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Toolboxes, Platforms, Strategies, and Community in Online Learning

American International School (AIS) of Hong Kong offers a case study in adaptation as teachers move learning online, from library instruction to visual art, from humanities to Spanish language, from drama to physical education.

By Josefino Rivera, Jr.

05/06/2020

Toolboxes, Platforms, Strategies, and Community in Online Learning
“So that’s why F. Scott Fitzgerald uses Nick as the first-person peripheral narrator of The Great Gatsby. He’s like an avatar for Fitzgerald’s true agenda,” proclaims Dong Gyun, a high school senior during a virtual Socratic Seminar in English Critical Analysis. All schools in Hong Kong were suspended until 20 April 2020, but that did not stop students from learning. Teachers used apps like Zoom not only for direct instruction but to run Socratic Seminars or fishbowl discussions virtually. The observers are paired with a specific student that is speaking. Halfway through the discussion, students are separated into their pairs via the “breakout room” function, allowing the observer to offer important formative feedback based on established criteria. Shyer students can use the “nonverbal cues” like “raise hand” to indicate they want to add to the discussion without feeling like they have to interrupt, and the optional chat box provides the possibility for a back channel for questions, comments, announcements, and even humor to build classroom community. This is just one of the ways in which educators at the American International School (AIS) of Hong Kong inspire and empower Online Learning experiences during extended school closures and suspensions. School closures While AIS was away on its Chinese New Year holiday from 24 January to 2 February, the Hong Kong Education Bureau (EDB) announced that, due to the increased number of confirmed and suspected novel coronavirus infection cases, the Chinese New Year holiday would be extended to 17 February. As the end of Chinese New Year approached, the Hong Kong EDB reassessed the situation and pushed the return date back to 2 March, then 16 March, and most recently until 20 April. What originally began as a two-week temporary virtual substitution to teaching transformed into the reality of Online School. Online school policies established by the leadership team* In response to the EDB’s announcements, AIS’s Leadership Team (LT) meets regularly to develop clear policies for Online School. Having gathered two weeks of data from teacher, student, and family surveys, three central themes emerged, which included the need for: • Standardization of methods, tools, and applications • Clarity and simplicity of instructions • Connections and contact time with teachers With that feedback, the AIS LT developed a consistent but differentiated Online School schedule. This consistency allowed all educators to work within a framework that was vertically aligned while still malleable enough for educators to teach in their own creative and innovative ways. Online Learning Toolbox Matt Wise @wisemrmatt, Ed Tech Coordinator To facilitate clarity and simplicity of instruction, as well as connections and contact time with teachers, the Ed Tech Coordinator developed an Online Learning Toolbox that offers a plethora of suggested apps, instructions for set-up and use, and legal considerations. By gathering common tools, support videos, requirements, and advice into a single area, AIS was able to effectively manage rollout and training in new tools in a short time with widespread adoption and expertise. Selecting a single “recommended” tool in each area of need—such as screen recording, collaborating with colleagues, or meeting with students—greatly simplified and streamlined training and adoption of tools, and facilitated greater collaboration and peer support in learning the new tools required. Key tools selected initially were Zoom for video conferencing and Loom to support teachers with recording. Hangouts Meet seemed like an obvious choice at first, however to meet our child protection policies, all meetings with students needed to be recorded—something that is only supported with a paid GSuite Enterprise for Education account (Google has since begun rolling out free access to premium hangouts video conferencing for educational institutions as of March). AIS first explored the use of Zoom with free accounts but later made the decision to roll out paid accounts for all teachers to remove limits on their time, greatly simplify configuration and standardization of required settings, and to support with tools and practices such as breakout rooms and co-hosting. Initially, recordings were done locally and uploaded to Google Drive, however, another benefit of moving to a paid account is the ability to utilize cloud recording directly from the meeting itself. This was found to be of great support to teachers with limitations on their bandwidth. Screen recording was the first major tool used to address the need for students to see and hear their teachers as our school was developing the ability to host live sessions and deciding what format of session would best meet the needs of our students. Loom was selected as a recommended recording tool because it was free, easy to use, and had integrated support for editing and sharing videos. Since adopting Loom, Screencastify has offered free pro accounts for educational users, and it has also been adopted by some members of staff and students. With several good options for screen recording, the most important decision made was to focus on a single “recommended” tool, as it minimized confusion and simplified learning. Screen recording has also been a crucial tool used by leadership and other staff members to demonstrate and model best and expected practices for large portions of the community at once. Online teaching strategies Under these established criteria, AIS educators elaborated their innovative teaching strategies. Below are examples of ways AIS educators engage with their students virtually. Rosa Gi Youn Park, ES Library Specialist As online learning progresses and families lack an ongoing supply of fresh reading materials at home, AIS created a virtual read aloud library through the app Loom to support these needs. ES students continue on with their routine of reading for at least 15–20 minutes a day. Students access this online treasure trove of stories read by familiar faces and voices anytime, anywhere, as their ES Principal Cami Okubo pictured above has done. This library, initiated in response to World Read