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Distance learning has been around for a while now, but empowering K-12 schools to shift to virtual classrooms in an agile manner is new. We didn't hope to have this experience but we did, and like many unexpected trials it has in some ways improved us. Hopefully our success will help others to initiate a program that makes all stakeholders feel supported. That's why we've developed VC@T Global 3.0.
Preparing for Every Eventuality
Our story began in October of 2019, when the protests in Hong Kong caused citywide shutdown of schools, and continues through the school closures due to the Coronavirus. VC@T’s virtual classroom preparedness programs were born out of necessity. In 2019 The Harbour School (THS) and every school in Hong Kong were facing possible school closures in relation to civil unrest. To prepare for every eventuality, even an extended shut down, THS took an extra step and set up comprehensive emergency protocols to take their entire curriculum online if need be for all grade levels and all subjects K-12. This system was dubbed Virtual Classrooms @ The Harbour School (V-CAT).
When the predicted shutdown occurred, VC@T came online and the preparation paid off. Parents marvelled at how efficient and complete the transition was, and how equipped the school and teachers were. VC@T turned out to be the exception, as most schools were underprepared and simply shut down, scrambled patchwork systems or assigned homework. While other schools were dealing with confused and angry parents, disgruntled teachers, and disengaged students, THS was holding actual classes and had parents writing their thanks. While some of the other schools used the same technical systems as THS, they still struggled because they lacked the rigorous streamlined protocols implementing those systems. They weren’t set up for success when transitioning to virtual classrooms.
Trial by Fire
After the success of the initial deployment, the THS community provided feedback so that the system could be improved in case protests recurred. The VC@T protocols were tweaked, optimized, and further developed into VC@T Global. It wasn’t long before VC@T Global faced the ultimate stress test in February of 2020 when schools were again closed - this time much longer in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak. Again, other schools were left reeling, while students, teachers, and parents raved about VC@T Global and THS’s ability to handle the tumultuous times without missing a beat. Nobody is exactly happy to be staying at home, but our parents and teachers and kids felt that they were still having a full class day and receiving the same academic curriculum. Simply put -- classes continued, even specialist classes like music or P.E. Protocols were also put into place for supervision and quality control so that administrators felt confident with what was occurring online.
The global shutdown of schools in early 2020 cast into sharp relief the lack of preparedness for most institutions to take their classrooms online effectively, efficiently, and with stakeholder support. Many institutions were using the same excellent systems, but those systems alone were not enough, and bringing them online in an ad hoc manner did not serve the institutions’ educational visions. This was the impetus for moving quickly to make the expertise we had developed in VC@T Global available across the world. Being ‘VC@T Prepared’ means seamlessly transitioning into K-12 virtual classrooms with the full support of your stakeholders and the involvement of all teachers. Transitioning from the in-school VC@T 1.0 system to 2.0, and now VC@T Global 3.0 was an iterative process of continual improvement over six months. It is important for schools to know that they don't have to go it alone or reinvent the wheel, especially in difficult times.