Aihearkisto: ajankohtainen

New normal in Novo mesto

When on Friday, 13th March 2020, it became clear that schools would be closed for a while and the work/study would be done remotely, no one knew how long the school doors would be locked for. We were confident we would stay at home for a maximum of 3 weeks. However, we never imagined that the quarantine would last so long,” says Headmistress Andreja Petrovic from Ekonomska šola Novo mesto.

We quickly had to find the ways for remote working. Some guidelines were provided by the Association of Higher Vocational Colleges, but they were rather general, not very useful for the specific situation. Surprisingly, no instructions were received from the Ministry of Education, at least not in time.

The participants in education are very helpful to one another. We looked for examples of good practices from colleagues from different schools and different education levels. We learned about different tools and tried them out – Jitsi, Zoom, VID Arnes, At our school the basic tools for remote working are Moodle, OneDrive and email.

Lecturer Sonja Kukman emphasises the role of the teachers. “It is extremely important that the lecturer provides support to students during and after the class. We have learned that remote working is extremely challenging for lecturers, as they have a lot more to prepare, review assignments and give feedback. We find the workload for lecturers to be much higher and the efficiency to be lower. “

At the same time, the staff at Novo mesto College have noticed also that distance learning is more demanding also for students who have to invest much more energy in learning than in the classical learning process, since they do not get immediate feedback.

“A big problem for our students is the equipment – some do not have a good Internet connection or have poor hardware performance,” notes Lecturer Damjana Mozic. Big software providers have allowed the college to use specialized software for free, but students were unable to download it because of less powerful computers. So, they’ve still had to find their own way.

The biggest challenge is certainly taking on-line exams, for both lecturers and students. But even that is going on well. Any video conferencing tool is suitable for oral exams – the lecturer and the student only establish a video link. Written exams are a bigger challenge. “First, we used a combination of a Moodle Quiz and a video link for written exams, later we started using the platform. We find this platform very useful for safety reasons, and we intend to organize teacher training to use it in further exams,” says Lecturer Jerca Bozic Kranjec.

Before the exams, the lecturers must test the tools with students. Special attention is also given to students who do not have computer equipment or an efficient Internet connection. We prepare personalized exams for them.

After the first exams, the lecturers presented their experience to their colleagues in a video conference and answered their dilemmas. At the end of the first exam period the exam results and experiences will be presented to all lecturers and students.

“We are convinced that distant learning is a greater burden or challenge for students, as they have to do everything on their own and therefore the level of their activity is also much higher than in the classical education process. “ Unfortunately, psychological distress has also been present due to isolation and lack of social contacts. On several occasions students have turned to the headmistress and the lecturers because they just want to hear some encouraging words. They are afraid of the situation, they are afraid that they will not be able to successfully complete the study year.

“We all wish we could return to school by mid-May, but we doubt that will happen. It might be that this study year’s lectures will be completed by remote working and we will meet again at school at the end of summer.” Colleges in Slovenia are not autonomous and cannot decide when to return to the classrooms, the decision depends on the Government and the Ministry of Education. Another problem is that the colleges get most of the information from the media, which is unofficial, and the information changes on a daily basis.

“The problem is that we do not know when the first-year students will be able to do their placement in companies, which is an important part of the study process at higher vocational colleges.” Both, placement at employers in Slovenia and Erasmus+ placement abroad have been cancelled. The National Agency is very responsive, but unfortunately, the college cannot provide students with concrete information on the opportunities of taking placement abroad. This year, students will definitely not be able to do that, despite the fact that a lot of effort and time have already been invested in the activities. Sonja Kukman states that they hope that they will enjoy their Erasmus+ placement abroad in the coming periods, regardless of the present negative experience.

“What to say in conclusion? In this new situation, we have begun to learn and are still learning. We miss what the mission of the educational work is: personal contact, interaction, two-way communication, student feedback. We miss discussions, conversations, hanging out with co-workers.”

Now all the staff at the college want to do is to go back to their workplace and to work within the school walls with students and colleagues. But there is a silver lining in (at least almost) every situation: “We can only hope that we have all learned a great deal from this – from new forms of work to the adoption of new communication techniques and, last but not least, we had the opportunity to deepen into ourselves. This is an experience that will become handy in the future work field as we started thinking about gradual introduction of blended learning just before the corona situation broke out.”

Ekonomska šola Novo mesto, Vocational College, Slovenia

Andreja Petrovič, Headmistress

Sonja Kukman, Lecturer

Jerca Božič Kranjec, Lecturer

Damjana Možic, Lecturer

It’s never too late to learn

 First days of the pandemic were espeacially challenging for Slovenia due to the resignation of their Primer Minister in late January and the consequent formation of new government. First case was confirmed one day after Janez Jansa was elected Prime Minister. In this article Natali Borinc and Darja Štiherl from Gradia’s partner college Srednja šola za gostinstvo in turizem Celje are reporting their experiences during the pandemic.

