The Covid-19 pandemic precipitated a crisis in every sector related to teaching, which resulted in schools and institutes adapting to a digital format. It’s estimated that, only in Argentina, 4.2 million students stopped going to educational facilities. Because of that, the National Ministry of Education of Argentina is offering a variety of online resources and tools to compensate for the absence of on-site classes.
Adapting at Project Nahual
The case of Project Nahual wasn’t an exception: we also had to adapt our teaching methods. Luckily, the team of teachers was vigilant from the very beginning and, before the lockdown started, they had already decided that classes would not start until April, pending the Government’s decision. Hence, when the “mandatory and preventive social isolation” was decided on, in March 19th, there was enough time to think and decide on a strategy to teach the courses of the first semester.
In Nahual, all decisions are taken in an assembly, which is why, in this scenario, a special meeting was organized with all the active nodes. According to Emiliano Mansilla, QA at intive and teacher at Nahual, there were two prevailing opinions: that classes should be postponed and that they should be adapted to the digital format.
“In both cases, we had a lot to do, because if classes were postponed, the idea was to support every person who had already graduated from Nahual so that they could enter the labor market in this particular context,” says Emiliano. He adds: “In case it was decided that classes would be given virtually, which is what happened, we had to adapt our pedagogical approach to the digital world, and we had never done that before.”
Taking this into account, we worked on different points to adapt ourselves to the new reality:
A team was put together to adapt all the program and learning topics to the digital format, from a pedagogical point of view. This team was made up of, at least, one person of each node and each course, since the situations and contexts differed. For example, in the case of the Mexican node, the course had already started in early March, and even though Mexico didn’t go into lockdown, they also managed to go digital.
Another key task for the team was to search for digital tools that would facilitate effective communication and teach efficiently. Out of all the available options, the Microsoft Teams platform was chosen. This tool, which is free for nonprofit organizations, allows us to have classes on videoconference, group students to carry out certain tasks and even upload files in a centralized manner. In some cases, apart from Teams, Zoom was chosen for videoconferences.
- Communication/ Induction
At the same time, teachers and collaborators were in constant communication with students through WhatsApp, which has the advantage of being an instant communication app that most cellphones have nowadays.
Implementing Nahual Remotely
In order to integrate all the students, different strategies were implemented, such as the one mentioned by Isaías Montenegro, Social Media Manager at intive and teacher at Nahual:
In the Banfield node, we really insist on integrating every person doing the course. We always try to focus on creating a community because of the context of the place where we teach the course, which is a soup kitchen in a neighborhood. Although it’s complicated to get the same effect we get when we teach on-site, we are constantly thinking of ways in which students can get to know each other. For example, we use the “Paddlet” platform so that everyone can write a little bit about their lives, what they do, what they like, etc. Then we try to make everyone participate in class and we always allot the first 15 minutes for a more informal conversation.
Classes started with 200 students from different nodes and, so far, the experience has been quite satisfactory. At first, it was stressful anticipating possible technical problems or the fact that this approach could be much more “boring” than an on-site class but, up to now, classes are working perfectly. Teachers devote a lot of energy and mix moments of dynamism and moments of relaxation, always looking to share experiences that might promote learning. In this sense, it’s vital that teachers connect and interact with each other so as to coordinate work groups.
As for the assessment of student performance, some activities are scheduled so that they can be done during the week, and participation in class is also assessed. The aim is mostly to get to know which topics are clear and which need further explanation. Practical tasks are also used to exercise more technical aspects.
New Challenges, the Same Spirit
It’s a challenging experience, both for teachers and students, since it’s the first time many of them teach or learn online. The main issues have to do with technical problems, such as poor internet connection, little time available because students are living with their families, or even trouble integrating with the rest of the group or learning certain concepts, since this is their first encounter with the digital world.
We’re faced with challenges from which we’re constantly trying to learn, and we try to solve them so that no one drops out. Even though the team misses teaching on-site and the working method is different, every Saturday the goal’s the same: to keep up the same energy levels, create a community and preserve the magic of Nahual.