Aloud Day, evolved to become an independent learning center of its own. Benefits include increased vocabulary, improved word/sound recognition and pronunciation, and enhanced fluency. Teachers use it as an instructional resource to support lessons. It also nurtures and strengthens the connection with teachers and the school community, while learning remotely. The virtual read aloud library is an important tool that is not just useful for online learning, but worth continuing once schools reopen. Grade 3 and 4 teachers** use EdPuzzle to connect with their students as they would in the classroom. Teachers are able to ask open-ended questions that require responses from all their students, giving students a chance to share their thoughts in a safe environment. Candy Lee @Ms_CandyLee, ES Student Support Teacher As the ES Student Support Teacher, one of Ms. Lee’s responsibilities is to promote social-emotional learning within the ES community. She shares daily morning message videos focusing on themes such as wellness and mindfulness. She creates opportunities for students to interact with others outside of their class as they would during lunch or recess at school. On Topic Tuesday, for example, she shares a question on Padlet and invites students to respond. Older students type their responses and attach a photo while younger students write and draw their responses and have parents upload them. In addition, students get to earn house points for their responses, and it is a great way for AIS to maintain a strong sense of school community while learning from their own homes. Canaan Lee @kaynan_lee, MS Counselor Having experienced the SARS epidemic in Hong Kong in 2003 herself, Ms. Lee remembers when online learning platforms were not as developed, and she experienced a hybrid of paper-based and limited online learning instructions that left her overwhelmed. Her inspiration to create videos to support students stems from this personal experience and her knowledge of the importance of mental health care. She creates topics surrounding personal hygiene, time management, digital citizenship (e.g., privacy and intellectual property pictured above), wellness, and mental health. She uses her announcements to integrate some at-home challenges (e.g.,100 sit ups) for students to win points for their houses. In an attempt to simulate social interaction, she encourages students to join their homeroom forum on FlipGrid to discuss non-academic topics. Keren O’Connor, MS Humanities Assessing students online can be a daunting task, working out whether one’s response is his or her own or someone else’s. Ms. O’Connor uses FlipGrid as a way to assess students’ reading comprehension as well as the knowledge of the vocabulary in the novel. Students were given four questions and had to answer three of the four. Given a choice of 15 words, they then had to correctly use vocabulary words from the text in their answers. Students completed and turned in the FlipGrid quiz within the 70 minutes of the class. She found this to be a great way to not only learn what the students knew about the text but also how confident they were discussing it. Having the time limit helped make the students responsible for their own answers. Megan Straube @ProfeStraube, HS Español Zoom has been very useful for maintaining and meeting the interpersonal communication standard that is such a foundational part of Profesora Straube’s Spanish classes. She does daily Q&A check-ins—weekend chats through “placemats” (pictured above) created by Bethanie Drew and Dustin Williamson that she screen shares to scaffold and level up, other chats about travel/family/activities outside of school work. They discuss “Would you rather...?” questions from slides. These activities allow her class to continue building community through personalized and differentiated experiences as well as build proficiency in the area of interpersonal communication. Kimberly Williams @Kimberly W08, HS Drama Shawna Grimes @smgrimes85, HS Music While preparing for the upcoming production of Grease, the Drama and Chorus classes combined to work together to go over the words to “We Go Together.” With the song being fast, and the lyrics including nonsense syllables, students were having difficulty knowing what to say and when to say it. Chorus joined the Drama Zoom conference call and worked with Ms. Williams to break down the syllables into digestible chunks. After the initial laughter caused by over 35 people trying to say the same thing at the same but different time, everyone was able to make it through the entire song using ROC Showready software with a deeper understanding of the pronunciation of the lyrics. Ms. Grimes then went over the musical aspects of the song to make sure all students understood when the words were to be sung or spoken. Emily Hill @EmilyHillVAEd, HS Visual Arts The suspension of face-to-face teaching challenged Ms. Hill’s rapport and socialization with her students, which often helped them be motivated as well as persevere through barriers. It was important to her that she find an alternative way to try to keep a positive tone to her teaching. She simply began adding GIFs or memes in emails to students to add a sense of humor and enthusiasm. There is a GIF for any situation, from motivational animal memes to pop culture, that will cause even the most studious student to smile. Students have often then replied back with other GIFs or playful emails helping establish a rapport that is not centered around deadlines, academics, or missing submissions. The limitations of the virus While the unfortunate reality is that the novel coronavirus has closed AIS, it does not have the ability to stop AIS students from learning. The AIS community continues to develop new strategies to teach and learn virtually. Middle school science teachers conduct virtual labs, elementary school classroom teachers provide feedback on iterations of students’ writing, high school social studies teachers debate over conference calls, and the love for learning is the only thing that spreads while being quarantined at home. *AIS Leadership Team: Anita Simpson, Head of School (@asimpsonEDU); Mike Wing, HS Principal (@wing_mwing); Zachary Post, MS Principal (@zpostedu); Cami Okubo, ES Principal (@CamiOkubo); Dave Han, ES Assistant Principal (@mrdavehan) ** Grade 3 & 4 teachers: Candice Anders (@MrsAndersAIS), Allen Lee (@MrLee427), Deanna Quiñonez, Grade 3 Teachers; Eileen Brecha (@_MsBrecha_), Matthew Hong (@MrMatthewHong), Emily Machnicki (@MissMachnicki) Grade 4 Teachers




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