Avenue – LearnIT2teach In-service Support During COVID, by Paul Carter
As a Live Help Assistant for Avenue and LearnIT2teach I have had a front row seat for the unprecedented past 2 years of online and blended teaching in Canada. I will be telling the story of the early days of the pandemic on Live Help for years to come. I recall saying in the early days of COVID-19, “I have never, ever seen anything like this!” while Live Help was ringing off the hook…and it truly does ring, like an old-style telephone. In March 2020 for the first time in my experience, I was receiving call after call and fielding 4-6 calls simultaneously throughout every shift.
It was a time of panic. Teachers were suddenly thrown into remote teaching, and many were not prepared. Add to that the stress and isolation that came with the pandemic, it was easy to understand that some teachers were overwhelmed and trying to rush through the training. Many of the calls in those early days were for issues that were covered in the training courses that teachers had missed in their rush to get students online. Often some calming words and a link to the help file was all that was needed to get a teacher back on track. Others were struggling because of limited experience with technology, and these callers needed more support. Sometimes screenshots with arrows and notes did the trick, but in a few cases it was necessary to fire up a Zoom or Big Blue Button meeting and share the screen to help a teacher grasp what they needed to know to continue with the training and work with their students remotely.
For about a year after the pandemic started the Live Help remained extremely busy, but as time went on the questions started to change; teachers who had called about making a course visible in the early days were now calling for help creating HTML blocks and Assignments in their courses. I could sense this giant ‘pandemic-cohort’ moving through Stage 1 and Pre-Stage 2 en masse through the calls that were coming in. By the start of 2021 it was becoming less common to have calls about setting up a course and much more common to be fielding calls about course delivery and creating engaging content for learners – skills covered in Stages 2 and 3 of the Avenue – LearnIT2teach training.
Another notable difference around the start of 2021 was a change in the tone of the calls that were coming in. At the start of the pandemic teachers were clearly frazzled, frustrated, stressed, and desperate for immediate assistance and support. As 2021 went on the calls became much calmer, relaxed, curious, and frankly, more challenging to answer as the teachers were taking on more and more complicated features of the courseware and LMS.
With 2022 around the corner, the number of calls has dropped. The volume is still higher than pre-pandemic times. The questions too have changed; from panic driven emergency online teaching problems to professional inquiries about the finer points of creating accessible, user-friendly, engaging settlement language acquisition activities online. With so many teachers now refining their online teaching skills, the sky is the limit for learning technology in the LINC programs across Canada.
With that in mind, it is also very interesting to note that learners have experienced a similar learning curve with online and blended classes. Having interviewed 12 LINC provider organizations here in B.C., I can report that many students who originally resisted online learning have now come to embrace it. Many have now realized that they can study at their own pace and in their own space. Similarly, several programs have seen an increase in intake as students who could not attend in-person classes for a variety of reasons, from conflicting work schedules to family commitments to health concerns, now were able to enroll and begin their LINC language studies online.
Many teachers also reported a similar experience as they have come to appreciate the benefits of Avenue for course delivery; features like grading and reporting, the possibility for immediate feedback and auto-graded activities, an increase in one-on-one time with students via scheduled video chats, and the ability to work from home. Several providers reported that many teachers have commented that they would prefer to stay online or work with a blended course delivery format when the pandemic finally comes under control.
Having watched the LINC teachers across Canada go from panicked to professional on Live Help, I can attest to their resilience, their desire to learn, their ability to adapt, and their creativity and professional online resource development once they got their footing online…working with technology definitely has a learning curve, but once the first part of the climb is over, it just gets easier the higher you go. I can’t wait to see what questions come my way from my trainees and the Live Help callers in 2022. I’ve been amazed at what teachers have been creating this past year, and they are just getting started!