Aihearkisto: verkostot

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, Exam.net. 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 Exam.net 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: https://tinyurl.com/tourismwinterschool

Keep together but keep the distance!

It’s always lovely to get letters, but maybe even more so in the current situation. Below you’ll find a message from the Jutland peninsula in Denmark. It’s written by Flemming Olesen who works in the international office of Aarhus TECH, a partner of both Gradia Jyväskylä and Lyseo Upper Secondary School.

Flemming’s work space at home

Dear colleagues,

Hope that you all are well and healthy. And that you don’t find it too difficult cooping with the challenges the Corona pandemic has caused.

My name is Flemming Olesen and I’m the International Coordinator at Aarhus Tech in Denmark.

On the evening Wednesday 11 March our Prime Minister announced that Denmark would be closed down with effect from Monday 15 March. From Tuesday 14 April our community very, very slowly is beginning to open up again. Only a very small part of our students have been allowed to return to school – only the students who have a craftsmanship exam are allowed. The rest of our students will be taught online until 10 May but we don’t know yet if the period will be extended.

With two days to prepare, we started online teaching on 15 March. We are using Zoom as platform. We had three major problems in the beginning. The first one was technical – To have Zoom installed, make it work in a stable manner, learn how to use it, guide the students through the technical challenges,  etc. The second one was to move online as many theoretical lessons as possible so the students could be taught online and postpone as many practical lessons as possible – an additional challenge is that after six weeks of online teaching it becomes really difficult to find relevant materials. And the third one was to find out how to teach online.

We were totally unprepared for this. And my guess is that approximately 90% of the teachers have limited or no experience in teaching online. So we actually built the bridge while we were walking on it. Of course there were complaints in the beginning – both from students and teachers. But most of them accepted the situation very fast and found solutions to the problems.

During this period we have gained a lot of experience – both possibilities and limits of online teaching. And my expectations for what we can use these experiences for in the future are that the inclusion of online teaching will become a completely natural part of teaching planning.

It was extremely hectic in the international department. We had two days to get 15 Scottish students back to Scotland and two Dutch students back to Holland. And we had to get two students home from GRADIA and three students home from Lycée Monge in Chambery. But we managed, half past seven on the Friday evening all students were back home.

I’m convinced that we will not go back to business as usual when the CORONA virus has loosened its grip on Europe and the rest of the world. But exactly what influence this crisis will have on the international work is hard to say. There will be a lot of questions and very few answers.

I have been working from home for almost one and a half month now. To ensure some sort of daily rhythm or routine I start working at 8 o’clock every day. The content of my work is the same as usual – telephone calls, e-mails, meetings (Skype, Teams, Zoom) but of course there is no planning of mobilities. I haven’t had any larger problems in handling my work tasks. But now I really missing contact with my colleagues. Both professionally but especially the social side – the short chat in the corridor, the coffee break, etc. Another thing that I find particularly stressful is the uncertainty; When will this end? Will there be a wave 2 or 3 or 4? What will be the new normal after this?

One positive aspect is that we really have found out how to use different platforms for virtual meetings. We have also found out the limits but especially to ask ourselves if it is absolutely to meet face to face. The annual EMEU meeting in October is postponed but in one way or another we will plan a virtual meeting. It will be a large challenge because we usually are approximately 80 participants. But I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be exiting to have that experience.

Take good care of your selves.

Keep together by keeping the distance!

All the best from Denmark,

Flemming

More information about Aarhus TECH https://aarhustech.dk/english/students

More information about EMEU http://em-eu.eu/

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 https://www.dutchalliance.nl/