How we got our school online in 10 days
With the immanent lockdown staring us in the face at the end of March, just like all other schools in the country, we at Bryanston Parallel Medium (BPMS) had to consider our options in the interest of our learners’ academic year. Worried about the loss in teaching time, falling behind on the curriculum and the potential emotional impact on our learners, we investigated the options available as soon as the first case of COVID 19 was confirmed in South Africa.
We were lucky that we had within our community a parent employed by Microsoft. Marius Vorster and his wife, Anelise Taljaard, approached the school with a plan on how they could utilise the Microsoft Educational licenses that had been granted to the school some time ago to get the school online.
Once the school was presented with a plan for an accelerated rollout, we immediately assembled a team under the leadership of our Departmental Head for Intermediate and Senior phase, Annemie Nel. This team consisted of dedicated teachers and knowledgeable parents with one single goal: Get BPMS online before Easter Weekend. We achieved this goal within 10 days through sheer determination, long hours, hard work and, probably most importantly, the support of every parent, every learner, and every teacher. Our on-line school opened on Monday the 6th of April with all of our learners set up at home and ready to learn.
Did we get it right 100%? No, but in our planning we allowed for a learning phase whereby we could identify and address any issues as soon as they present themselves.
Why Microsoft Teams
Since our school is registered as an Educational Institution with Microsoft, we could issue learners and teachers with licenses without delay at no additional cost to the school.
The platform is set up with a clear differentiation between teachers and learners and a set of permissions that can be adjusted to suit the needs of the school.
It also allows for lessons to be recorded and stored, allowing learners to catch up should they not be able to join the classes live – no child left behind.
The platform furthermore allows for homework and assignments to be posted in the lesson ‘Channels’ for easy access by the learners.
Microsoft Teams can be accessed online in your internet browser or through the App (recommended). The Teams app works on Windows devices, iPads, Android tablets, Apple Macs, most smart phones and just about any device that can connect to the internet.
Proof of Concept
The project team assembled a group of learners and teachers to test the technology and the user experience by hosting a few test classes. This was a very important step in the process to determine whether this was a viable solution for our needs.
Realising that service providers were in short supply our project team took on the task of giving the teachers on-line training and to assist them in creating their classrooms and setting up test meetings between each other to get familiar with the technology. It was a very steep learning curve, but we were all working towards a common goal.
We decided to go live with all grades on the same day. The energy levels on the first day of the online classes can only be described as explosive. Of course, the learners took to exploring all the bells and whistles of this new platform and it was imperative for teachers to set out the rules early on in order to capture and keep their attention. As with every new toy, the learners soon got over the initial hype and settled into the new routine.
The feedback from the parents and learners were overwhelming! The learners took to the new way of learning remarkably quickly and it was clear from the start that the connection offered by this process was almost as valuable as the education itself. The platform allows for interaction, real-time presentation of visual aids, streaming of videos and so much more.
The technical support team had to be available the whole day. For the first two days this meant support of up to 4 classes at a time. By the third day we expanded the team so everyone could focus on 1 to 2 classes maximum.
The learners got to ‘chatting’ with each other almost as soon as they registered. It was to be expected but our team had to find a way to keep this from interfering with the lessons and sharing of information on the platform. One way to deal with this is to open a separate channel in the classrooms where learners can interact with each other under supervision.
A few minor issues showed that even this platform has its limitations but that with creativity and few well thought out policies it can be overcome.
Using live video burns data and we have to be sensitive to the restriction to connectivity that some learners have. All of our classes are conducted through sound and sharing of visual aids such as PowerPoint, Word, PDFs, Videos, etc.
It is important to understand the maturity of your target audience (learner), primary school vs. secondary school learners, even different grades. Grade 1 to 3 work differently with the technology to learners in grade 4 to 7.
- Choose the correct online platform for your needs and your budget
- Accept help from parents and the community to get this up and running
- Practice and be prepared to learn from each other
- Be prepared to make mistakes and to make adjustments
- Understand that everybody is working under stress – be kind to each other
- Allow the learners a bit of leeway in the beginning to test the boundaries
- Set the boundaries
- Have policies in place and communicate these to the parents
- Ask for help if you need it
- Trust everybody to do their best
- Have fun and celebrate your success
- Test combining the platform with other Apps like Kahoot for formal assessments
- Don’t communicate on various platforms. Teams allows for all communication to be in one place. Use it to post the homework, assignments, due dates etc. Don’t post some information on one platform and some on another, something will fall through the cracks.
- Don’t try to solve everything at once – this is a new world and we are all learning
- Once your school is using the platform with ease, expand the training to include on-line assignments, quizzes, assessments etc.
- Don’t expect to get it right on the first day
If you want to find out more about the Microsoft Education go to:
- Microsoft Education – https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/education/
- Making the transition to remote learning – https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/education/remote-learning
- How schools can ramp up remote learning programs quickly with Microsoft Teams – https://educationblog.microsoft.com/en-us/2020/03/how-schools-can-ramp-up-remote-learning-programs-quickly-with-microsoft-teams/