‘Schools are closed, but learning is open,’ due to the lockdown announced by President Ramaphosa on 23 March, caused concern and panic for parents and teachers. Decisions and preparations to address the matter of schooling and teaching had to be made in a short time to address the situation unfamiliar to 21st century citizens.
News and media is abuzz with information on the closing of schools for an unknown period and the effect on teaching and learning in Basic Education. The impact on Highers Education and in particular institutions in the business of teacher training, not so much discussed. Important to remember that the period after the Easter recess is usually the time that preservice teachers visit schools for a very important and compulsory part of their training, namely Work Integrated Learning ((WIL), usually termed Teaching Practice.
At the Two Oceans Graduate Institute, a new and independent institute offering an accredited B Ed degree in the Intermediate Phase, the initial blended mode of delivery rapidly morphed into a fully online mode of teaching and learning since 2018. The programme is expounded in the Online Teaching and Learning policy of 2019.
Motivating the transition to a fully online mode of delivery was not a virus or threat like now, but to accommodate our students. As word about the institution spread due to smart marketing on social media, students from all over the country and a couple from abroad, registered for a qualification in teaching. Most of these students are non-traditional students, many of them mature people, having to support themselves; some have families, have been employed before or are employed as teaching assistants, but with a burning desire to qualify as teachers. The motivation: to bring about positive change in their communities. Many of these students did not have the opportunity to study at a university after matric. Asynchronous, off-campus online learning enables them to study and gain the credits required for the B Ed degree.
Due to the fully online teaching and learning programme, available on the Learner Management System (LMS), the academic programme continued in spite of the crisis and lockdown. A crisis to deal with was that students were supposed to visit schools for Teaching Practice in April. During this period, they would have been gaining invaluable experience in classrooms, while working on tasks specifically set for this period.
After much discussion with Management, I made the call to start planning for a unique substitute model. When life returns back to normal, the traditional Teaching Practice will be reinstated and lecturer visitations to assess lessons will then be possible. To us it was important not to disrupt our students’ study programme by postponing or cancelling Teaching Practice.
Immediately, planning started to address the crisis. The Teaching Practice Coordinator in collaboration with the team involved set to task to design a reinvented WIL programme called: ‘Remote teaching in a time of crisis’. The design of the programme ensured that The Two Oceans Graduate Institute will still provide a structured and supervised program that is integrated into the learning program and will be formally assessed (DHET, 2015:13). The traditional learning from practice in practice still the ideal, but with this model it is certain that students will be able to analyse different practices across a variety of contexts, draw from case studies, video recordings, and a different kind of lesson observation forming a basis for learning in practice (DHET, 2015:10). At the same time, students will get the opportunity to learn in training for example preparing, teaching, and reflecting on lessons presented, within different contexts. Students can learn from this current situation in a completely novel manner.
Tapping into research done in countries where teaching and learning continue during a delayed opening or during an unanticipated school closure when face-to-face instruction is suspended, opened knowledge to ‘Instructional Continuity Planning’ (Washington College, n.d.; Georgetown University, n.d.; Rome School of Music, Drama and Art, n.d.)
Schools all over the world, also in South Africa, had to develop alternative plans for teaching and learning in this time. The goal of such a plan is to ensure that teachers carry on instruction remotely in the case of a delay or school closure and the disruption of regular classroom instruction.
Many considerations play a role in the development of distance learning programs, such as accessibility, type and quality of materials, and the length of time that this type of learning must be maintained. There is also a variety of potentially viable distance learning methods.
The Teaching Practice Module for the students of the Two Oceans Graduate Institute is in place as a once off, contingency plan in this time of the COVID19 pandemic. The instructions to the students were made available in such a way that they have absolute clarity on what is expected from them for this module.
Assignments include a report on Instructional Continuity Planning and remote teaching in the time of crisis. The report will cover the actions and practices at a selected school to continue teaching, learning, assessment and the communication during national lockdown. What are the teachers doing to provide education despite the crisis? What resources were used for remote teaching and how does this reach the learners? A discussion on and critical engagement with the distance learning technologies and available training materials. There is so much information on distance schooling coming through now and it could be a very good exercise for our students to take notice of this and critically evaluate because some of it is very good, but some of it is not suitable at all. What support is available? Accessibility of learning material, especially in poorer communities.
Another assignment will include interviews with teachers in practice to determine the process of teaching and learning, assessment, communication that occurred at their schools during this time.
Students will plan lessons for remote teaching, as well as traditional lessons to portray the ability to apply their pedagogical content knowledge.
Their instructions include the writing of a weekly detailed guided reflection on their Teaching Practice experience.
In conclusion, the national lockdown and the consequences on teaching provided an opportunity to develop a model that could still serve the purpose of Teaching Practice, but in a completely new and fresh manner. This model is a temporary substitute for the traditional physical school visitations, making sure that our students gain the required experience.
Dr Georina Westraadt and Ms Adrienne van As
Georgetown University. n.d. Instructional Continuity. [Online] Available at: https://uis.georgetown.edu/academic-continuity/ [Accessed on 30/03/2020]
Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art. n.d. Instructional Continuity Plan. [Online] Available at: https://arts.catholic.edu/faculty-and-research/instructional-continuity-plan/index.html [Accessed on 30/03/2020]
South Africa Department of Higher Education and Training. 2015. National Qualifications Framework Act (67/2008): Revised policy on the minimum requirements for Teacher Education Qualifications. [Online] Available at: http://www.dhet.gov.za/Teacher%20Education/National%20Qualifications%20Framework%20Act%2067_2008%20Revised%20Policy%20for%20Teacher%20Education%20Quilifications.pdf [Accessed on 30/03/2020]
Washington College. n.d. Instructional Continuity. [Online] Available at: https://www.washcoll.edu/offices/educational-technology/instructional-continuity/ [Accessed on 30.03.2020]