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IN THE SPOTLIGHT
AISL's Response to Ebola Closure
By Susanna Fajardo 26-Mar-15
In the middle of the school day, on August 27, Nigerian officials came to the American International School of Lagos (AISL) campus, insisting that our director close the school immediately due to the Ebola virus. The three division principals quickly and calmly went from classroom to classroom, whispering to teachers to dismiss over 730 K-12 students for an indeterminate amount of time. Offering all courses online suddenly became an urgent necessity. The challenges facing our staff and administrators were enormous: classes had to be redesigned for online learning; teachers needed to rethink instruction and become familiar with new technology; and families had to learn how to support their students in an online environment. Moreover, daunting new questions kept arising. How would students without access to technology succeed? How would we offer support to struggling students? How would we grade students? Tensions were compounded by the specter of Ebola spreading. That said, as online schooling took on momentum, many noteworthy benefits of our new program began to emerge: Heightened awareness of new facets of student learning • Students who were outstanding in subtle ways had new opportunities to shine. Online classes gave them a newfound anonymity and means for expression. Similarly, no student could “hide” within the group. • Many students benefited from gaining a foothold on class content before becoming part of the larger group. In addition, they were able to pace their instruction according to their needs. • Some parents became more in-tuned with their children as learners; students could play teacher to their parents. An increase in teaching and learning that reflects 21st century skills • The online learning required a larger repertoire of online resources in a truly authentic context. • Students used a medium that is friendly and engaging for them as a cornerstone of their instruction. • The reliance on reading and writing heightened the importance and demands of these forms of communication. • Student responsibility and accountability were increased: guidelines, deadlines, submissions, and discussions were sequentially logged. More preparation, collaboration, and innovation time • Teachers learned about, experimented with, and debriefed on new modes of instruction and technology. • Approaches such as project-based learning and “Self-Organized Learning Environments” became more widely used; entire grade levels adopted online platforms, such as Googleclassroom; early childhood teachers started class blogs; math, language, P.E. and other instructors increased their use of the flipped classroom model. • Teachers did greater and more in-depth integration across disciplines and when conferencing about student progress. Teachers also gave more informed, individualized, and immediate feedback. Initiation of improvements had a lasting, positive impact • New and enduring networks of students and parents formed; for instance, high school students formed still-functioning Facebook study groups and preschool families organized ongoing playgroups. • Parents reported that since the online period, grade-level instruction and organization are stronger. Another parent noted that students became more independent—when “real school” resumed, students were better able to problem solve on their own. • The administration and school board strengthened lines of communication with each other and multiple supporting organizations. • Because athletic tournaments were cancelled, the athletic director organized intramurals when school resumed. Now, all high school students play sports after school on home teams. These activities produced an enduring wellspring of participation and school spirit. Indeed, students, parents, teachers, and administrators capitalized on AISL’s online schooling situation, turning obstacles into assets. The retention of nearly all 730 students underscored the effectiveness of all parties’ responses. What is more welcome, however, is that the Nigerian government contained the spread of Ebola, and AISL resumed on-campus classes on 22 September. This December, three months of brick-and-mortar school later, AISL successfully concluded the fall semester, with its community gathered together, on campus.
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