Virtual Learning

One School’s Journey toward Online Learning Amid a Pandemic Scare 

I started this blog post a few weeks ago… before virtual learning became a phrase that has dominated my personal and professional conversations.  Here is a look at one school’s journey towards virtual learning amid a pandemic scare.   

Riding around dusty New Delhi gave us a secondary reason to wear masks.

What started as an adventurous week-long trip to India for Chinese New Year was quickly derailed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China (now known as the COVID-19).  One day into the holiday, I was informed early that our school would be shut down for another two weeks and that we would need to prepare for online learning or virtual learning immediately following the holiday.  With nothing but my phone and iPad and my wonderful counterparts back in Shanghai, we got to work (all while I was technically on a break on doing tours all over India).   

Platforms for our teachers and students

Tools for Tech

First, we needed to organize the tools we needed for our staff.  Our teachers were spread out all over the world at this point and some were limited because they only had their mobile phones or tablets.  We created a document regarding the different resources for virtual learning, but we wanted something more dynamic and a way for teachers to ask questions in real-time.  The other tech coordinators and I decided to create campus-wide teams so that we could easily share resources and answer each other’s questions.   

Below were the deciding factors that went into our thought process and why we ultimately went with Microsoft Teams:  

  • Already used at school 
  • Multiple Formats/platforms (i.e. laptops, web-based, app-based) 
  • Collaborative Tools  
    • Sharing and editing files
    • Chats and conversations 
    • Video conferencing w/presentation or screen sharing options

Since we are based in China, using Microsoft Teams (MT) was an easy answer for us.  MT allows teachers to share resources, hold virtual meetings with presentation options, screencast, and chat with individuals within the organizations and be part of multiple teams. Another plus that we didn’t initially think of when deciding on using Teams was that multiple teams could be created to address different needs.  This was extremely helpful for teachers because we were able to create grade-level teams, all-campus teams, specialist teams, admin teams, and a virtual learning support team so they had specific places to ask questions and look at resources.   

While considering what tools we would use for staff, we had to simultaneously consider what platform we would use for our students. At the time we thought that virtual learning would only last for two weeks so we decided to stay within the platforms that we were already using to ease the transition for parents and for teachers.  For the lower school and the early childhood center, we decided to stay within Seesaw.  Seesaw is an online learning journal that we use as a digital portfolio and as a communication tool for parents. For the older students who were more independent, we stayed within the parameters of what was already used in school such as Microsoft OneNote for the grade 5 students.   

But first I needed to make sure that all teachers were able to get started.   

This included getting all of the teachers up to speed with technology.  Here are some things that helped my teachers be successful:  

Tools for Success!

  • Gather all subscriptions and passwords into one document and gave teachers multiple access points 
    • I posted them into the resource channel on our Virtual Learning Support team in Microsoft Teams 
    • I added them onto our campus Sharepoint 
    • I emailed or sent them via chats to specific teachers when asked 
  • Starting small
    • I suggested only 2-3 apps (seesaw, teams, screencasting initially so teachers (AND FAMILIES) weren’t overwhelmed.  As time went out, we slowly added more to our repertoire (Explain EverythingFlipgridPadlet).
  • Workshops and Resources
    • I started creating videos of the resources so teachers could learn at their own speed and refer to it if they needed more help 
    • I posted links within our Virtual Learning Support Team 
    • I scheduled virtual workshops with our teachers and recorded it so others could watch if they needed help 
  • Pushing In
    • Some teachers were nervous about hosting their first live lessons/creating meetings with classes on teams so I joined or led those lessons so teachers could see what this could look like  
    • I reviewed digital citizen lessons and virtual learning agreements to help students understand expectations 
Pushing into a Grade 4 Class on Microsoft Teams

Synchronous and Asynchronous Teaching and Learning

Online Teaching: Do This, Not That by Alison Yang is geared toward older students but some of the same ideas can be applied to younger grades. Tanya LeClair has another great infographic about this as well!

We started with asynchronous teaching as students and teachers were spread all over the world due to school closures immediately following our break.  We used Seesaw for asynchronous activities and teaching videos as students but we realized that it wasn’t enough as our virtual learning period grew longer.  We decided to move toward synchronous teaching by using Teams for live lessons.  While some teachers were wondering if one was better than the other, I think it’s good to have both asynchronous and synchronous learning because it allows for more differentiation opportunities.  It also depends on your student’s age.  Working with younger children, it was more difficult to host virtual meetups or live lessons/conferencing.  They’re not normally sitting in front of a tv for a long period of time and live lesson sessions don’t always lend itself to a natural flow of discussion – especially with students who are still at an age where they are still learning how to hold a back and forth conversation.  However, live lessons offer students time to see their teachers’ and peers’ faces and this is invaluable.  For many of our students, they were not allowed out of their homes while they were in China due to the virus.  This might be a rare opportunity for them to see, talk and hear from some friends.  Creating class teams has really proven useful for teachers when they are conducting small group meetings with students.  These kinds of lessons follow more in time with how things would work in real life.  Students can converse openly and have more attention from the teacher and this is beneficial for both student and teacher.  Teaching from home is a new experience for most teachers and it was a huge learning curve for many of us but this chart highlights many of the do’s and don’t we have learned along the way.  If you’re looking for more help, join this community on Facebook: Educator Temporary School Closure for Online Learning and get these resources from Common Sense Media. I hope it can help you on your journey!  

I created these virtual learning agreements when to help students and teachers to start their live lessons. I still need some practice with including the creative commons licenses but this is what I made for our teachers.