During the month of March, as the COVID-19 outbreak took off in South Africa, the ALA community set out to implement remote learning for all students, enabling the continuation of the current academic year. As an educational institution, we had to ask ourselves: how can we ensure learning continues while prioritizing the health and safety of our students, staff and broader community during the COVID-19 outbreak?
ALA CEO and Co-founder, Chris Bradford says, “As with our students on their ALA journey, it is through challenging tests that we gain confidence in our understanding, discover our capabilities, and recognize new opportunities for learning and growth. Moving our teaching online challenges us to plan even more carefully to achieve our articulated standards, and the noise of the world around us forces renewed attention on the most important objectives and key results. I am confident that we will pass these tests, achieve these core objectives, and learn a great deal along the way.”
These are some ways that teachers are using online teaching methods to create engaging virtual classrooms during this period:
“One of the things the move to online classes revealed to me about ALA is the wonderful adaptability both the teachers and the students exhibited. They embraced the new challenge readily,” says Head of Mathematics, Demeke Wondmagegn. In his virtual classroom, Wondmagegn has made use of a ‘random name generator’ functionality to check for understanding in students without giving them the feeling of being picked on. “In addition, the use of Random Number Generators forces students to pay attention as they never know whom I would be calling on next.”
Writing and Rhetoric teacher, Ndhivhuwo Ndou, says online teaching has made her feel a deep sense of gratitude. “I’m so grateful for this experience. We are very privileged to be in a position to serve our school community during this time in a country where there are many schools without the necessary resources to continue learning.” Ndou is also making the most of the nifty Zoom features available to keep classes engaging. “Because time is money and attention span is even more important online, I’m always looking for ways to keep my class engaging. Breakout rooms are my favorite Zoom feature. They make me feel like I’m actually in the classroom. They are a great way to take a break after a lengthy lesson and have students manage themselves in smaller rooms. They are also fantastic for managing large group discussions more easily by breaking out into smaller groups.”
Maya Schkolne, another Writing & Rhetoric teacher, closes her classes with a simple check-in. “May I please see all your faces before you sign off?” she asks students. This simple question is an effective way to hold space and keep the class connected. Others like History teacher Jeremy Keen are using games like 30 Seconds to keep students on their virtual toes.
“We are the lucky ones,” says Lisa Simelane, Director of Teaching and Learning. “We are immensely privileged at this time. We have really talented teachers who are able to think creatively about teaching and learning within the constraints and opportunities of online space, and we have engaged and flexible students who have embraced this change wholeheartedly.”
When asked about their remote learning experiences, here are some of the responses from students:
Thaksheel Nirvaan Alleck ‘18 from Mauritius, who was appointed as the current Student Manager at ALA, worked with a team to provide extra academic support to all students during this pandemic. His words: “We decided to have a resource bank sent to the students, having remote tutoring sessions hosted by students, and constantly keeping all students up-to-date with current and community news was the best way to go about it”.
Obed Antwi-Baidoo ‘19 from Ghana says that he personally has found remote learning to be a lovely experience. With remote learning, he is able to prepare for classes easier and ahead of time, while not having to rush to class. “I have had several exciting moments in the sense that I can now cover a lot in a day. When the class feels slower, I take that time to revise the topic again or do some trial questions. This has even improved my academic performance in recent assessments.”
Shiba Kalpakovic ‘19 from Uganda, says, “Remote learning has been an experience worth having. Not only am I pushed to be in charge of my own learning but I am also grounded to envision the future of education. Having technical difficulties can be stressful and frustrating during a timeframe that you’re supposed to be learning. However reaching larger audiences no matter the distance is quite exciting and to think that regardless of tough situations, education still holds power. As a person who is passionate about education, I have definitely had a shift in mindset regarding how well the education sector can be designed to fit all types of students. And of course, excited about what is in for the future designers of education systems,”
Anannyabrata Mandal, 18 from Cote d’Ivoire, says, “The experience of taking online classes has been an entirely novel and exciting one for me. It certainly is an experience that I previously had not anticipated to undergo during high school. So, when the announcement was made that this will be our new medium of education, for now, I was eagerly anticipating this new style of having classes. In my opinion, it has also been a time-efficient method. The process of switching between different virtual ‘rooms’, while remaining in a comfortable location, has helped in maximizing the class-time, while also helping to dedicate energy mainly towards the comprehension of class discussions. Without a doubt, this has been a smart form of learning in the current condition.”
Mpho Montsho, ’18 from South Africa, says, “Remote learning allows students to practice one of ALA’s most famous traits, being autodidactic. It pushes students to be in control and responsible for their learning experience. Furthermore, Zoom as a platform allows students to engage with the teacher and still maintain much of that classroom culture. However, there are challenges, such as Wifi connectivity, sometimes the electricity trips while I’m in class and the lack of human contact and seeing my peers is something that has also hugely affected me. The fact that it is so easy to just not attend class, has really got me thinking about my own value system and what I choose to upload. I have in many ways reminded myself of my values and that true character is built when no one is watching.”
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