Embracing the new normal

At Jeppe’s Heads of Department (HODs) conference in November 2019 – an academic programme planning event – one of the agenda items was a decision to embrace Google Classrooms as part of the teaching programme going forward.

That’s according to the school’s deputy principal in charge of academics, Mrs Collette Rattray, who explains that although Jeppe had implemented the Google for Education suite some years before the uptake from the teachers was bitty. “We decided at that conference that, come the new year, the HODs would drive the process and we would encourage the teachers in our departments to start using the new technology more effectively,” she said.

They were still working on exactly how that would be done when the Covid-19 pandemic struck and the schools were closed down in March. “Thanks to the work that had been previously done we were up and running, presenting lessons via Google Classrooms within three days of the closedown,” Mrs Rattray said. “Importantly, we were able to be in contact with the boys on a daily basis, even though they weren’t physically at school. That’s something that was successfully implemented throughout the lockdown and is still being used when the boys are at home during the current ‘day on, day off’ arrangements.”

Having the system ready to go, and the teachers already trained on it was a game-changer, Mrs Rattray said. “The teachers must be given credit for making it happen. It has taken a lot of hard work, but it’s been worth it and it has shown in the assessments that have been done so far and in the way in which all our classes are on track to complete the academic year quite comfortably.”

A Google Classroom, Mrs Rattray explained, can never replace a real classroom situation, but it allows for more learning material to be available for the learners, and it’s a resource that remains available to the learner for the rest of the year. “The face to face contact, and the relationships that are built between educators and learners are the cornerstone of teaching and learning,” she said. “Technology will never replace that, but we have learnt is that it is possible to carry on with the academic programme when learners are not physically here. So, for example, boys who are away on tours, or who have long illnesses, need not fall behind. That’s very valuable.”

Communication was essential when school was closed down and the crisis has been valuable as a learning experience regarding that. “The portals we set up and the communication channels opened via Google and the Ed-Admin system have meant that we have been more in touch with learners and parents, not less. Those are tools that we will continue using when thing go back to normal. The monitoring of progress and identifying problems is more efficient now and we will be carrying on with that.”

The current exam session at the school will provide the first standardised assessment across all classes, with all the boys writing under the same conditions and it will provide an accurate indication of just how effective the online teaching intervention was. “There are signs, however, that those learners who are serious about their academics may have actually benefitted. The greater enrichment that can be provided by way of attachments to lessons in the Google Classrooms, along with the absence of distractions from extra-curricular activities has helped them and we are expecting them to do well,” Mrs Rattray said.

“I think we are seeing a new normal. School will be different from now on, face to face contact will be as important as ever, but we are learning ways to back that up by using the technology to enhance the learning experience,” she concluded.