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Educators share key lessons on shift to e-learning

University heads from the Philippines and Australia shared their school’s experience in online education in the second ABAC PH virtual forum entitled “From Physical to Virtual Schools: The Education Sector Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic”, held last August 13.

De La Salle College of St. Benilde President Br. Edmundo Fernandez and Melbourne-based RMIT University Executive Dean Peter Ryan discussed the remote learning strategies deployed in their institutions and suggested ways on how the education sector can maximize online learning.

In response to the pandemic, St. Benilde went full online but with “relaxed requirements”. “We mandated revision of requirements into one final submission based on learning outcomes. Some decided just one paper, some decided on one project,” according to Br. Fernandez. This system gave their faculty more leeway in conducting their online classes, which are more asynchronous (not real-time).

St. Benilde also implemented the “Benilde Online Learning Term” in July and replaced the 3rd term in their school calendar. This was aimed at helping their students and educators transition to 1st term beginning September. “It was voluntary. We conducted a survey on readiness around April. So the pandemic was new, and we’re reeling from the shock of it. We realized that only 25% to 30% of our population were ready for online, and that was the reason we decided to keep it voluntary,” Br. Fernandez said.

RMIT University, on the other hand, were forced to suspend all traditional classes in campus in March in the wake of COVID-19. The school had to rapidly shift their classes online, along with their management and administration process. “Within one week, we went from 90% campus-based to 99% online. And we did that because most of our programs were already allocated to Canvas,” Mr. Ryan said. Canvas is a web-based learning management system.

RMIT offers a range of programs in its vocational schools that are taught “90% face-to-face” such as nursing, engineering, and dentistry. Due to the practical and hands-on nature of these courses, the school faced challenges on how to deliver these programs under a COVID-19 situation. According to Mr. Ryan, students enrolled in nursing, for example, had to return to campus to complete practical assessments that could not be accomplished online. The physical set-up, however, was impacted significantly due to social distancing.

“Most of our nursing classes have now gone from around 15 students to around 4 to 5 in area. As you can imagine, it has significant impact on the number of students you make, the number of facilities and space you need, and also the number of teachers you need. The shortage of teachers is probably going to be one of the biggest issues because of distancing,” Mr. Ryan emphasized.

Over the course of the discussion, Br. Fernandez and Mr. Ryan shared their key insights from their experience in adapting their education approaches:

  • Learning management systems (LMS) is the foundation of virtual education. These are online tools that are crucial for educational institutions to successfully deliver lessons and assessments in a virtual learning environment. A good LMS, according to Br. Fernandez, should allow uploading of content, embedding of videos, discussion in forums, conduct of assignments quizzes and tests; and must have a grading management system. It must also be integrated to other systems such as Student Information System, Library System, etc.
  • Support mechanisms must be available as educators transition online. To help in the delivery and enhancement of learning materials, Mr. Ryan noted that mentoring, collaboration with teaching staff in schools, guidance in materials, templates and videos; broad range of professional development options are readily available for their mentors.
  • Review and reassessment of programs are crucial. Both speakers noted that courses in their program underwent review – which included what could be and could not be delivered in the new context. These led to development of course-specific action plans and possibilities for personalized approaches to pedagogy. 
  • Feedback mechanism is critical to the improvement in quality of online learning. The months after the COVID-19 got into full swing are a huge learning experience. Br. Fernandez and Mr. Ryan that there should be a regular feedback mechanism among all sectors, which include teachers, students, and even industry.
  • “We need to be kinder to each other to survive this journey.” The speakers emphasized that the shift to e-learning is “not a sprint”, but a “marathon”. There must be cohesive collaboration with regulators and policymakers to have a holistic approach to developing an education strategy.
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ABAC PH, ABAC PH Forum, education