Last week, it was announced that enrichment classes and tuition centres would have to suspend their physical lessons. This led to many centres scrambling to go online so that students could carry on with their classes.
Many of these enrichment classes had already been pre-paid and rather than cancelling and refunding fees, going online meant that some semblance of a routine can be retained and the enrichment centres, many of the small businesses, can also be sustained.
Experiencing Online Enrichment Classes
Over the weekend, we had the chance to experience two different centres’ approaches to online enrichment classes.
Teething problems are inevitable, especially given the short notice with which the plans had to be put into action. As such, there are always lessons to be learnt and would be useful for both parents and centres – told from a parent’s point of view.
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Online classes are a new reality and something which we all have to adapt to during these unusual times.
Done properly (and there have been classes which have had good experiences with online classes), they can help children continue with their enrichment classes during this period of time.
1. Clear and Timely Communication is Key
Establish Key Communication Channels/Platforms
Once it was announced that physical classes would be suspended, some of the centres immediately contacted us through the existing parents WhatsApp groups or emails to inform us that lessons would be shifting online. There was a bit of reconfiguration required as physical classroom time slots had to be sorted out into new virtual time slots. This also meant that new “Parents Coordination Groups” had to be set up for the new virtual classes, especially since the necessary infrastructure for online lessons was required at home.
The instructions for the lessons were sent via email whereas a parent was waiting for the instructions through the WhatsApp channel. This ended up being very confusing for the parent because she did not get the instructions and her child could not participate in the lessons on time.
Ensure Key Persons Are Added
What we noted was that in one group, only one of the child’s parents was added. However, the child’s other parent, who was the responsible for helping the child manage the shift to online lessons, was not added.
One practical suggestion for enrichment centres is that after setting up the new Parents Coordination Group, they can check with the parents if ALL the necessary people who need to be in the Parents Coordination Group have been added. In some cases, it could even be the grandparents helping the child to manage the online lessons while the parents are at work. Checking would help to smoothen out the new processes, which now extend beyond the centres into the students’ homes.
Also, remind parents where to expect to receive the needed materials for the classes, whether through the WhatsApp groups or email.
2. Prepare an Area and Equipment for Online Lessons (and Requirements Vary)
With more of us working from home, space can be a premium. And having children doing their enrichment classes at home adds to the pressure on space too. However, it is something we have to cope with.
Ideally, to support online learning, it is best to set aside a space at home where the kids can do their lessons. However, what this space looks like can also depend on the format of the online lessons.
One of the online enrichment classes we experienced was conducted through pre-recorded videos and a discussion forum. This required nothing more than a desktop computer without a camera. However, midway through, we also discovered that it would be useful for our child to have a pair of headphones so as not to disturb the rest of the people at home. This led to us having to search around for a pair of headphones at the last minute.
Another lesson we took away from this “discussion forum”-style lessons was the importance of touch typing. It became clear that our child had to interact with the teacher through the keyboard – and touch typing is a skill which would help a child to participate efficiently during such lessons.
The second enrichment centre’s class was conducted over Zoom. This two-way video conferencing software allows everyone to see everyone else in the class. We had to find a different study area and a device with a camera this time (yes, the computer we used for the forum-based class did not have a camera).
In this case, we also used a set of headphones, but we had to make sure that the headphones had a microphone feature so that our child could interact with the teacher. A standard pair of mobile phone earphones with the microphone AND a headphone jack did the trick.
In addition, we had to find a spot where the background did not reveal too much of what was going on at home. After all, life still went on at home and we didn’t want to keep making an appearance in the background while the lesson was going on.
Perhaps, the other piece of equipment we didn’t expect to have to revive was humble home printer. The enrichment centres offered us the option to either pick up the materials from the centre locations or to print them out at home. We opted for the latter and now have to make sure we have enough paper and toner to print out the worksheets which are required for each lesson.
As long as the materials are sent out by the centre well in advance, such as the day before, there should be enough time to print them out and make sure they are available for use by the child.
3. Get to Know the Technology
Many enrichment centres’ core competency is not technology and, understandably, they are trying to come to grips with how to do online lessons. In much the same way, parents are learning too.
If a class has certain technical requirements, it would be good share in advance. Similarly, if there are certain “technical” rules of engagement, for example requiring students to have cameras on during the Zoom session, these should also be communicated too. This will help classes go smoother while maximising the use of technology.
After the class, there was a note from the centre saying that they had a problem with the network connection. It is not clear if the centre was using a wired cable or a wireless WiFi connection to conduct the Zoom session. However, for the connection to be stable, the first step should be to make use of a cable connection for the streaming of the Zoom session. Hopefully, this something to be improved upon.
There can be a lot of nuances with technology.
Ideally, to help deal with these nuances, centres can get some technical expertise to help set up their technical infrastructure, or there should be a designated technical help available for parents to reach out to.
4. Parents and Centres Need to Partner Closely
This shift to online enrichment classes is something which we have to adapt to. We believe that all parties, both centres and parents, have the child’s interest at heart and, after the initial teething issues are sorted out, the learning can continue with the use of technology.
One implication of this shift for parents (or caregivers) is that there is a need to step up and play a larger role, especially in the transition phases. On a practical level, this means setting up a study area, printing out material in advance, being the technical support if the child stumbles over the technology.
Similarly, centres need to work at communicating openly with parents, seeking out and being willing to take constructive feedback.
These are unusual times for everyone. Both enrichment centres and parents are coming to grips with new ways of doing things. There needs to be some leeway on the parts of both centres and parents when it comes to doing things. We hope that everyone can continue learning and improving how online classes can be conducted more effectively.