We are convinced that communication of optimistic and encouraging messages is crucial during such times. Even (or primarily) when we encounter a large challenge such as a pandemic.
At the Jesenice AEC, we suspended all of the traditional activities for our learners “at the drop of the hat” in accordance with the government decree. We decided very quickly not to only stay at home, but to keep working as our mission is to connect knowledge, people and experience in any and all conditions. We decided to give our learners who deserve only the best the option of engaging in various distance learning activities.
We have decided to start from the fact that modern technologies are not only tools for transferring information, but also or mainly a communication medium. The first thought that goes through our mind when thinking about distance learning is the e-classroom. This is, of course, a very useful method for those with well-developed digital skills. Language course and formal programme learners will therefore not have any problems. E-classrooms, materials, lecturers and learners know the method and have mastered it. The (only) problem is that most of our learners fall into the so-called vulnerable groups: the elderly, immigrants, social and economically weak individuals, and those with a lower level of education.
Can this be done? Of course, it can.
And the result? Excellent.
The elderly who have certain technology and use it mainly or merely for communication are motivated by their peers who publish on various media and networks and communicate how to approach distance learning actively. The older learners who have met at the Jesenice AEC for the third year running prepared messages of encouragement and instructions on connecting via the Internet each week. Their notifications are gladly shared across all the information channels available.
Using the Zoom and Webex applications, we organised various study activities. We invited learners to take part. We did so via e-mail messages, Facebook, radio ads, our website and mainly telephone calls. Individually, we empowered each person to respond to the invitation for the video study activity. Before carrying out e-activities, we organised the so-called e-tea party the only purpose of which was to welcome the learners to the e-classroom. We would phone a learner who was not doing well and help them find the right “buttons” for audio, video, etc.
It is not easy, but creases get ironed out eventually so to say. Learners register for the next meeting entirely by themselves. They meet in language courses, creative workshops, meditations, intellectual exercises, etc. All those who like to create registered for a workshop where the mentor guided them in making a spring vase, while the sewing workshop learners created a decorative pillow.
Despite all the efforts, many could not cope. In such cases, our guidance practitioners were involved and conducted individual interviews to find out the needs, options and capabilities of the individual concerned. Our lecturers recorded lectures, instructions and recommendations that we then published on the website and Facebook or sent via SMS, e-mail, etc.
We also wanted to contact those adults who did not have the option of direct communication because we did not have their e-mail addresses and telephone numbers. We used social networks in such cases. How can you conduct a culinary workshop without learners? Simple! Make your favourite dish, record the process, and publish the video with instructions on Facebook. A kind invitation to people to try their hand at preparing the dish and share their photos generates a sizeable response. The video entitled How to Spend a Day with Children at Home was also received well.
What about those who do not use a smart phone for various and truly objective reasons? We made great strides in this area as well. We distributed various study materials in letterboxes and their time just flew by. We triggered creativity: they followed written instructions to carry out diverse movement exercises, write down their thoughts on the topic and perhaps even a song, which they then sent to us…
We hoped to share our ideas with people and the response was surprisingly positive! We remained optimistic. It turned out that we can use the situation both for learning and social inclusion because we remained together and connected remotely. A good life does not require the many things served to us on every corner by the advertising apparatus. What we need is food, a home, a space and loving relationships … and learning.
Not being weighed down by curricula, we could even more decisively promote creativity. It seems that we have succeeded in this task. We stayed home and learned a lot.