard, tools such as laptops and internet facilities as well as data were made available for tutors and support staff to see to the smooth implementation. A seven member Support Services Team has been formed to provide support services to tutors and students.

According to the online teaching timetable, a total of 55 class sessions are expected to take place per week with the entire students expected to participate in these class sessions.

 The Quality Assurance Unit as part of its mandate to assure quality of teaching and learning has been involved from the onset in capturing and processing data at each class session, culminating in the production of weekly report to management and the various supervisory bodies as a measure to inform policy in the implementation of the virtual platform environment.

Kudos to the IT staff who have been available to give technical support to tutors in the implementation of the online teaching.  Tutors and students had their share of experiences with the practice of the Google classroom.

THE TRAINING OF STAFF

Prior to the rollout of the virtual learning environment, tutors and support staff of the College took part in an online Certificate training programme in Online Design, Teaching and Learning organised by Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences in collaboration with T-TEL and NCTE.

This training course aimed to support teachers in their new role in online education, through the completion of 3-hour autonomous modules, where teachers were introduced to the most important elements of online learning.

Apart from the training and the learning activities that took place within each autonomous module, teachers had the opportunity to share questions, concerns, challenges, but also good practices related to effective online teaching. Personalized feedback and support were given to participants, ensuring a safe and open space of collaboration, co-creation and development.

CHALLENGES

Technical and operational challenges the College is facing with regards to the virtual learning in general, is unreliable internet connectivity. In particular, the College and students are facing the following challenges:

  1. Challenge with internet
  2. Lack of student’s participation
  3. Distractions from participants
  4. Lack of ICT tools
  5. High cost of data
  6. Inadequate use of digital media
  7. Readiness of participants to concentrate in sessions

Despite these challenges, tutors are using less challenging media platform like WhatsApp, Telegram, and Facebook etc, to communicate with students who are not able to join the online sessions or video conferencing.

RECOMMENDATION

The Country faces significant challenges in addressing the immediate and longer term effects of the pandemic on education systems. But the commitment of the College Council, Academic Board including staff and students, in finding new and innovative ways to deliver quality education should provide us all with a sense of hope. Crises showcase leadership. If the Colleges of Education can come together and learn from each other about new ways of providing quality education, it will emerge better equipped to help students thrive in a rapidly changing world.

St. Francis College of Education is poised for excellence in this endeavour.

Source: Franco Press

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