Empty street in front of the college in Celje.

The tourism college in Celje actually switched to distance learning already in the first week of the »stay-at-home« quarantine which mainly included setting up the MS Teams system for communication with students and staff, getting acquainted with the tools, creating relevant groups (classes, teachers’ groups according to the subjects etc.) The students were then given instructions and support how to deal within the Teams platform. “The biggest problem at the beginning  was to ensure that all students have a computer and internet access. This was partly solved by our school which provided 7 students with laptops and partly by donations of the mobile wi-fi routers” says Natali Borinc.

“Although ICT has been more and more integrated in our teaching and learning process in the past years we suddenly realized that creating a virtual reality was the only way for teachers and students to move forward and continue the work. The Corona crisis definitely made us all develop and upgrade our digital competences so to say overnight.  And it worked well!” adds Darja Stiherl. After two weeks it has become quite routine to hold online lessons or individual consultations, to participate in weekly conferences and meetings, to create online tests, check students’ assignments uploaded in the Teams folders etc.  “Will this experience bring any permanent changes in the way of our school work and life in the future? Yes, it definitely will. Namely, the feedback of all involved based on the analysis of questionnaires and personal interviews is very positive.” The college has been creating a database of numerous results of the distance learning activities like: recorded online lessons, students’ seminar and project works, video presentations etc. This database will represent a new resource for teaching and learning not only during the educational process at the school but also for the students on mobility periods, students who are often absent due to chronic health problems, for promotional activities etc.

Student Nejc Sovic learning online.

“As regards our transnational activities the Corona situation required immediate actions because we had two groups of students on mobility in Ireland and Finland when the EU countries started to close their borders.” With a strong support of their partners, including Gradia, in both countries they managed to bring all students home safely. A short-term impact has been the need to extend the duration of the current mobility project to make up for the activities which ended prematurely or have not been implemented at all. “It is difficult to predict the mid or long term impact, but we think that the selection of safe destinations and reliable partners will be one of the most important issues in planning the mobilities in the future,” Natali ponders.

Teacher Vid Burnik in his home office.

So what kind of an impact has the situation had on a more personal level? “As a project coordinator I am using distance learning tools to communicate with the future mobility participants instead of personal meetings and workshops which I usually implement within the preparation phase for mobility,” says Natali. She holds online group meetings and arranges individual consultations. And although her project work tasks were even previously mostly done by using ICT she has acquired some valuable new skills which will improve her future work with partners and participants before, during and after the mobility period.

“I’ve often heard and also used the saying “It’s never too late to learn”.  Yes, it’s true and I have experienced this just a few months before my retirement,” Darja remarks. It has been her most intensive learning experience related to development of  digital competences ever, a combination of self-study and support of her colleagues in the form of exchanging tips, advice, instructions and examples of good practice. “It was challenging, sometimes exhausting, sometimes fun-but the results are rewarding. And finally, I think that this experience improved the image and the importance of the teachers’ role in the education process.”

Natali and Darja would like to conclude with this: “At the end we would like to share our optimism for the future cooperation with Gradia and express our gratitude for the excellent support of their project team in organizing the emergency return journey of our students just before the airports and borders closed.”

Students from the tourism college in Celje are frequent participants in the tourism summer and winter schools arranged by the tourism programme in Gradia Jyväskylä. You can watch a video of one of the winter schools on Gradia’s YouTube channel:

The show will go on, just the rules have changed

Ave Paasikivi in her new office.

Ave Paasikivi from Kuresaare Ametikool in Estonia is working away from the office like most of us these days. ” I actually like it quite a lot! As Kuressaare is the corona epicentre of Estonia I moved at the very beginning to our summer cottage which is on a small island called Vilsandi. It’s the first spring I have the possibility to witness the spring arriving in full.” For Kuresaare college staf there have been busy weeks and very busy weeks. The biggest challenge has been to stay inside and work even when the weather has been good and the work load smaller. “We are allowed to work at our own pace – so I can work in the mornings and evenings and enjoy the day outside. I do, however, miss my office equipment – the printer and the copy machine 😃. So probably one day I have to go back to the office…” Right now the decision is that those who can work from home will do it till end of this school year. “My best tip for remote working is to create your own daily routine and follow it. Otherwise, keep a positive mind and try to enjoy the coming of spring.” Ave also appreciates her supportive friends and colleagues who have made it easier to make the best out of this unexpected situation.

