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School Disruptions: An Opportunity to Explore Digital Learning

POSTED: March 16, 2020Category: AISA ArticlesBY: Barnabas Suva

By Trillium Hibbeln, Associate Director, NEASC Commission on International Education

NEASC believes that learning can happen anywhere and anytime. If the need arises for a school to temporarily close campus, a backup plan for digital learning not only allows learning to continue but can provide an opportunity for exploring ways to strengthen instructional practice through technology.

The NEASC ACE Learning protocol helps schools look at time away from the classroom as an opportunity rather than an obstruction. We encourage schools to experiment with new types of learning experiences outside of the traditional time and space of school.

There are many ways for schools to think about and explore this type of growth. How do we capitalize on a disruptive experience – whether planned closures or an unpredicted crisis – to enhance and improve learning long after a return to normalcy? How do we use this experience as a school community to understand what learning could look like in the future? How might we strengthen our emergency plans for future events?

Digital learning puts much of the ownership of learning on the learners. ACE’s Fifth Learning Principle states that “learners are engaged with and inspired by their learning, and that learners have autonomy over their learning, supported by teachers acting as coaches and mentors.” Digital learning, done well, is a perfect conduit for this type of student-centered exploration. A strong digital learning plan enables students to learn from their environment and share their learning with the school community in a meaningful way.

A positive facet of long-term school disruption is that it often gives learners time to focus on topics that specifically interest them. Schools that provide space for autonomy empower their students to pursue a personalized learning experience. Schools will need to try to avoid pushing traditional content through digital means but rather rethink what engaged learning might look like for students who are connected globally to content and to each other.

Another of ACE’s Learning Principles (LP 10) focuses on building a community of trust and support. In times of disruption, community matters more than ever: how you communicate effectively with people; how quickly you can set up new modes of collaboration; how you deploy advisory, counselling and academic support. When many day-to-day school structures are disrupted, especially in times of crisis, services like learning support and counselling are more important than ever. Learning communities can be strengthened in difficult times when communication, support, and collaboration are attended to.

A time of crisis is especially disruptive and life-altering for those living through it, in school and out. Yet, the rest of the world continues as before, at its regular pace. For example, High School students displaced or quarantined because of the coronavirus must still prepare for their IB exam, study for AP tests, and get ready for college entrance examinations just like students outside of the impacted areas. Maintaining a sense of community and continuity is essential for the well-being and success of everyone connected to the school.

Schools building an emergency plan should start with systems that already work for them and are familiar to students and staff. Schools should ask: What online platforms do we already have? How can we maximize these features? Can we test our ideas by having our entire learning community try out our digital learning plan for a day or two?

We have much to learn from those experiencing disruptions to their school because of public health crises, natural disasters, political upheaval, and even planned construction projects. Our students live in a global, interconnected, digital world. An experience in digital learning and community building can provide them with valuable new skills that will help them succeed in the complex future ahead.

About the Author

Trillium has served NEASC-CIE schools primarily in Asia, the Middle East and Europe from 2016 first as an International Accreditation leader. In her role at Associate Director at the Commission on International Education she focuses on ensuring that schools and accreditation visitors have the tools, training, and support to utilize the ACE Learning protocol to transform. She is heavily involved in developing the protocols and processes for NEASC’s accreditation work and conducts training, workshops and school consulting around the world. She is currently based in Shanghai, China, where she serves as a regional resource for NEASC-CIE schools in Asia. She has also lived and worked overseas in Norway, Thailand, Paraguay, Haiti, the United States, and Italy. In 2009, she founded an educational non-governmental organization (The Power of Education Foundation) that provides access to education, nutrition, medical care, and community development to vulnerable children in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Trillium was previously the executive director and the Chairman of the board. Trillium has held leadership positions for ten years in the US non-profit sector where she led large change initiatives, such as the operational planning for a new Children’s Hospital. She also worked with physicians and community leaders to develop programs and services in areas such as childhood obesity, infant mortality, and medical research to positively impact children in her community. She enjoys the challenge of designing and developing new initiatives and ensuring that all stakeholders’ voices are heard in the process. Trillium holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from James Madison College at Michigan State University and a master’s degree in K-8 education from The College of New Jersey. She has worked in international school education in Asia and South America at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

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