Distance Learning at the American College of Sofia
"Modern problems require modern solutions." - reads the modern internet proverb while also vividly describing the distance learning the College has been conducting for several days in response to the exacerbating global health and economic crisis. Can online teaching, assignments and homework substitute live teaching and personal contact between faculty and students? Absolutely not. But given the particular circumstances and difficulties, it is the next best option.
In 2017, the American College of Sofia was designated “an innovative school” for its project Integrating technology into the learning environment through the use of Chromebooks and the Google Classroom platform. Since then, the College has been continuously developing and refining its educational approach to keep up with the needs and attitudes of today’s students, while staying true to its mission by maintaining a high academic standard through a rigorous curriculum and high expectations for student excellence. The implementation of these technologies would not have been possible without the foresight, flexibility and adaptability of the College faculty and administration, as well as the generous support of the American Schools and Hospitals Abroad Agency (ASHA).
In preparation for the transition to distance learning, a school administration team led by Faculty Development Coordinator Karen Lavender and Technology Coordinator Al Mitchell conducted extensive research and developed distance learning procedures and guidelines based on the College's mission, available resources, and the best international practice. This extensive research is the reason why ACS relies on asynchronous approach, which means that a teacher is not expected to hold virtual classes with their entire section at the same time via video conference.
Research shows that synchronous teaching, which means teachers and students joining the same video conference leads to critical delays and erosion of the learning process due to connectivity issues and the different routines in each student's everyday life at home.
Even though student-teacher videoconferencing is an integral part of the educational process, the American College of Sofia's approach is based on the full integration of existing technology and pedagogical resources into the school: each student and teacher works with a College-provided computer, linked to Google Classroom and one of the world's leading online learning and online grading systems, Gradelink. The college's technology ecosystem provides faculty and students with many opportunities to continue the online teaching process - by using email, video conferencing and chat, with available support at every step.
Integrating these pedagogical resources into one distance learning system provides an opportunity for every student to experience a more complete educational process and guarantees the continuation of education even in the event of Internet connectivity interruption.
At the beginning of each school day students have access to the learning content, assignments and daily materials. The teachers announce in advance the periods during which they are available online in real time and every student can consult with them. For the rest of the time, correspondence continues through e-mail, with students receiving a response within 24 hours after asking a question. This way, both students and teachers have the liberty and responsibility to plan their day in the most efficient way possible and to achieve their academic goals in close collaboration.
Of course, prolonged staring at a monitor is also not recommended, so many assignments require offline work: reading books, assembling project models and any other tasks that subsequently can be photographed or scanned, and submitted for evaluation. The ACS Sports Department is also engaged with the process and provides students with techniques for practicing yoga and Pilates at home, exercising both body and mind.
Like any change in our usual routines, distance learning has its difficulties. We believe that through constant online contact, asking questions, and jointly exploring their answers, we will be able to provide the students at ACS with the most valuable, engaging and rewarding academic and social experience, given the circumstances. We are looking forward to joining together at the wonderful campus and resuming the teaching process: enriched, matured and having overcome the challenges of today.
In the coming days we will be sharing faculty and students’ observations and comments from distance learning.