Kuresaare Ametikool switched to distance learning on 16 March and it has gone surprisingly well. The school year had been planned in such a way most of the practical lessons were more or less already over and they are finding providing more theoretical studies from the distance fairly easy. “Our school is using Office 365 and it’s facilities mostly, but of course every teacher has their own favourite tools, too. “ In some curricula there have been lot of online learning already before. The situation has been challenging for some students as Kuresaare college also has a lot of adult students who have children and work. “It’s been pretty hard to handle children, work and school work for them, but by now things have more of less settled, I believe, ” says Ave. “And of course it has been hard also for some teachers who maybe had less experience in using digital tools. We’ve also learned that online teaching needs very clear planning as well.” Kuresaare Ametikool have also provided both students and staff with computers and technical support.

“We still have some courses which have to finish their practical work at the school, so we hope that we can start limited contact lessons from 18 May.” Another challenge is how to manage the company placements as most companies are closed. “We hope that things are going to be better soon and everybody is able to do their placements by autumn.” Right now they are hoping that all groups who should graduate this term, could do so by the end of June.

“Last week we had the traditional Health Week at the school so we published training, cooking and psychology videos on our Facebook page and those were really popular.” What they have learned from this experience is that actually everything is possible and maybe for some courses they will use more distance learning even when things are back to normal.

“I really hope that there will be no long term impact for our international activities. We just have to learn how to live with this new reality.”  Kuresaare college had to cancel almost 30 student and staff mobilities for this spring term but everyone of them still want to go as soon as it’s possible. “I also had to bring back more than 20 students from abroad earlier than planned, which is really pity – but I hope at least some can go back and continue at a later date.”

And finally Ave would like to remind us to “be healthy, be positive, the show will go on, just the rules have changed. ” 😀

Greetings from the Netherlands

In this series of blog posts checking how our partners are doing, we have landed in the Netherlands. Marit den Ouden is a relatively new coordinator working in the International Office of Deltion College located in Zwolle. Deltion College is a member of the Dutch Alliance and through the TDA also a member of the Network of Networks like Gradia.

Marit with the view from her home office.

“We fully switched to distance learning on the 16 March when our government announced that the schools had to be closed.” Deltion had started with the introduction of distance learning on a small scale already 5 years ago so they managed to do the switch relatively quickly. Some of the experts in distance learning had anticipated the situation already before 16 March and had captured their thoughts and vision in a memo. Immediately after the government announcement the distance learning task force started their work. “Already in the first week after 16 March they provided training for our staff and all kinds of materials for our use,” says Marit from her home office. The materials were put on the Deltion College intranet and they were used by quite many people. Two weeks ago all Deltion teachers got a paper magazine delivered at their homes with all kinds of tools and information about distance learning. At the moment of this interview, the Deltion task force is already preparing for the next school year.

There were of course some challenges as well. “Some teams did their own “thing”, a bit outside the general frames which were set by the college 😉 In such a big college as ours – around 19.000 students and 1.400 staff this is hard to prevent.” This resulted in some extra ‘follow-up’ work for the task force. “Our experience is that teachers don’t easily ask questions even though we try to facilitate direct, easy contacts with our experts.”   

Marit reflects back to the beginning of remote learning; “I think that we were relatively well prepared. We already had experts and experience on distance learning at Deltion. And we already had blended coaches in the teams. There was a lot of energy and positive spirit to act and go for it together.” She also believes that this experience will lead to permanent changes. “Distance learning will get a more permanent place in our vision on education. We expect that we might keep providing distance learning to our students in the future on a structural basis, for example one day a week. And we might do more appointments and visits – like apprenticeship visits – ‘at distance’. “

At the moment of the Corona outbreak Deltion College had more than 150 students abroad for an internship. So the first task was to get all these students home safely. Also there were many international study projects (both for students and staff) planned which had to be cancelled. And the students who were in Zwolle at that moment for their internship had to go back home.

Deltion College is expecting the crisis to have an impact on the international activities both in the mid and long term. “It will give an extra boost to activities within the spectrum of ‘internationalisation at home’ and our vision to deal more consciously with travel in the perspective of climate change.” Marit says that they expect that in the mid term the number of mobilities will drop because the impact on travel possibilities, the safety issues and because the impact of Corona on certain sectors will probably last quite long. “But it is good to put things in perspective. Also internship opportunities within our country will be affected for a while. The importance of internationalisation will increase even more, but the activities to achieve internationalisation might undergo some shifts.

“On personal-level, I think I’m basically a quite flexible person, when it comes to adapting to different circumstances. It is my passion to be open towards other cultures, national contexts and perspectives and discovering the underlying reason behind differences and similarities. And stimulating others in this ‘compassion’.”

