What happens when students are unable to return to campus amidst a viral outbreak? At the Western International School of Shanghai, we’re experiencing this firsthand. With some creativity, planning, and a strong focus on student welfare and safety, we were able to take their education online.
During the Chinese New Year vacation, the Western International School of Shanghai (WISS) received notice from the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission (SMEC) that classes and organized activities on campus must be canceled due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. As a school with a priority on both student safety and student learning, WISS thought it would be best to offer online learning opportunities for students to ensure that student learning did not fall behind with this extended break.
With students and staff working remotely from many locations, WISS is using our regular learning and communication platforms, ManageBac and Storypark, as well as tools like Flipgrid, Seesaw, and Skype to create online learning communities and maintain our close connections between teachers, students, and parents. From our school’s youngest students learning through daily stories and hands-on activities at home to our oldest students solving complex equations or reading and analyzing literature, our dedicated staff is creating assignments that are engaging and developmentally appropriate.
One of the challenges surrounding this situation has been that students and staff are currently in over 20 countries around the world working in different time zones, considering the news of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and the new guidelines came during China’s biggest travel period. “It’s good to know that something like this doesn’t prevent us from learning. Situations like this could happen anytime, and now we all know what to do and how to continue our learning from anywhere in the world,” said Grade 6 student Evelyn.
The response throughout the school has been overwhelmingly positive. “These [have been] difficult days for everybody, I just wanted to thank the teachers [for] all the work they are doing to keep the online learning which my husband and I are finding is the best solution to the situation,” said WISS parent Alejandra Gumuzio.
“We are really impressed with how the school handled the situation and how fast they found a way for the kids to not lose learning time. Teachers have been really supportive, answering questions, and giving feedback,” said WISS parent Rosy Rivera.
The success of this e-learning has been possible primarily because of the staff’s commitment to and passion for student learning. “Our staff is extremely professional, and they love the idea of continuing student’s learning through the online model because they want to contribute and give something back to our students, which shows how highly dedicated they are,” said Dr. Greg Brunton, Director of the Western International School of Shanghai.
One PYP classroom teacher, Libby Cotter, was excited to share her student’s experience with e-learning thus far. “The WISS community is a truly global community! Seventeen students and two teachers in a Grade 5 class began their e-learning experience on Monday 3rd of February. The class connected with one another after their two-week break via an online video platform. Students checked in from 10 countries and shared their experiences and feelings. The students left video replies with words of encouragement on the videos of their peers. As teachers, we were impressed with the deep connections and empathic responses shared by the students.
“This was just the beginning of an amazing journey with e-learning. Each day the students are strengthening important skills and are becoming more flexible. In daily reflections and activities, on a variety of online collaborative platforms, the students have shared about how they are developing their self-management skills and thinking skills by independently managing their time and thinking in new and flexible ways. They have shared with one another that they have grown in their appreciation of school and are realizing how fortunate they are to go to a school like WISS. As a classroom community, we are learning so much about one another and connecting in unique and exciting ways,” said Ms. Cotter.
At a time of widespread fear and uncertainty surrounding the novel coronavirus, the e-learning has given students, staff, and families at WISS some familiarity and normality. With many students stuck at their homes in Shanghai for weeks on end, e-learning has helped keep students busy and given them a feeling of connection to their classmates, but many are eager to return to school. “This situation with coronavirus has made me realize that we take our time together (face to face) for granted. We don’t appreciate seeing each other every day until that opportunity is taken away from us. This e-learning experience is enjoyable, but I still prefer actually being at school, and although I can still communicate with people online, I can’t wait to get back to my usual school routine,”said Evelyn.
The e-learning experience has shown how professional, hard-working, and caring our WISS community is. During this chaotic (and sometimes scary) time, our students have shown their commitment to learning, and our staff has demonstrated their dedication to teaching. This entire situation has highlighted how the WISS community truly lives the IB learner profile traits every day, both on and off campus.
No one knows how long this situation will last and what the next steps will be. Although we are unsure of when we will be able to return to our beloved WISS campus, one thing is for sure, when a crisis strikes, WISS comes together to support our students, staff, and community. In the words of Dr. Greg Brunton, “We are one. We are WISS.”