How could such a transition be made in just two days without quality suffering as a result? How could an open day, entrance exams and preparatory courses for the maths exam for basic school graduates be conducted online?
An unexpected acquaintanceship with Snapchat and YouTube
Due to the unexpected situation resulting from the spread of coronavirus, EBS High School director Kersti Uudla found that she had the opportunity to bring herself up to speed on the social media platforms Snapchat and YouTube, since it was to those very channels that the school’s open day relocated on 13 March, just after the state of emergency had been declared.
“We had very little time to get the event online,” she says. “We recorded a clip for YouTube in a day and a half. I was live on Snapchat during the open day and spoke to about 100 kids, answering all their questions about enrolling and studying at the school. It was a challenge, to put it mildly, but we got there!” Uudla says that if you want to reach young people, it is vital to use channels that are popular among them – and that the crisis provided the perfect impetus to adopt this approach.
Instead of taking entrance exams, the students submitted extracts of their grades from their e-school or Stuudium along with a letter of motivation. They also filled in a questionnaire. Online interviews will be starting on the Microsoft Teams platform next week.
One platform for the whole school
Uudla attributes the school’s adapting to the crisis so successfully to its strategic choice to use just one online environment, which in this case is Microsoft Teams. “If every teacher went with their own preference, the students would have a confusing time of it navigating between all the different platforms,” she says. “The choice we made was based on specific criteria: the functionality we needed; the software that would enable it; and whether we’d also need hardware. Once we’d chosen a single platform that met all our needs, we gave our teachers quick-fire training on how to use it.”
Uudla adds that all teaching work has been able to take place as scheduled and in the amount set out in the timetable. “Our distance lessons are being run in much the same as lessons in the classroom, really,” she explains. “The teacher and their students log in to the class via MS Teams, and the teacher shares their presentation or graphics board or administers a test. And based on the log-ins, the teacher can make a note of who’s there and who’s absent.”
For example, in maths lessons the teacher uses the graphics template in MS Teams. Physical education classes do not take place according to the usual timetable, but students have been advised to engage daily in physical activities and report about them weekly. This can be done via apps and videos on smartwatches and smartphones. There are lots of possibilities for physical activities, depending on the weather or current health, like jogging, bike riding, roller-skating and walking, but also home workouts.
Information that is important to everyone in the school is also shared via an MS Teams channel. In a separate group known as ‘Lunch break’, the teachers get together at the same time every day to share tips and information. A total of 133 students are currently undertaking distance studies at EBS High School, with 297 lessons per week being conducted by 18 teachers, including lecturers from EBS University.
Highlighting the positive aspects of distance studies, Uudla mentions the greater sense of sticking together that now exists between teachers and students and the significant reduction in the use of paper.
“The biggest challenges distance studies pose are staying focused and how tired your eyes and back can get from sitting and staring at a screen all the time,” she says. “There’s a lot you can do yourself for the good of your mental health, and you also need to plan a sufficient number of breaks and make sure you get up and move around every now and then.”
Indrek Vaino, who teaches history, literature, art, philosophy and the cultural and economic history of Northern Europe at the school, adds that the new approach has surprised him for the good will exhibited by the students. “They’re really getting involved in the lessons and they’re supportive across the board,” he reveals. “There’s definitely a feeling that we’re all in this together and that we’re all working together. If nothing else, that’s reflected in the fact that we always sign off at the end of lessons by wishing each other well. So that element of human contact and decency is still there.”