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A Quick Shift to Online Teaching: Lessons Learned

Earlier in 2021, Xepto Education hosted the High-impact Online Teaching webinar, which was attended by hundreds of teachers, trainers, and academic experts in the Philippines. We invited renowned instructors and early adopters of online education to share with us their insights and learnings about the new academic environment necessitated by the global health crisis. Our goal was to have a mindshare among educators and use each other’s learnings as input, as blended learning becomes the new normal.

Jason de Villa is the Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning in the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) and has been teaching at the university’s School of Communication for 15 years. In the past year, he managed UA&P’s transition into an online learning environment. These are our key takeaways from his session.

Like most educators, Jason de Villa of UA&P was caught by surprise in the historical year of 2020. It was March when the Philippine government announced the lockdowns. The university’s initiative for a digital Learning Management System (LMS) was already underway even before the pandemic, but implementing it school-wide in a short amount of time was a new challenge. An urgent one, at that.

The prestigious university stood up to the challenge, and, in a few weeks, they set a plan in motion. Here are the learnings de Villa shared for other schools who are also working on establishing a blended learning experience.

First, mindset

Educators had various opinions and preferences regarding the incorporation of technology in the classroom. When the pandemic started, it stopped being a question of whether a teacher would or would not use the LMS. The discussion became how they as educators could help their students to learn at this time. With student learning as the north star, they accelerated their transition plan to the LMS with 50 teachers and then rolled out to the rest of the faculty. Faced with a raging global health crisis and with teachers still familiarizing themselves with a brand new way of teaching, UA&P started the 2020-2021 school year on time and online.

Management support

The digitization initiative would not have been successful if only the teachers and students got behind it. A top-down approach was important. The Board had to be onboard for the following:

  • Approve a budget for the LMS and additional online resources such as Google Workspace, additional library resources, and a dedicated helpdesk for students.
  • Set up policies on hiring, permanence, and even penalties in compliance with the new training plans.
  • Create a dedicated organizational unit for teaching and learning.

Dedicated Implementation Team

A full-time team that will execute the plans is of utmost importance. Shifting to a blended mode of learning is not a one-time event. Content will be uploaded, consumed, improved, and refreshed. Teachers, students, and personnel will need to be trained and skilled up continuously. 

In the case of UA&P, their implementation team did the following:

  • Create a training plan on online pedagogy. They rethought the way lessons are taught and learned, with full understanding that students will need to be engaged differently now that they will take most classes online. 
  • Create a training plan on LMS technical proficiency. They helped teachers understand how to leverage the features of the learning management system.
  • To roll out the LMS training to the entire faculty of 300 teachers, they applied their newly established online pedagogy. The LMS training course was published online so that teachers could take it asynchronously, focusing on outcomes, and allowing the teachers to experience online learning as learners. They taught the faculty not only what to do, but also, through the courses, how they could do it.
  • Set up a feedback mechanism for course organization, course delivery, and student experience.
  • Set up a dedicated helpdesk for learning support.

Student Services

Students have to understand that they have a big stake in an initiative such as shifting to online learning. They need to be part of information dissemination, training, and the feedback loop, so that the school can fully provide learning, emotional, and mental health support based on their needs.

UA&P worked in close coordination with the student body to do the following:

  • Establish the Academic Support Service for Efficient Transition (UA&P ASSET)
  • Set up online consultation for mentoring, guidance, and counseling.
  • Set up helpdesks for technical support and learning support.

The Result and Moving Forward

After a first round of evaluation surveys, UA&P got a score of 4.37 out of 5, an average of the following graded aspects: course instructor presence, course organization delivery, and course assessment and policies. It was a good start for UA&P. At the same time, they understand that it is an ongoing process that they do not expect to perfect in a single school year.

Moving forward, the university has laid down a 3-year plan to implement their new program: 

  • 2020-2021 was focused on enabling the learning community with the new pedagogy and technology platform.
  • For 2021-2022, they will establish a reflective teaching practice so that teachers can assess themselves more frequently, advance their LMS capabilities and skills, and redesign courses for a blended learning environment.
  • For 2022-2023, they will recognize exemplary teachers as a way to encourage the whole faculty to adopt the new best practices, conduct an institutional review of the teaching practice, and generate analytics from the LMS.

Need Help Getting Started?

For some schools still exploring or experimenting with ways to adapt to the new environment, what de Villa shared about the journey of the University of Asia and the Pacific may seem overwhelming. The university did get a head start in their plans to go digital before the pandemic, and it helped that the school population is at a manageable size. 

Xepto is here to help! Xepto Education has handheld schools like the Muntinlupa Science High School and the Balanga City National Science High School to shift to an online Learning Management System, pre-pandemic. Message us at hello@xeptoeducation.com for a consultation and demo.