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Switching to online classes – our experience so far

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When the Spanish government announced the start of a 15-day national quarantine to curb the spread of coronavirus, we found ourselves facing an unexpected challenge. Like all other schools in the country, we had to close our doors and make the switch to online classes. Suddently, we were all wondering: how are we going to prepare for the switch on such short notice?

After the first week of online classes – and a few initial technical glitches – we’re happy to report things are running smoothly. We have been able to adapt quickly to the situation and we are now using BigBlueButton, the video conferencing solution integrated with Canvas (our Learning Management System) to provide live online classes. This way, our students are able to continue their studies uninterruped and receive the same standard of education they expect from our school.

As our Managing Director, Carlota Estera said: “Our team is highly connected and trained to be able to work remotely. We are all dynamic problem-solvers with an entrepreneurial mindset. Together, we can find creative ways to fix our problems and face the uncertainty.”

Our approach is to remain calm and positive. This crisis, of course, came unexpectedly and it’s affecting many around the world. At the same time, as Carlota pointed out, it’s an opportunity to reconsider our ways and do things better and more consciously.

To give you a bit of insight into how we made the switch to online classes, we’ve asked one of our digital business professors – Tim Cakir – to recount his experience. He revealed what goes into preparing virtual lessons, and shares what he’s done to engage his students.

An unexpected challenge

Tim teaches the Business Online module, a course for Bachelor students that focuses on building ecommerce businesses. He only had one face-to-face class with his current group of students before having to move the course online. Since his teaching style is pretty hands-on and practical, Tim had to quickly find a way to still engage his students online and make learning fun.

His biggest challenge was planning a lesson in a completely different format – through video – and having to prepare digital content.

At the last minute, Tim found a video that they could watch together with the students. It was a recording of a thought-leader in the ecommerce industry talking about trends for 2020. The speaker was an entrepreneur who had built very successful businesses at a young age.

“She was relatable but also very insightful and inspiring. And the video format really engaged the students,” said Tim.

As the students watched the video, they shared their thoughts on the chat. Once the video was finished, they all participated in a debate to discuss the speaker’s main points.

“The great thing about the video conference feature in Canvas is that you can create breakout rooms – separate video calls for groups. I split the class into 6 groups and assigned each group to their own breakout room, so they could work together,” said Tim.

Tim could then join whichever breakout room he wanted and answer the students’ questions as if he was walking from table to table in a classroom. After 30 minutes, the individual calls ended and everyone was brought back into the main room.

“This helped me replicate in-class group work in a very efficient way,” Time said.

Switching to online classes - our experience so far

The advantages of distance learning

According to Tim, students should look at this unprecedented situation – that is, the national quarantine – as an opportunity to learn and prepare for the real world. “It’s important for students to get used to this way of working,” said Tim. “Companies tend to question the effectiveness of remote work. But once this crisis is over, I think that a lot of companies will realise that they can work remotely, and they will continue to do so.”

Studies have shown that remote work can have benefits for business. For example, teleworkers have been shown to be 35-40% more productive than their office-based counterparts. Greater flexibility has also proven effective at improving work performance, with remote workers producing results with 40% fewer quality defects.

And, the combination of higher productivity and improved performance results in better engagement levels: absenteeism is 41% less prevalent among remote workers.

What’s more, remote work can have a positive impact on the environment – as long as it’s done right. While skipping your daily commute does reduce carbon emissions, working from home while consuming an excessive amount of energy from heating or air conditioning can actually be less sustainable than working from an office.

How to make online classes work – 5 tips for teachers

As a way to help his fellow teachers and to show students what goes into preparing an online class, Tim gave us five tips on how to make virtual classes work:

1. Plan interactive classes

Creating an engaging learning environment is the most important aspect – and biggest challenge – of online teaching. Teachers need to be prepared with digital content, like videos and activities, and they need to adapt their way of teaching to the constraints of the virtual classroom. A bit of creativity can go a long way. For example, on of Tim’s favorite tricks is to create online learning games and quizzes on Kahoot. The winner gets an award (Tim has yet to decide what kind), which he hopes will create a healthy and engagind competition between students.

2. Take advantage of technology

At ESEI, we pride ourselves on making the most out of Canvas, our Learning Management System, which is one of the primary enablers of our Project-Based Learning approach.

Next to using this robust learning platform, Tim also recommended trying out other online tools that can help save time or add an element of fun to online classes. One of his favourites is Loom, a free screen and video recording software that lets you create quick how-to videos for students instead of sending them long and complicated emails. Because of the pandemic, Loom has made its plans free to access for all educational institutions worldwide.

3. Facilitate community-building

Conversing online is not the same as students spending time with each other in real life. That’s why it’s more important than ever to make sure there’s a strong sense of community among your class. Tim has tried to achieve this by creating a private chat room where students can virtually hang out during a mid-class break, just like they would at school.

4. Ask students to turn their video on

Tim said teachers should recommend students turn on their cameras; seeing each other’s faces might reduce feelings of isolation. Sitting in the living room or on the bed while taking part in a class can also make students feel more at ease than if they were in a classroom, which, according to him, can be beneficial for the learning experience.

5. Be relaxed and supportive

Last but not least, Tim suggested that teachers stay calm and collected throughout the quarantine. Teachers need to be present to offer their students support and help them feel self-assured. This will make the transition to online classes much easier.

Going forward

“In the coming weeks, I want to provide my students with materials ahead of time so they can come prepared to the online classes,” said Tim. And, he’s committed to implementing the same teaching principles in his online classes that he swears by when he’s teaching in a physical classroom.

“I always tell my students that I’m not here to teach. I’m here to help you learn. I want to help you leverage your time and point you in the right direction. You need to be curious because you only get out of it what you put into it, he said.

So far, our teachers and students have been wonderful at adapting to the recent changes and collaborating in order to make online learning a great experience for everyone involved.

We are working tirelessly to provide students with additional resources and activities on the Canvas platform. To support students in the shift to online learning, we will be offering virtual office hours that can be booked in the Canvas calendar. We’re also preparing extra online career workshops.

To find out more about how ESEI is handling the crisis, check out our COVID-19 information page

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