On Sunday 15th March 2020, the President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in an address to the nation placed a ban on all social and religious gatherings, festivals and funerals, for the next four weeks as part of measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Not spared in his bold announcement were universities, second-cycle schools, basic schools, and all other educational institutions.
From the perspective of fashion schools, to close the schools to academic work came at a period where some had planned programs and activities to usher in new students and preparation for new programs among others was in the offing.
Creative Schools had to digest what has been announced and how to navigate the issues they will have to face ahead. For instance, handling, administrative challenges, implementation of new ideas to sail through this period especially when we don’t know how long COVID-19 is going to keep disrupting our way of life as we know it.
Schools had to make significant changes in a matter of days as the COVID-19 outbreak was announced in the country. One of the major challenges for fashion schools is that fashion design is typically hands-on training. Many of these institutions boast small class sizes and access to top-quality equipment as a part of their offer to students. Therefore, failing to get it right has the potential to affect the quality of students’ works at a given time. Students of fashion schools like Joyce Ababio College of Creative Design do 80% practical work with 20% going into theory, unlike other tertiary schools. This places a lot of pressure on both instructors and students of these schools.
As fashion schools adapt to the changing time, they are faced with peculiar challenges; difficulty in teaching some of the topics remotely as they require a more hands-on approach with instruction. Majority of students have little or no access to the machines and other equipment which they would typically be learning and practicing with if they were physically present in school.
Some fashion schools in the country have moved online while others have adjusted their syllabuses and worked out what parts could feasibly be taught online. Instruction in practical skills will take a considerably longer time than required. For instance, sending videos back and forth to correct a student’s projects and assignments.
The challenge with going online
Theoretical courses are considerably easier to operate digitally, with the schools making full use of educational or business conferencing platforms like Moodle, Blackboard, and Zoom to offer lectures. Some of the challenges fashion schools and its students are facing include;
Tech challenges in online teaching
Although many students are using smartphones, laptops and desktops available at home, it will be very wrong to assume that all students can afford and have these tech gadgets. Even if most students have the computers and smartphones, not all of them can afford the required internet data bundles for online learning.
Schools and lecturers sometimes have to confirm with their students whether they can readily access the resources they need to participate in online learning. This means schools sometimes have to fund data bundles for students.
What’s more, most younger students are presumed to be comfortable navigating new software but for fashion schools, some of our demographics are not digitally literate and this prevents some students from successfully taking full advantage of online learning resources.
Problems with learning in Isolation
Online learning during the coronavirus outbreak means that students will have to do their studying in isolation. For fashion design schools where students most often rely on their peers for support with their assignments and a sense of community while learning, studying in isolation makes it all the more difficult.
While face-to-face interactions help to maintain a sense of community, it also goes a long way towards keeping students engaged with each other. Face-face education brings the best out of most students in creative schools. They share and play around new ideas and ways of doing things which breeds creativity, something that online learning does not provide in the same measure.
Problems with Student Motivation
How can fashion schools and creative institutions encourage and sustain their students’ momentum to learn during a global pandemic? There are disruptions everywhere as many try to adjust to partial lockdowns and overcome the fears created from a flood of varying information such as figures of death tolls.
Arguably, the mechanics of learning online is different from traditional learning. The challenge of keeping our students engaged and motivated at this time should be the common focus across levels.
For some students, the idea of learning online is a new concept and a disruption. For such students, they see the home as a place to relax and only do school assignments, which makes learning on a piece of screen a daunting task.
Fashion schools, for instance, have various course programs for different demographics. There are classes for career women and professionals. These demographics most often must combine their every day 8 am-5 pm work with their desire to follow their passion or learn a new skill for passive income. For these demographics adapting to online learning is a new frontier they never anticipated.
Solutions to online learning challenges
As some schools in Ghana adapt to online learning, there is a sure way of confronting the challenges. Below are steps schools can take to ensure they overcome the challenges presented by COVID-19 and maximize the opportunities of remote learning.
Redesign Student Studying Objectives
For courses where you are seeking to primarily communicate information (one-to-many), consider assessing the concentration levels of your students during your online lecture period through polling or question functions on your digital platform. This allows real-time feedback of the interests and engagement of your learners. Reinforce the information you shared by providing follow-up readings and summarized bulleted presentations.
For practical class sessions, share a framework for the interaction and any pre-readings/videos before the practical class like knitting take place to ensure productive time together. Be sure to share outcomes after each practical session to reinforce the value of the small-group discussions.
Several sources provide specific guidance for doing practical sessions online. Most platforms have the option to share your screen with the learners. This means you can have lots of your content set up and ready to go at the click of a button. Lectures can use offline resources such as Microsoft PowerPoint to prepare any images they want to use before the class.
Some platforms, like Zoom, allow you to share a whiteboard with the students, which can be worked on in real-time. However, many find it easier to use a Word document with the text already prepared. That way the content will be immediately ready for students to read.
Also, think about the materials students will need during the class and start with a screen share showing what you’ll be using in your class each day. Take advantage of recapping lessons from previous days to help students catch up with areas of challenge. Allow for questions from previous lessons and assignment. This you could do in a fun manner too by being creative with it.
Make use of what’s available
If you are unable to use subscription-based platforms, you can still keep students engaged with short video clips from YouTube. Some people have found streaming videos enhances the quality of their lessons while others have found that it is better to save content offline for later use. Use what works best for you.
In the era of social distancing platforms, tools like WhatsApp groups can ensure peer-to-peer learning. It helps students to review concepts from the class while enhancing their communication and critical thinking skills and teamwork. It provides an opportunity for learners to discover and adapt to the most appropriate way of learning for them.
Promoting peer interaction could strengthen the learning community. For instance, one option is to organize a live session where lecturers encourage debates and answer questions. Prepare some guiding questions, launch a challenge to be solved or a project and convene learners to tackle it.
As you move from your traditional learning setting to online, the power to control and observe is limited.
Schools and faculty members can revise how they assess students. Reviewing objectives helps lecturers keep what they want to evaluate at the forefront. For instance, the learner’s capacity to use the concepts learned to solve complex problems.
While the present conversion to online courses is rapid and temporary, it may have lasting effects on how education and learning are delivered. Fashion and creative schools will have to have a way of documenting experience and modifications. Keep testing what works and what needs to be changed.
In conclusion, the world as we know it is changing and until we get out of the woods, it is about time schools begin to accept that online learning is the next most practicable option. To borrow the words of Dalai Lama, “it is very rare or impossible that an event can be negative from all points of view”. Therefore, Fashion schools should look out for the opportunities available and adapt for success.