With online learning now part of the daily rhythm of life under lockdown, Swiss households are being slowly converted into classrooms.
The role reversals are not entirely welcome, as parents are now subbing as teachers and stepping in as IT support.
Momizen talks with TechLabs founder Joel Radvanyi about how online learning should be working for parents - not against them.
Done well, online learning can recreate the classroom experience in the home, even for complex subjects like coding and robotics.
As we start the fourth week of Covid-19 confinement what are some of the trends you’re seeing with online learning?
The definition of education is taking on new forms, but parsing across what we could call synchronous and asynchronous teaching. Live presentations on Facebook and YouTube are fun, but still passive viewing experiences, or asynchronous. Zoom or Hangouts sessions with a teacher on the call is the same as having a teacher in the classroom. With synchronous learning, if you’re lost the teacher definitely hears you.
How are parents responding to the challenge, is every household suited for online learning?
You know, most parents didn’t choose education or IT as a career track. We spend a lot of time onboarding families prior to getting them into the Zoom session with our teachers. So 90 mins of online study is exactly that, rather than 30 mins of debugging, which can happen if you’re new to this.
What are some of the onboarding measures you take with parents and students before starting a class?
Our aim is to help children learn more about their operating system so parents don't have to sit-in as IT support. We'll normally send an email checklist or video tutorial to install software, but for robotics courses we conference with families beforehand to test the connectivity and pairing with microelectronic devices which can be tricky.
And how does the online dynamic change for your teachers?
TechLabs instructors were very creative in making the online classes as fun as our after-school programmes, where children have microelectronics and smart sensors in their hands. For the free online classes last week we had students upload their code remotely to our bluetooth enabled mBots - and they instantly came to life, whirring and buzzing around the room.
Being STEM teachers your staff were already fluent in digital workspaces before the quarantine, which is not the case for most educators.
It is still a minority of educators that have a full command of digital learning tools. But it’s also rare to find twenty-something digital natives with valid teaching experience. TechLabs instructors actually come from the French and Swiss educational system, or are graduates of Swiss engineering schools, with staff boasting an average of 5 years teaching experience in a classroom.
So there is a genuine effort to channel that classroom experience into online learning. Are there limitations however with having the kit on-screen, rather than in-hand?
Obviously things like Scratch or Python have always been taught on a laptop and don’t require kit - but it’s a very dull learning experience. Which is why we always attach our coding classes to a tangible outcome, such as 3D printing, or robotics, or gaming, something that gives a child a sense of feedback and reward.
Scratch and Python - or smart sensors - can be intimidating for parents who don’t know. Are there prerequisites for TechLabs courses, or are all ages welcome?
We do our best to match different skill levels with different types of teaching tools. Many of our classes feature Makeblock which offers a full suite of STEM learning tools, suitable for absolute beginners to university-level robotics clubs. Next week we’re running a 4-day camp featuring Artificial Intelligence and Halocode microcomputers for students ages 9 - 14.
And this is all virtual, or will it be a tactile experience as well?
It’s both actually. We’ll start the class with a refresher on mBlock5 for new students, but we’re also mailing the Halocode devices to families at no additional cost. So we expect to see some very happy faces next week when our kids unbox this very cool device. It’s like a glowing Iron Man heart that fits in the palm of your hand!
More information about the different courses offered during the Easter break by Techlabs is available here
All skill levels welcome!