Telling Jeppe’s online learning story

The Covid-19 pandemic, leading to the closure of schools initially, and their re-opening to limited numbers now, has changed the way in which schooling and learning is presented, probably forever.

That’s the view of Mr Robert Faltermeier, Jeppe’s Director of Innovation, who has played a major role in the technology-based responses that the school has made to the challenges over the past six months.

Mr Faltermeier has always been convinced that the current education model needs to evolve and meet the challenges and opportunities that the 21st century presents. Where new approaches are needed to prepare our students and teachers for these challenges and opportunities, not just with a tech-based approach but also more importantly with a new mindset for the future of schooling and, accordingly, he has been behind the introduction of various innovative teaching strategies and methods, including Gsuite or Google for Education, particularly, at Jeppe for a few years now – since long before the current situation was forced on schools.

“I’ve always believed that the future of education will evolve and require an open mindset not only by teaching beyond the curriculum but also by using new tech-driven tools and a shift towards online teaching, but only when appropriate to do so. We started down that road five years ago, with an emphasis on teaching the learners how to use the internet effectively, and the etiquette and ethics of being online or in other words promoting digital citizenship,” he said.

So, Jeppe bought a number of Chromebooks and signed up for programmes, sent teachers on training, and introduced the boys to the idea of doing work online. As a result, when Covid-19 hit, the school was in many respects ahead of the curve and able to transition to online/distance learning with relative ease.

“We were able to get online learning up and running quite quickly and the preparations and investment in time and training our staff had already undertaken meant our programmes were quite effective,” Mr Faltermeier said. “The teachers and learners bought into the transition and everyone has worked very hard. As a result, we never really fell very far behind even though the boys were stuck at home. This is not to say that we did not have challenges, but generally, the teachers reported buy-in from the boys. Thanks largely due to the amazing staff at Jeppe and the efforts they have taken to make their lessons interesting and engaging.

The result of all of this is that Mr Faltermeier has become known in educational technology circles and Jeppe’s success story is sought after. When he speaks at the SchoolScape IT 2020 conference (to be held virtually) later this month, it will be the fifth time he is telling Jeppe´s story, and he is down to speak at four more similar events before the end of the year.

“They are not so much interested in the actual finer details of our programmes,” he said, “but rather in the philosophy behind them, and in the strategies we use. “There is no doubt that, when COVID is gone and things return to normal, we won’t be going back to the way things were and the classroom-only teaching model has been replaced with a more relevant, dynamic and innovative approach at Jeppe. The irony is that we at Jeppe were on course for this to become the way we do things but COVID accelerated this process and brought it forward. That’s what we’ve been doing for a while now, and that’s what I’ve been sharing.”

It’s not been all plain sailing, however. The price of data, and the poor connectivity in many areas, have presented challenges to some of the students as have the fact that in some families there is only one connected device that has to be shared and some students could only go online in the evenings to do their school work.

“We have got around that by making our videos data-friendly as much as possible in terms of usage. Lessons are also asynchronous, which means they can be watched later, at times better suited to those who face data or device challenges.

“There have been very generous people in the Jeppe family who have helped with data provided to those in need, but given that this will become the new normal, that is not sustainable and we need educational websites to be zero-rated. There’s been some progress in that, but not enough.”

The changeover to this new way of teaching and learning is a journey, not a destination, Mr Faltermeier said. “I am learning from all of these interactions all the time and we are constantly adapting what we do to meet the challenges and opportunities,” he said.

“In the post-COVID school, I foresee a hybrid between online and classroom learning. Learners will be given tasks to do at home, online, and they will then be enriched through face-to-face interaction with their teachers. We will take the best of both ways, and merge them. One thing is certain: technology will never replace teachers and the dynamics of human interaction between teachers and learners will always be the most important part of schools.”