NAT 200411 E-LEARNING AKK-3-1586601282512
Picture for illustrative purposes only: Left to Right, Aidan Fernando and Ayanca Deanne, doing e-learning from home in their apartment in Dubai. Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Dubai: Instead of suspending subjects that are challenging to teach online, such as lab experiments, arts or PE, UAE teachers are improvising ways to keep students engaged throughout the e-learning phase as classrooms remain closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

At Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai (SISD), teachers are combining creativity and technology to ensure hands-on or practical subjects continue over this e-learning phase.

SISD arts teacher Alexandra Williams said students are being “resourceful” at home in using ordinary items as art materials.

Eye of the beholder

Alexandra Williams

“Cereal boxes which would usually be disposed of can be redeveloped into sculpture, for instance, and old candy wrappers, newspapers and magazines are great for collaging. We can even paint with coffee, and sketch with gel-pens. Students who have access to a garden can easily create environmental art and we can get modern using technology to create digitally modified artwork,” she added.

“In essence, the skill development can still be built, but the application processes will be limited to basic resources – the same resources that master artists and performers have been using for centuries.”

Experimental idea

Charles Cejka, science coordinator at SISD, said teachers or lab technicians plan to film themselves conducting experiments and post the video on the school e-learning platform. In the “worst-case scenario” where they cannot access the materials or equipment, teachers will post a pre-recorded video from YouTube about the experiment.

Charles Cejka

“We will then provide the students with a sample data set and will ask them to write a report based on the provided data and include limitations or improvements related to the experiment that they observed in the video,” Cejka added.

Fine tuning

SISD music teacher Joachim Beyer the process has been “fairly easy to adapt” as students had already been using software to compose music for their e-portfolio.

Joachim Beyer

Beyer added: “Some students do have instruments at home, however, online teaching is much more time consuming but still a valuable experience for both students and teachers… Teaching students specific instrumental techniques and giving them clear instructions, i.e. finger positions, particularly for advanced students in grade 12, is more time consuming, but still manageable and rewarding.”

Getting physical

Even PE (Physical Education) teachers are hopping on the digital bandwagon to deliver customised content for students.

Dr Daniel Doyle, Head of School/Vice Principal of GEMS FirstPoint School, The Villa, said instead of relying on generic workout videos on social media, the school’s PE team “worked tirelessly” to create year-group-specific lessons, each of which includes a workout, nutrition advice, and physical exercise theory.

Students then are required to upload their reflections and the videos of their workouts for feedback. Teachers and leaders review the work and look at how to provide specific challenges for groups of pupils.

There are also whole-school challenges. For example, each student has their own folder where they have a heart-rate tracker, health diary and a place to store their challenge outcomes – this week it is how many push-ups they can complete in a set time.

Dr Daniel Doyle

The school meanwhile continues hosting live sessions. “Our goal for all these ‘difficult to teach’ subjects is not content, but engagement – to develop a culture where all students feel like they are developing and contributing individually and collectively during our time apart,” Dr Doyle said.

Blurring the boundaries

Teachers of different subjects are also working together to create new content across disciplines to counter the limitations of remote learning, said Chitra Raghavan, Vice Principal, DPS Sharjah. For example, art students will design the ads that will complement the business writing composed by English class students – or vice versa.

“We have also launched a live blog with a white-screen for best practices where teachers share their successful experiences, so students ultimately benefit from innovative approaches to learning, which are needed more than ever now,” said Raghavan.