Think teaching is easy

Testimonials : How teachers and students experience learning from a distance

Participation platform “aula” becomes a digital classroom

Dejan Mihajlović, secondary school teacher in Baden-Württemberg: We have had a digital platform at my school for almost five years, which was introduced as part of the “aula” participation concept. Since the school closed, we have simply been using the digital classrooms there to communicate tasks, questions and any information. “Aula” was originally conceived to enable schoolchildren to contribute, plan and vote on their ideas on how school life could be improved.

The change to distance learning naturally requires some changes, both on the part of the teaching staff and in the classes. Finally, solid structures have been abruptly eliminated. The starting position, whether and which technical or professional support can be guaranteed for all of this at home, is very different. I see that as the greatest challenge to take into account. I see an opportunity in the fact that teachers and learners meet and experience each other in new roles, and I hope that positive experiences will continue to have an effect beyond this time.

When contact with families is difficult

Sabine Czerny, teacher at a primary school in Bavaria: I am currently also teaching first and second grade language learning children. It is very difficult to come into contact with them at all - the families do not understand or speak German. At the beginning of the school year I tried to find an interpreter for every family; I am now trying to enable communication through this. However, the parents are usually not or difficult to reach. Most of the time they don't have e-mail, apart from the fact that most of them cannot read and write in their own language either.

WhatsApp in combination with a translation program with voice output via a second device would be technically possible. This is the only program most people use, but normally I shouldn't use it for data protection reasons - now I've set up a second account. In some cases, there are only outdated telephone numbers or numbers of relatives or neighbors. The phone is also often switched off, and nobody answers or answers text or voice messages.

Independent learning is still very difficult for these children, as they came to school with inexperienced learning and to a large extent are still overwhelmed with “demonstrating - imitating”. Even now, the value of education is only gradually developing in these families - at least half of the children had done their homework more or less completely by the half-year. How I would like to support her at least via video chat, but so far nothing like that is to be thought of. My friends and colleagues who teach similar groups of students are, like me, very concerned that some of these children will not be practiced in the next few weeks and that they will tend to forget what they have already learned.

All classes start the day with a video conference

Philippe Wampfler, teacher at a canton school, the Swiss equivalent of a grammar school, in Zurich: The school closure in mid-March didn't catch me entirely unprepared - I expected it. That was helpful: the first few days I was very productive, looking for solutions at school and supporting colleagues. It felt like I'd been preparing for this exact moment over the past few years. Suddenly everyone was pragmatic and interested in solutions.

I work at a high school that uses Office 365. All learners and teachers have an account. Lessons are primarily held on “teams”. All classes start the day with a video conference. It has a social meaning: You start the day together, notice each other.

In the individual subjects, it is up to the teachers how they interact with classes. A lot is done through video conferences, but also through written assignments. I make sure to use group work that encourages students to keep in touch with one another. Projects in which I do not monitor every learning step are also important.

There are drawing tutorials for entertainment

Ulrike Ammermann, teacher at a grammar school in Hamburg: Everything starts with our skiing holiday - empty slopes and small groups for the children in the ski school. On the last day, a colleague asks me whether I should teach after returning from the risk area in Italy. The schools will be closed shortly afterwards. The first time I try to reach my fifth graders by phone. We prepare weekly work plans for them, which they pick up at school with their books. Not every student is digitally equipped.

There is also a rumble behind the scenes. Our document exchange program doesn't let me into the system, the e-mail service regularly throws me out. At some point I can send the high school students their work packages with link lists and “Prezi” presentations by email.

The first inquiries come late in the evening. In the morning Leon reports from the fifth. He's bored and he's already done all of the tasks. On closer inspection, there is still a lot to do. For entertainment, I send him drawing tutorials. Mehmet, whose book package is still missing, also gets it. Then I get pictures of funny raccoons. I return the favor with a drawn elephant whose neck is too thick. But, hey, we all grow with our jobs.

