Virtual Learning Environment
During extraordinary times, extraordinary measures are needed for the regional leader in primary and secondary education. International College (IC), with two campuses in Beirut and Ain Aar, Lebanon, has relied heavily on learning management systems specifically Google Classroom, Moodle, and Seesaw to enhance communication and provide real-time content and feedback during the most recent school closure. Teachers worked diligently to provide a variety of personalized and differentiated academic content, ranging from screencast presentations, flipped classrooms, discussion boards, online quizzes, and other interactive elements that not only accommodate diverse learning styles, but also inspire students to learn about the subject matter while fostering independent learning skills.
IC’s Virtual Learning Environment started with blogs and wikis in 2006 then was empowered with the NESA Virtual School initiative that introduced Moodle as an all-college LMS in 2010. Over the past ten years, Moodle has provided a great solution for connecting IC with students and parents during emergency closures and it allowed teachers to teach in a blended learning approach. With the adoption of G Suite in 2017 and full K-12 implementation in 2018, Google Classroom quickly became the preferred tool for interaction between teachers and students. It provided a simple yet powerful collaboration platform that raised the level of interaction to higher standards using audio, video, as well as video conferencing using Google Hangouts. The camera-friendly Google Classroom app simplified the process of submitting assignments for marking and allowed teachers to provide timely feedback to students. Students only needed their mobile phones to stay connected with their teachers. These features enable communication to be effective, though the process of training and practicing with these technologies was initially difficult for some members of our IC community.
Google Classroom uses the Google apps, namely Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms and Sites to present a comprehensive and dynamic Virtual Learning Environment. The differentiated approaches to learning offered by the Google G Suite allow teachers to deliver content and collect data from formative assessments. Students write using Docs, tabulate data using Sheets, create interactive and visual presentations using Slides, take quizzes and assessments using Forms, and show skill and content mastery by creating websites through Google Sites. The Google platform enables all stakeholders-parents, teachers, and students to communicate, comment on academic activities and provide feedback in a streamlined, effective way. Google Classroom ensures students and teachers alike remain organized by providing reminders and updates about assignments and work to be completed both in email form and as calendar notifications. While the means of communication are in place, the political uncertainty and the geographic spread of the student body meant that the school and teachers had to be flexible with deadlines.
Google Classroom offered the best possible solution when addressing the issue of how to continue the daily operations of teaching and learning at the school during the prolonged closure. It allowed for asynchronous learning, that is, the students access content the teacher has posted, view it at an appropriate time, complete the activity and submit it. Students were able to complete the work at their own pace and at their own time. This method of online learning allowed sufficient time for the students to work with study materials and the formulation of meaningful questions and answers. While most of the content was created to be completed in an asynchronous environment, many teachers set blocks of time per day when they would be available for real-time communication with students and parents. Using Google Hangouts, teachers were able to hold live mini-lessons with students all in real-time, from the comforts and safety of their homes.
During the imposed prolonged school closure, IC demonstrated its preparedness in the face of social unrest and ensured that students were able to access learning material, and teachers were able to deliver content in a timely and efficient manner. The ability to collaborate and communicate meant that while the process of delivering content may be different than in the traditional classroom setting, teachers are creative and diligent in keeping students in learning mode. While some teachers and parents needed some assistance, the readiness of trained educators to teach in this Virtual Learning Environment kept all students motivated and engaged.
While this delivery system is constantly evolving with technology, it clearly demonstrated it is possible to continue to provide a superior education in the face of extraordinary circumstances. IC’s dynamic Virtual Learning platforms and intense professional development for the faculty around the concepts of digital learning technologies helped facilitate the timely transition from traditional classrooms to digital classrooms as the crisis unfolded. As Lebanon and IC look to the future, it is imperative to incorporate new and global technologies into everyday life. Collaborative infrastructure, like the Google for Education Suite, and the skills associated with these systems, will empower our students and teachers to be adaptive, and possess the problem-solving skills necessary to take on the challenges of the future. The evolving demands of the workplace and the world necessitate these skills. The grit, innovative capabilities, and enthusiasm for learning of the IC faculty and staff have greatly contributed to the efficacy of the digital learning systems rollout at International College. How can IC share this learning platform with the underprivileged communities of Lebanon which need assistance now more than ever?