Beijing government’s first pollution red alert saw many international schools closing their facilities. As schools clarified their positions, parents were informed about developments late last night. Despite the closure of the physical facilities, learning in most schools continues on schedule through virtual learning facilities.
Beijing City International School (BCIS)‘s writer, editor and media relations coordinator, Thomas Longrigg said that the school uses ManageBac, Edublogs, and Wiki to share learning materials. Each subject teacher uploads the work they were going to teach today to the various platforms. The platforms used depend on the ages of the students. These platforms are only accessible by the students, teachers, and parents at each school.
The digital platforms use the turnkey system where the end user gets a system that’s ready to use and totally customized for them. These systems are web-based applications that need an internet connection and an up-to-date browser. Not all international schools use the same e-learning platforms as BCIS. Dulwich College Beijing, for instance, uses Studywiz but the process is the same; the teacher uploads the materials then the student logs in, works on the assignment, and can optionally participate in an online discussion, depending on the class.
We spoke to Harrow International School Beijing‘s assistant head of upper school, Barbara Justham on their digital platform.
What’s the school policy on long distance learning during school closures?
One of the traits that we continually seek to develop in our students at Harrow is independent learning. While school closures are avoided whenever possible – this is the first day we have shut in the eight years I have spent here – they do provide an opportunity to take our investment in students’ independent learning skills to another level. Of course this is tailored to the age of the students as they progress through the school. For example, I teach a group of accelerated students who are preparing for IGCSEs in just one year. The course moves very quickly and we plan our program of study very carefully in advance. My students all know the topics they are studying each week as well as the learning skills that we will be working on – our Behavior for Learning program – from the very start of the course; this means they can prepare for classes by reading ahead and learning new vocabulary in advance. Last night when I learned we could not open today I posted an assignment onto our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) directing them to the material they need to cover today using their textbooks, examination specification and the resources already available to them online on the VLE. They know I am available on email if they need any help. In this way I am confident that the learning of the students will not be interrupted despite today’s Red AQI status.
What digital platform does Harrow Beijing use for e-learning?
Our VLE makes use of an open source platform called moodle, which is widely used by universities and schools around the world. It is an integral part of our learning and teaching – not just on school closure days! The GCSE class I teach can access materials that have been personalized for their specific learning needs on every topic from the course any time, allowing them to read ahead or to revise. I upload all the powerpoints and other resources I use in class and link them to other websites or articles that they may find useful; their homework is also posted on the site each week so they don’t fall behind if they miss a class for some reason. We have categorized all past examination questions and answers so students can practise their exam technique and the site also allows us to host quizzes, glossaries and a host of other activities – even games to help students learn key points. One of the key features I very much appreciate is that the students can also contribute – my class have recently started posting questions and explaining them to each other, and sharing resources they have found for revision. Because this takes place on our own forum I can correct any misconceptions that arise and help the group to move forward in their understanding. Overall the site allows students to personalize their learning, accessing the resources that they need the most. E-learning is not just for school closures – this is a regular part of the experience we provide and I would not be without it!
How does the e-learning platform work?
Students are given a username and password for the site when they enroll in the school and can then choose to enroll themselves in as many courses as they like. The main use is to support curriculum subjects, but we also have areas of the site that promote aspects of our Leadership in Action program such as Enrichment Activities. For example, students who wanted to audition for this term’s Poetry Night could choose to submit an audio file through the VLE if they preferred this to a formal audition. We also use it to promote whole school events such as Book Week and the Shakespeare Festival. The VLE is a very flexible platform – each teacher finds their own unique way to use it and it can be adapted for the needs of each class. Once again this personalization of learning is really at the heart of the Harrow experience and we use all the tools available to us – including e-learning – to help each student progress in the way that’s best for them.
Wednesday will see most international schools closed, or open only to students whose parents cannot make other childcare arrangements. At home or at school, technology has become a crucial component in education, and a godsend for schools, teachers, and students in situations such as these.
Photos: Screen Shot and sullivank12.net