In the first week there were only orders for the main subjects

Matthias Förtsch, teacher at a grammar school in Baden-Württemberg: "Imagine it's school and no one goes" - fortunately, we opened this perspective almost two years ago in our "Contemporary Learning" project. We wanted to rethink schools, sometimes detached from the institutional framework. Now, during the Corona break, it is becoming clear what importance is attached to independence and assumption of responsibility in learning, how formal and informal learning (must) intertwine. Many of our students know “Office 365” with the apps “OneNote” and “Teams” really well, are used to working collaboratively, giving each other feedback and looking for additional sources. What we are now using more is the video chat function to better maintain direct contact.

In the first phase it was important to us to let everyone get into this difficult situation, that is: Only the teachers of the main subjects distributed assignments in the first week. We also initially focused on repetition, deepening and project-like work. As a class teacher, I initiate a video chat with the class once a week for soul hygiene, for telling about everyday life, coordinating the tasks of the subject teachers and much more. Everyone is allowed to relax. From the second week onwards, assignments from the other subjects are added, but also here carefully, with a maximum of two thirds of the teaching time as the time limit.

Fortunately for us: In the three years before we succeeded in taking around 40 percent of the teaching staff on the way to modern forms of learning (in the sense of “4K skills”), now 100 percent within a week. Without exception, all colleagues are now using the platform. This of course also means accompaniment, support, tutorials ... With otherwise gloomy prospects, overtime is full of joy that something is moving.

Decide for yourself when to complete the tasks

Lucas, grade 8 student at a grammar school in Baden-Württemberg: Of course, this form of learning is very different from the one we all know. After all, one thing remained the same in all of our school life until the beginning of last week: We all always had to go to school. This results in a completely new situation for every student in Germany, which everyone has to deal with for themselves first. In our case - as a student in a project class who works with the tablet as a technical aid in class - it quickly became clear from the tablet that we would continue to work digitally with the tablet - just like in class, only now at home. We also use apps such as “Teams”, “OneNote” or digital versions of books for this purpose. The homework is then given in "teams".

Personally, I find this new way of learning a very exciting experience. Because things also happen that would never happen in everyday school life, for example video conferences with all students in which we talk about the new learning situation or even have lessons. Of course there are also a few negative things, such as the lack of personal contact between students and teachers, uncertainties during class work or the uncertainty whether the technology will always work!

Overall, however, I think that I coped with the situation quite well and that it will not show any enormous learning disadvantage for me. There are even things that I like better about homeschooling than with the current normal school system, for example that you can largely decide for yourself when you want to do your tasks. In summary, I would like to say that I do not consider such a system to be mature enough to be an alternative to our school system in the long term, but with such a rapid development of the school and digitization, I consider it only logical that a similar form this system will one day be the future of our school system.

There is a lack of togetherness and fun

Philline, grade 8 student at a grammar school in Baden-Württemberg: It is of course a completely different form of learning - now that we have to study from home. But it's also an experience of a lifetime. When it was said that the schools were going to be closed and that we would continue to study digitally via “teams”, I thought at first: It could be something - because some teachers have not yet familiarized themselves with this type of learning.

We have received assignments beforehand via “Teams” or asked the teacher things or written our notes in “OneNote” or learned English on a language app, but that is no comparison to the situation now. It is just as unfortunate not to have any more personal contact with our classmates or teachers. I also had concerns that it would work out with the tasks as a whole.

The teachers actually managed that pretty well. Every day they put their tasks in "teams", which we then have to work on by a certain point in time, and which we also have to hand over to some teachers. I think it's better if you have to hand in the assignments, because when they say you don't have to hand in the assignment, some students don't do it. We also have video meetings with our class teacher from time to time to discuss how we should continue or simply talk about how we can deal with this situation. And in the last few days I was really amazed at how many teachers are now going digital.

Once you're in such a situation where you have to stay at home and not go to school, I really notice how nice it was always to go to school and how much fun it was School has. Learning is fun, even if you don't feel like doing class work, there is simply no togetherness - learning with friends, explaining, talking and sometimes having fun - is simply missing. But it is still amazing that you can learn a lot with today's technology, even without going to school.