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Field Testing Quality Virtual Learning Offline

By Elijah Petersen
Field Testing Quality Virtual Learning Offline

 Eli and his wife, Evan, enjoying TGIT after the Week of the Bac. 

I think we can all agree that 2020 feels like the longest century on record. In the millennia since covid-19 crashed into our lives, we educators have had to consistently evolve to meet the needs of our students. While it seems like eons since life resembled anything close to normal, that doesn’t mean teachers around the world haven’t tried everything in their bag of tricks to make one thing—learning—consistent.

From researching how to Zoom across cyberspace to downloading add-ons for more interactive PowerPoints to getting used to wearing button-down shirts with sweatpants, teachers will try almost anything for their students. Hey, flexibility is the name of the game, right? But what happens when flexibility turns into contortion? We here at AIS-Algiers got a chance to find out when we were tasked to teach virtually with no internet.

No internet? What is this, the ancient times of the early 90s? No, it’s exam time. See, in a battle as old as time, two mortal enemies, Logic and Bureaucracy, faced off during Algeria’s Baccalaureate (BAC) exams the week of September 13. Several countries often consider shutting down communication apps during these exams to prevent students from cheating on their tests. Here, the government decided the deftest approach was to throttle the internet for the whole week. They reduced bandwidth and shut down all communication apps, including Zoom and WhatsApp

While professionals in other fields, when faced with such a daunting task, might throw up their hands in exasperation and quit or curl up in the fetal position and bawl their eyes out, we are teachers... and we don’t give up. Just like in A League of Their Own, where Tom Hanks’ character yells out, “There’s no crying in baseball!” you might say, “There’s no crying in teaching!”

You’d be wrong, however. There’s A LOT of crying in teaching, but that’s for a different article. 

Anyway, we here at the American International School of Algiers (AISA) rolled up our sleeves, put our heads together (at an acceptable distance), and met the challenge straight on. What could have been deemed The Lost Week actually turned out to be not only productive but a chance to reinforce what makes our little school so special. 

Like any good teachers, we differentiated our approach depending on grade level and student ability. We factored in the times when the internet actually did work (before 8:00 a.m., between 12:00-2:00 p.m., and after 5:00 p.m.), along with where our students were located. Due to travel restrictions, some of us have students in far-flung time zones and so we had to adjust our hours accordingly. This meant that students were attending their morning meetings at 9:00 p.m. or that teachers got up and began teaching at 5:00 a.m.

Some of us had lady luck on our side and actually found little bubbles of time when the internet was behaving long enough to have meetings via Google Meet. Others, using electronic black magic, conjured up the great technologies of our ancestors and used landline telephones to talk with our students who, I might add, were baffled at our ability to speak with each other without WiFi. It was a teachable moment as well as a humbling reminder that time slows down for no one.

While I know that none of us at AISA would like this sort of thing to become a regular occurrence, it was a reminder that no matter how you slice it, technology is just a tool and that good teaching goes beyond websites, apps, or beach-themed green-screen backdrops.

Teaching is as much an art as it is a skill, and technology is just one gadget in the toolkit of educators. With a strong administrator at the helm, along with a group of scrappy, motivated teachers, we showed our community and each other that, even offline, quality virtual learning is possible. 

Elijah Petersen teaches Middle School at the American International School of Algiers.

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