My name is Katrien Bernaerts and I work for Toll-net (Technology-Supported Lifelong Learning). Toll-net offers training programs to teachers and school management to support quality e-learning and combined learning. Toll-net has been part of Klascement since 2019, a Flemish platform for sharing learning materials. I started my career as an adult education teacher in the former centre for adult education CVO DTL, now CVO HIK. I taught IT at secondary school level and various IT-related subjects. In my last years at the centre, I was also the e-learning coordinator. It was my task to encourage other teachers to start using e-learning and to support students with distance learning. That is how I got in contact with Toll-net. I took a Toll-net course and then I started working with distance learning myself. After 3 years, in September 2011, I switched to Toll-net.
I am an EPALE ambassador and I work closely with EPALE Flanders. I regularly post blogs, articles and project results. We also use EPALE to announce our Toll-net events. I also take part in discussions. Last year we worked together for the final conference of our Erasmus+ Future Teacher project. This year we were planning to work together on an international conference, but due to the Covid-19 crisis, unfortunately we have had to postpone it.
Handling the new challenges arising from the Corona virus crisis
Following the outbreak of Covid-19, Toll-net was overwhelmed with questions for help with online teaching. Together with my colleagues we moved everything to webinars in order to support people as much as possible. From the beginning of the lockdown in March to mid-May, we organised 15 open webinars. We reached about 1600 people; a huge amount for Flanders. And we have continued to do this until mid-June. The webinars address a variety of topics. At first we asked people to send us questions and we started from there. We got questions like 'how do I do a live session?', 'how do I put together interactive exercises?', 'how do I use images in online learning?', 'how do I organise a webinar?'… When we felt that the first wave of questions had been answered, we started to go more in depth on some important matters. Teachers can still send us their questions in advance (up to 1 day before the webinar). During the lockdown, we also provided some ‘on demand’ webinars for schools and adult education centers.
We work with a mix of schools and organisations in adult education. As long as there is a link with education and the government and provided it concerns learning for adults, anyone can contact us. For example, we work very closely with VDAB (public employment service) in some areas, but also with other organisations such as, for example, the Agency for Integration and Citizenship. We also recently provided a webinar for the Agency for Agriculture and Fisheries.
Most webinars are based on the results we produced in the Future Teacher project. We made a summary of a number of modules we put together there. In a one-hour webinar, you cannot go into detail on everything. So, we touch on some matters only very briefly and then refer to the modules that people can take if they want more detailed information.
We already had a lot of experience because we were recently the project coordinator of the Erasmus+ project ‘Future Teacher 3.0’, which ended last year. As a result of that project, we also completely revised the Toll-net organisation. We started working from the DigCompEdu framework (The European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators). Within this framework the Joint Research Center of the European Commission proposes 22 ICT competences for teachers. In the project we explored these competences and we put together a questionnaire. In this way, teachers can assess their level of digital competences. Based on that result, they receive a bespoke learning path with online modules. But if you offer them these modules and do not offer coaching as well then people tend to drop out. The project actually stopped with the questionnaire, the learning path and the modules. But we continued after the project by assessing the needs at school or center level with the same Future Teacher questionnaire. First, the teachers complete the questionnaire and receive a personalised learning route. On top of that, the school or center is also offered a learning path for the whole of the school or center. A center can see what their teachers are already good at as well as where there is still room for improvement. They can adapt the professional development schemes of their staff based on these results. The package we offer includes 6 workshops of 2.5 hours. With the Covid-19 crisis we turned them into online sessions. The schools or centers pay a (symbolic) price for this package.
After the Covid-19 crisis
We intend to continue with this new way of working, both in Flanders and in the Netherlands and England. Furthermore, after the Future Teacher Project ended, the project partners continued to work together. We continue to provide the webinars together with our Dutch partner. We always start from what we already have and if possible, we try to improve some modules. We exchange our modules, hence why they are available in these 3 languages. We keep in touch on a monthly basis.
What is special about this period?
We knew that before the Covid-19 outbreak, many teachers did not have a high level of ICT-competences. It occurred to me that they adapted very swiftly to the new circumstances and fully embraced the digital story. They are not scared to ask for support anymore. We get very positive reactions from people after the webinars. They often tell me that they have learned a lot and benefited from the tips I have given them. Then I think "yes, we are where we wanted to be. This was my intention”. That is definitely something I will remember from this crazy period. Furthermore, I think Toll-net gained a lot of publicity thanks to the webinars. Quite a lot of Flemish teachers who did not know about us before, do now. Perhaps we will have to adjust our training program and move to a higher level of explaining the basic concepts.
There is a difference between the questions from schools and questions from organizations in adult education. This is normal because people in adult education often already had experience in working with distance teaching. Teaching online didn’t feel strange to them. Maybe the live sessions were, but definitely not making online modules and content. Based on the questions of the participants, I could guess the experience they had with online teaching. Adult educators had more questions about software for webinars ... which one is the best to us? What are its features? The centers for basic education asked more questions about support for teaching people with very low reading and writing skills. Most centers for adult education already have experience with e-learning or even have an e-learning coordinator. This is less the case in the centers for basic education. We will bundle all questions and will put them online shortly .
Influence on the long term of this crisis
In the future I think we will be teaching less and less in a real classroom. I think that people have made digital materials which they can keep on using, maybe with some small adjustments. During the webinars I advised the participants to keep in mind that the materials they make now should also stay useful in the years t come. A lot of digital materials have been made. In a period of 14 days of the so-called ‘pre teaching’, 1.000 resources have been uploaded to our servers. That is a huge amount.
Want to get started with webinars too?
I think the added value of online teaching lies in the possibility that you can offer a wide variety of support, so people with very different questions can find what they need. A useful tip for organizing webinars : don't do it on your own. Alternate in the presentation with a colleague and have one (or more) assistant(s) to answer the questions the participants ask. And most important of all: keep it interactive! Use polls, allow participants to ‘raise their hand’, let them do small exercises… That way you have enough variety and keep the attention going.
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