The importance of digital learning became clear to us as teachers at the Johann Amos Comenius School in Kassel when our school, like all the others in Germany, was closed from one day to the next.
The school cloud
This is where Schul.Cloud helped us. The basic version is free and relatively easy to set up and manage. You can set up class and course channels and create individual communication channels with colleagues and students. Materials of all kinds (texts, audios, videos, pictures) can be uploaded and downloaded, help of any kind can be provided.
Individualised learning and teaching
A further advantage: In our school project that promotes giftedness “Leistung macht Schule/LemaS” (excellence in school education), differentiation is an important requirement. It can take place on such a platform in a way that is hardly feasible in the regular classroom. On a digital platform like Schul.Cloud, it is indeed possible to provide individual advice at any time. I noticed this when I was explaining the difference between relative and contact clause to a student in a communication channel. I was able to upload a short explanation video and give further examples and rules via text. A final exercise sheet on this grammatical structure, which was edited and sent back by the student, proved the success of this digital interaction. The whole exercise took about 30 minutes, a period of individual advice that would never have been possible for me in the real (physical) classroom.
Limits of the platform
When I tried to hold an online lesson with Schul.Cloud on a given topic, the limits of this platform became apparent. Although it is possible to meet in the channel at a fixed time, teachers and students must always submit their contributions, questions and answers in the form of short written messages. Here, it is not possible to agree on Who, What and When, which can lead to confusion and a lack of clarity during the lesson within a short time.
The Discord platform
The platform Discord may serve to remedy this situation. On this platform it is possible to hold telephone conferences with almost any number of participants (the principle of Discord is very similar to that of Teamspeak, but offers better features with regard to the lessons). As a manager of a Discord channel you can make all necessary preparations, e.g. first create your own server, name it and make important pre-settings. Among other things, as a teacher you can set yourself in such a way that the participating students are automatically turned down when you speak yourself (a process that often fails in the classroom 😊). Once everything is set up, you can use a generated link to invite all your students to this channel (of course, as with all other platforms, you should first obtain the parents’ consent).
Advantages of Discord
There are various advantages of Discord for teaching a course or class online, as compared to writing platforms such as Schul.Cloud:
- One communicates as in the real classroom. The online lesson is clearer and quicker.
- The platform offers the possibility to upload short messages, pictures, audio and video during the chat and make them visible to all participants.
- In contrast to videoconferencing, the barrier to enter this digital environment is not as high here: anyone with a device such as a smartphone, a tablet or a home PC as well as Internet access can take part without having to install specific software (usually for a fee). In addition, there is no need to worry about visibility (a barrier especially for girls, in my experience), which also lowers the barrier to participate.
Conclusion: digital learning after Corona
Under the given circumstances, as teachers we all feel the need to take new approaches to teaching, all of which necessarily imply some kind of digitisation. The two options I have mentioned are ultimately only two among many others. However, the experiences I have had combining a writing and a speaking platform, have made it clear to me that it makes sense to continue and modify the digital path in teaching beyond the current situation. Many of my students have also expressed the wish to continue and benefit from the digital advantages, having in mind the opportunities that have been offered to them over the last few weeks. They too have realised that after school has reopened they can access teaching and learning opportunities that were hardly available to them in their previous regular school life.