Nadine A. Molloy recently received national recognition from the Jamaica Observer for her extraordinary work leading Ardenne High School in Kingston through the storm of the COVID-19 crisis . We asked Nadine to share her experience with integrating technology in education, ensuring teachers and students were prepared and achieving high levels of attendance for online classes and improved exam results.
On March 12, 2020 Jamaica joined the world in the COVID-19 pandemic lock-down. As fear and uncertainty grew, the education fraternity was thrown into a tailspin. How best to continue education, if at all? In the week leading up to the inevitable, the leadership teams at Ardenne High School contemplated how to continue reaching our students, especially those registered for our regional Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) May-June sitting. The response from the technology design teams driving the ICT integration into the teaching, learning and assessment process was immediate. We were confident in leveraging what we knew and could learn into the virtual space.
What worked for Ardenne that made pivoting from in-person to virtual classes so relatively easy? The leadership of Ardenne had technology and its integration in education as a major part of its school improvement plan for 2017 – 2020. Years of technology upgrades and staff training and development allowed for a seamless transition from face to face to online education. Policy guidelines were in place for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), social media use and ICT integration. All students carry a technology-based subject to the examination level. Additionally, we have been transitioning to a paperless operation, with much of our systems moving online over the last six years. Everyone joining the school was introduced to the use of technology in all facets of the school’s operations. Communication is solely electronic. Classroom level technology such as interactive boards and school-wide Internet access are trending upwards. Google Classroom, Schoology, Edmodo, RenWeb LMS and Moodle among others were learning platforms that were starring in our professional learning community and circles. Assessment in e-mode was piloted and despite an attempt at hacking, feedback for improvement and appreciation was great from all our students. New roles and functions were defined in redesigned teams, job descriptions and functions. The school has technology as a core part of its culture.
Staff understanding that the Fourth Industrial Revolution was rapidly changing the world of work and study that our students are transitioning to, perhaps was the shortest curve navigated. Professional Learning Community activities were far reaching, meaningful and most importantly, internally driven. There was the usual push back but generally people joined in as they participated in discussions and training sessions. Students wanted a device at school; it would mean access to entertainment at their fingertips. The entertainment factor of the virtual space proved to be the steepest curve to navigate in the rethinking and repositioning of technology as a powerful learning tool. Despite some push back from parents we moved to greater technology integration in September 2020.
On March 12, 2020, the imperatives were compelling. We needed to reach our examination year students for the final preparations that would have lasted another six weeks at least. We needed to keep teaching at all levels, even though we actively promote independent learning. It never crossed our collective minds that we would not reach our students online, given our technology orientation. Ticking the boxes began. I was on vacation leave and locked down so, I was effectively roped in to be a part of the process. The dots lined up well as most students already owned devices and had Internet access. Where staff members did not have devices suitable for teaching, the school was able to offer support. With teaching beginning on March 13, several more moved to acquire devices and the following week teaching was in full swing ranging from 90-100 per cent attendance. As the weeks progressed, the feedback from parents and students begun highlighting the obvious improvements taking place. Students sat their examinations and we are pleased with their improved performance over the previous year.
The recognition that school is a socializing and stabilizing safe space for many students left us with no choice but to move our Guidance and Counseling programme, clubs and societies, tutoring programme and enrichment activities such as Heritage Day, Distinguished Lecture, Christmas Pageant, Prize Giving and soon Community Service online too. The staff is not to be outdone with virtual parties. The icing on the cake was the drive through Christmas Party at the end of the first term. We were so happy to see each other in person after so many months of Zoom-ing and Google Classroom-ing. Teachers have a choice, hence, some are working from home and some from school.
The appreciation of the strides made by the school from our stakeholders is as motivating as is their support.
Where needed students have reported for lab exercises that needed to be done face to face. On February 12, our first virtual internal examination experience ended. Some days, as I follow the invigilators navigating the process on the Inspera safe exam browser via WhatsApp groups, I feel like I am watching a movie. Teachers will be teachers and students will always try to outsmart us. More students have improved in the online space than not. Teachers are more adept at preparing appropriate lessons. Ardenne has the capacity to remain online, but we do miss the noise of learning on our campus and look forward to a blended interface in hopefully a few weeks’ time and finally face to face as soon as the pandemic allows.
Yes, we have learned a lot about ourselves and our students. Because of our preparedness, we have averaged student attendance in the 90th percentile. There is much to learn as data is analyzed however, we know that curriculum delivery cannot be the same. The Internet is repositioned as many envisioned it; a powerful tool for accessing, generating and disseminating information. I keep hearing the colleague who asked, where would our students work or study with a T-square instead of AutoCad, the drawing software. That conversation was one of the catalysts that drove my determination to move our school in a direction that more approximated the world we are preparing students for. With AutoCad fully in use, I now answer with confidence, “What T-square?”