Blended Learning | The Impact of Blended Learning During Challenging Times…Simon Gillespie – Head of School, ISU

Posted July 7, 2021 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Featured ~ 3,272 views


A global pandemic has created an opportunity to rethink and evaluate how we use technology in education and the impact blended learning can have on students as they transition to a virtual learning environment and back to on campus learning.  Reflecting back on the past year at International School of Uganda (ISU) and our need to make a shift to virtual learning to support continuation of learning during a time of lockdown we are now thinking about what we have learned and what we will take with us from this time into the future.  Uncertainty continues and we need to be prepared both virtually and on campus, allowing us a unique opportunity to really get right the concept of blended learning which has benefits to students’ abilities to think critically, to gain independence and to stretch their abilities to communicate in different formats and with different people.

Prior to COVID-19, ISU was committed to integrating technology and teaching skills to equip students to effectively use technology as a learning and communication tool to enhance their experience and prepare them for the future.  A one-to-one laptop programme was set up to ensure access and provide opportunities for using technology in all aspects of learning through a balanced approach.  This did not mean any time you entered a classroom all students were on laptops; all assignments were not completed using technology.  However, platforms such as Google Classroom, research databases and a variety of applications and tools were used to assist in the learning process.  

As we transitioned to a time where we were unable to access campus; technology and virtual learning became the main platform.  Communicating with teachers and classmates through  video conferencing, preparing projects digitally and submitting to platforms such as Managebac and SeeSaw became the new norm.  Assemblies became virtual with students performing music collaboratively and sharing their learning through videography.  We observed students engaging in passion projects and inquiring into topics they normally do not have the time to complete.  Students were learning life skills as part of family interactions whether in areas of cooking, gardening or building and constructing.  Creative pursuits were taken to new levels with students learning a new instrument or using a new art medium to express themselves.  It became clear that students having had access to technology and developing technology skills as part of their education enhanced their experience and allowed for success with continuing their learning.

However, there were many challenges with independence, motivation, and lack of social interactions.  Based on research and our ISU learning principles we know that learning is both social and independent.  This means that learning: demands collaboration, cooperation and communication while thoughtfully considering the ideas of others; communication is open and respectful; learners have opportunities to independently question, evaluate and reflect on their own thinking and work; students learn how to choose when it is appropriate to work independently and when to collaborate with others.  

How do we find this balance in both a virtual world and an on-campus learning environment?  Students and teachers missed the in person interactions which are a cornerstone of school and of life in general.  We can adapt to different environments, but a well-balanced learning experience is built on opportunities to learn from and with each other.  To some extent this can be achieved virtually and we found ways to connect with students and opportunities for them to connect together, but it is hard to replace the benefits of social interactions for learning.  Students were able to meet in break out spaces on Google Meets, they were provided challenges to debate and complete projects together, they shared their exhibitions of learning and gave each other feedback, they had House competitions to keep school spirit alive and even engaged in a virtual sports day and a live graduation ceremony virtual watch party engaging in chat rooms and through video and audio.

What have we learned throughout this experience and how will we take this learning forward to the future? We have seen the benefits of blended learning, an approach combining online tools with in face learning.  Regardless of a Global Pandemic keeping everyone home, training students to be able to use technology and relevant tools, enhances what they can achieve and how they can gain independence and apply their learning in different contexts.  However, it does not replace the benefits of social interactions for well-being and for learning overall.

We are ready as a school community for what we face next.  We are ready with health protocols and social distancing procedures, we are ready for continued virtual learning with improvements and enhancements based on the past year of learning, we are ready for hybrid models to support students who remain in other countries or have health risks preventing them from attending on campus.  Beyond this we are ready to continue to provide our students with blended learning opportunities to enhance their overall school experience and to prepare them for the world they face with the necessary technological skills and abilities to communicate and socialize effectively.

Part of our ISU Strategic Plan being implemented in the 2020-2021 school year is to ensure our learning curriculum is designed, internally and externally assessed and adjusted to ensure access and success for all ISU learners aligned with our mission, vision, learning principles and innovative thinking.  The purpose of this is based on the belief that a school is evaluated on the strength of its programme and the extent to which the curriculum reflects the school’s mission.  We are on the path to be a great school and with that we need a common understanding of what challenge and quality mean for each student to be able to excel, to be constantly reviewing educational practices, and to find ways we can promote innovation and a unique learning experience for each of our students at ISU.  With this strategic goal, we are committed to implementing greater personalized learning opportunities – this was highlighted during our virtual learning experience when so many students had time to commit to their passions and apply the skills they have been learning in multiple contexts and in different ways.  We are committed to finding a greater balance of this and to bring out the best in each of our learners.

Simon Gillespie, Ed.D. is the Head of School at International School of Uganda an International Baccalaureate World School.  Simon has been a leader of international schools in Germany, Philippines, and most recently the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Simon is a co-director of the Next Frontier Inclusion organization, supporting international schools to be inclusive of all students regardless of their learning style and challenges.  He looks forward to continuing to connect with the educational community in Kampala and supporting the development of a strong learning environment for our students. | |+256 414 200374 | +256 752 754910 – P.O. Box 4200, Kampala Plot 272 Lubowa Estate, Kampala

About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.


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