Just like all LINC service providers, the project was caught by surprise by the pandemic and the suspension of face-to-face classes. Early on, we identified two groups of teachers by their preparedness to pivot to online teaching when the COVID crisis began:
- Teachers who already employed a LINC blended learning strategy in their face to face instruction, and whose learners had been oriented to using Moodle and information technology in their learning;
- Teachers who had previously made minimal use of information technology. A sub-set of the second group was teachers who personally had limited skills with information technology.
The first group of teachers and their learners were clearly better prepared to shift from face-to-face to online learning but teachers still needed our help to adapt blended learning courseware to online distance delivery. The second group needed urgent interventions and assistance to minimize frustrations and help them enable online learning and coach their learners through the courseware set up and orientation required.
The project responded with six initiatives:
- Webinars to help teachers transition from both LINC Blended Learning or no significant use of online technologies to online distance learning: From April to the end of June, twenty Zoom webinars were developed, delivered and archived to coach teachers through relevant issues.
- Live Help: The hours of our synchronous online chat link to learning technology experts were extended by one-hour per day Monday to Friday.
- EduLINC Teacher Forum: A discussion forum was created in EduLINC and all the active teachers in the system were automatically registered. The forum has become a very active venue for sharing of challenges, barriers, expert help and opportunities.
- COVID-19 Bulletin mail out: A bulk email to all the SPOs in our database (about 240) was written and distributed. The focus was on informing SPOs about our initiatives to support their local response to the pandemic.
- Streaming Video: In preparation for the launch of Avenue on August 17th, a 13-minute video was researched, scripted and developed. The video describes the history and aims of the project, the project response to COVID-19, and the new Avenue solution to online and blended learning.
- LearnIT2teach Training Updates: The training has been modified to better prepare teachers for online teaching. Changes include a new course to enhance the basic digital skills of teachers and a new section in Stage 3 with strategies for teaching fully online.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present challenges and surprises. With many LINC programs returning in September after summer breaks, we don’t know whether service providers will be able to engage immediately with face-to-face teaching or be obliged to continue with online distance learning. If face-to-face learning is possible, even temporarily, it will be an opportunity for non-participating programs and teachers to orient their teachers and learners to Avenue. A resumption of face-to-face will enable outlier service providers to engage with better practices in online distance learning should a suspension of face-to-face again become necessary.
The Avenue project must continue to be nimble in our responses to changing conditions. Fortunately, our network of expert mentors continues to be a strength of the project. They number 18 and are spread from coast to coast. The project still has capacity to welcome more teachers and service providers and enable language teaching professionals to provide LINC online or blended learning.