We interviewed Academic Director Caroline Preston about how International House Newcastle managed to switch from a 99% face to face school to a 100% online school at the end of March. Skills which staff member Sarah Lally had learnt on the IH Certificate in Online Tutoring proved to be particularly useful.
Here is what Caroline had to say.
We could feel the change brewing as Covid-19 spread rapidly throughout Europe. Therefore, in the run up to total closure we prepared the teachers for the inevitable as best we could whilst still operating as a face-to-face school.
At the beginning of March the idea of switching to an online school seemed insurmountable and overwhelming. It could not have been done without the team of fantastic teachers and the core admin team who stayed positive throughout this difficult time. We feel that we have managed to produce a product which is a viable alternative to face to face, maintaining an excellent quality of teaching and the personal touch which I believe is one of the main strengths of IH Newcastle.
When we made the switch to online at the end of March , students were pleased to have such a quick and effective response to maintain their studying. They too were able to adapt immediately and work with their teachers to ensure they continued to make progress even during this time. The majority felt appreciative that we were offering such a service and that our main concern was that they were safe and well whilst studying. The first few days were more of a challenge in terms of technology and the strain of being on Zoom but we were amazed at how quickly a routine became established.
We were fortunate that one of our current teachers, Sarah Lally, had completed the IH COLT course. She was able to prepare the team in the run up to the switch to online. With the help of CPD sessions and amazing support we all gained confidence in this new kind of teaching. According to Sarah “The COLT course helped to breakdown the boundaries around online teaching and provided essential methods for delivering successful synchronous and asynchronous learning, whilst also highlighting ways to adapt materials for the online classroom ensuring the lessons are still as engaging as face to face.”
As academic director I was faced with the challenge of having to manage a team remotely. We immediately set up a Whatsapp group and used this not only to share information but also as a way of relating anecdotes and boosting each other. Once a week, I have hosted a Zoom catch up meeting. It has been important to get feedback from the teachers about timetabling of the classes and how to organise the day. In these Zoom meetings we have also had the chance to discuss individual students and their progress.
Caroline then explained in a bit more detail how the new online courses are structured.
Current Course components
· Asycnhronous learning 2-3 hours a day via Net Languages.These Net Language courses allow the students to work flexibly at their own pace.
· Synchronous learning- 2 hours a day via Zoom. Delivered by specialised online teachers. The students have the same teacher at the same time every day. The classes are linked to the Net Languages topics which makes the whole course coordinated These Zoom classes replicate the communicative classroom in a virtual setting -focusing on the learner by using breakout rooms to encourage high student participation
· 1:1 – 30 minutes per week. In these 30-minute classes the student has the opportunity to work on a specific area of interest of need or to practise speaking in a general English or exam context.
· Regular tutorials
· Online social programme and welfare
We offer all levels from A1 to C2 and apply the same quality standards as if we were teaching in a real classroom. My role as academic director has not changed significantly as we are still making sure that we offer a fantastic service- not only in terms of delivering quality classes but going that extra bit further. By giving extra writing tasks and offering welfare tutorials we are in constant contact with the students. If a student is not attending we follow this up to check they are ok and try to find out the reason for missing classes.
We have just launched specialized Business English classes following the same model with CLIL and Younger learners in the pipeline for June.