However, Marit does confess that she misses the personal contacts a lot. She has also noticed, like so many of us, that digital meetings are more energy draining than physical meetings. “So at the end of a day full of Teams meetings I usually feel a bit in a daze. It is good to see that colleagues stay in good contact and we often use our camera which feels much more personal than only hearing each other’s voice. It is heart warming to see how much we support each other, both national and international partners.” Marit is holding regular video meetings with her international partners and is expecting this method of cooperating to stay permanently.

On a final note, Marit recommends starting your work day – if possible in your country/region – with a walk for about an hour. “This will give you a lot of positive energy for the rest of the day. ”

More information about The Dutch Alliance

Time for reflection

Carmen Romero wears many ‘hats’. She’s a teacher, head of department and international coordinator at one of Gradia’s partners in the Basque country, CIFP Construccion Bizkaia in Bilbao. Like many others, their college switched to distance learning on 13 March.

“Overall, changing to distance learning was expected to be a big challenge for all the teachers and students, but the response and reaction has been really good, better than we expected”, Carmen says in her new home office (= dinner table). Most of CIFP Bizkaia’s students are following the classes and making the tasks and jobs that teachers ask them to deliver. Meet is used for video conferences and, in the beginning, they also used Zoom. All the teachers are willing to help students and attend to their needs even outside of their “regular” timetable. Possibly an advantage of being an small organization. Learning and teaching are progressing relatively well under the circumstances and this way of working will continue, at least, until 15 May.

“The biggest challenge has been to transfer the tasks that should have been done at the college workshops for tasks that can be done at home.” Many of the technical skills of construction trade can’t be developed at home, so teachers have come up with different challenges in which the students can combine creativity, technical knowledge, measurements and budgeting. For example, the 2nd year students of interior work have to “set up” their own company and make a proposal for refurbishing their own houses. The task includes making the drawings, searching for materials and explaining how they should be used, taking measurements, budgeting and explaining which professions are needed to perform the work as well as make a work plan for the whole project.

“Initially we worried about the access to the Internet from home, but fortunately most of our students had it.” For those who didn’t (only two of them), the college loaned each of them a computer with a key for the Internet. All the schools in the Basque Country had the order to do it, being provided Internet keys if necessary.

Essential tools for remote working:
laptop, headset, colleagues via an online tool and coffee.

“None of us were prepared for this situation.” It has been a completely new way of working for our schools which are still very much based on in-person interaction and classes. But due to the willpower of the teachers we are dealing with it beyond anything we could have imagined. According to Carmen, it’s unlikely that this experience will change the way their college operates in the future. “Basically because, as I have mentioned earlier, our specific field implies the need of being at the workshops to gain the skills and competences.”

The coronavirus situation has of course had an impact on the college’s international activities. “The first impact happened when Italy closed their borders. Seven of our students were prepared to make their internships in companies there and, after waiting for two weeks to see the progress of the (at that moment) limited epidemic, they had to unpack their luggage and stay at home.” The second wave of events happened when three CIFP students who were in Finland at the time the state of alarm started in Spain and there was a mad dash to bring them back home quickly. “I became 10 years older in only 24 hours!”, Carmen recalls.

The third impact has been that the college has had to ask for change of duration of their Erasmus+ funding so that they could use the grants at a later date, if possible. The future of mobility activities depends greatly on the medical developments: ” While the vaccine is not yet available and there are no effective medical treatments for this virus, I don’t think we are willing to risk sending the students or teachers abroad. It feels like the most appropriate approach at the moment.” Carmen remains optimistic and thinks that, as all whole scientific community all over the world is working to find a solution, it will come earlier than we can even imagine.

Under Spain’s state of emergency regulations, citizens can only go out alone to buy food, seek medical care, for emergencies or to work in essential industries.  Despite staying indoors for weeks, Carmen says she’s coping very well. “As everyone here, I miss leaving my home, going out, seeing others in person.” But, at the same time, not having to invest time in going to the work place has meant that there is time left over to do other things. “I try to be dressed as if I were going to school every day. It can sound superficial but I’m sure that to spend the whole day wearing leggings and an old t-shirt makes you, how I could say it, feel scruffy and, consequentely, can make you feel unhappy after several weeks inside the home. But anyway, I just want to go out 🙂 “ , Carmen adds. She believes that the current changes to the way of living will continue while there is a medical solution. “When it comes, we will work and behave as we have always done. Spanish people, “genetically”, need close physical contact.”

And finally Carmen would like to remind us all that “many persons are suffering terribly with this pandemic. Some of our friends have lost their mother, father or other relatives; some of our acquaintances have died. It’s a good time to reflect on how we behave with our family, friends, schoolmates or neighbours. It’s a time to rethink our priorities and to be grateful for all we have, for the life we enjoy and it’s time to “send into permanent exile” the complaints and the selfishness.”

CIFP Construccion Bizkaia is a member of EMEU network