Coronavirus has forced colleges into unchartered territory, with online learning integral to further education, not optional. Our main focus at Wolverhampton College has been to support students and staff during this tricky time, resulting in some surprising cultural shifts...
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, it was clear that staff would need the right digital skills to deliver online learning, and that they’d need to get to grips with them fast. Since campuses have closed, we’ve found that staff are embracing e-learning technologies like never before. They’ve gained huge amounts of confidence, and students are notably impressed, too.
That’s not to say that the process hasn’t been challenging, it has - and we’ve had a few stumbling blocks along the way. On 3 April, we had 496 classrooms actively running on Google Classroom and more on Moodle. That’s something I never thought I’d see.
I can, hand on heart, say that the success of the transition has been down to three things: staff have been given the time and support to upskill; the IT department was backed-up by senior management to implement the change smoothly; and, of course, the crisis has given staff that extra push to be brave and embrace technology.
Where did we start?
Week commencing 9 March, the IT manager and I knew that we had a week (at most) to decide which platforms would work best to provide resources to learners and deliver live face-to-face teaching too. Before Covid-19, 70% of our learners accessed their resources via Moodle, while the other 30% where on Google Classroom, and all staff use Office 365.
We decided on Office 365 for staff, with Teams as the central place for communication, collaboration and also live face-to-face meeting with staff and students. Staff would create a Teams meeting and post the link on the college virtual learning environments (VLEs) Google Classroom or Moodle.
We planned that students would demonstrate their knowledge through a variety of edtech tools such as Google and Microsoft quizzes, Flipgrid videos, and that assignments and worksheets would be received and marked via Google Classroom and Moodle.
During the second week, training began in full force. Firstly, we ensured staff had the right resources at home, from wifi to laptops. We trained staff in person, helping them to quickly gain confidence, hosting roleplay meetings and ironing out questions face-to-face.
On 25 March, all our campuses were in lockdown, and it was time for students to begin learning from home.
How we’ve supported staff
The transition to online teaching was understandably daunting for staff as the change was so abrupt and it happened during a time of such worry and uncertainty. There are several measures we put in place to protect staff wellbeing and to help them to get the most out of the situation:
- We have dedicated Teams groups for IT support and for staff wellbeing. Managers check in daily with staff to see how they’re getting on, in terms of their wellbeing, engagement and the technology. A culture of question-asking is encouraged
- Staff are helped to switch off, literally and metaphorically. During training they were shown how to turn off notifications, helping to separate work from home life
- The careful curation of college timetables further encourages a work-life balance, as we understand that many teachers are parents too, making teaching from home that bit more tricky
- Safeguarding for staff and students has always been incorporated into our online learning strategy, even before COVID-19, so staff record all one-to-one sessions with students. We’re also on-hand to answer any questions staff might have about protecting themselves and students online
Constantly learning and adapting
A primary concern of ours was engagement. Would students want to learn online? Would staff be comfortable delivering teaching this way? It turns out we needn’t have worried at all. Both have engaged with online learning exceptionally well, even enjoying the sociable element during the coronavirus lockdown.
We’re only a few weeks in, and there will be hurdles along the way. The important thing to remember is that we’re all new to this process, students included, so it’s a game of learning from mistakes and carrying on. Every bump in the road is an opportunity to improve our e-learning offer.
Thriving (as much as possible) in a time of crisis
Digital skills have always been at the forefront of my role. While we are working in an extremely challenging period, it’s been a joy to see staff given the time and support to upskill.
Once this is over and going forward, the hope is that we’ll adopt a blended approach, giving everyone a bit more flexibility when it comes to teaching and learning. It’s also been heartening to learn about what other colleges are doing during the COVID-19 crisis.
One thing’s for certain, we’re all in this together.