THURSDAY, March 12th, the day that the schools closed, will live long in the memory of every student, parent and teacher in this country.
The closure was to take effect from 6pm on that day and students in St Brogan’s College were asked by management to gather all their books, notes, etc and to take those home with them. All were entering into a situation that, up to now, was completely unknown and alien to them.
St Brogan’s College is always pushing boundaries, looking at new innovations and ways to enhance the lives of its students and teachers in terms of teaching and learning. About three years ago, it became a school that adopted the Office 365 platform, with the help of the Cork Education and Training Board (CETB). Little did they know then what lay ahead with Covid-19!
A digital roll-out group was formed consisting of the principal, deputy principal, the IT co-ordinator and some members of the teaching staff. After an incredible amount of research, they settled on using the Microsoft Surface Go as their preferred device.
During the summer of 2019, the data projectors in each room in the school were converted with Microsoft wireless adaptors. This meant that the teachers would no longer have to physically connect cables to the projectors and be at the front of the class, instead they could move freely around the classroom with their device whilst projecting picture and sound wirelessly, thus promoting even more active engagement with the students.
A very detailed staff training plan was devised by the digital roll-out group in conjunction with CETB, Wriggle Learning & Microsoft Ireland that included the likes of the use of Microsoft Class OneNote and Microsoft Teams. At the end of August 2019, the staff engaged in intensive training and upskilling in the use of the new digital devices and in the use of the other various applications incorporated within Microsoft Office 365.
This hard work and innovation was duly recognised in November 2019 when St Brogan’s College was named as a Microsoft Showcase School, one of only a handful in the entire country.
The net result of all these efforts by staff has inadvertently become even more important since March 12th last. That training of staff had prepared them all for the lockdown and had given them the skills to move to online teaching with a greater degree of ease and confidence.
It also ensured that they could hold their first full online staff meeting a mere six days after the closure of all schools and that knowledge allowed them to advise and help other schools to do likewise.
During all of this, the student body, who, in accepting this new reality into their young lives, have embraced, and engaged wholeheartedly in online classes and this new way of learning.. Now, the common reaction and feedback from so many students is their love of online classes and having face to face time with their teachers through applications like Microsoft Teams.
This is where the digital escape from lockdown was born out of. The all-encompassing support from the parents has been a key factor also.
According to Brian O Mahony, the IT co-ordinator at St Brogan’s College, ‘Our digital journey is ongoing and the planning of further training for the coming year is already under way. It is incredible to see the enthusiasm shown by the students and staff thus far and it can only lead to even better teaching and learning outcomes, as we traverse these new and uncharted waters that we find ourselves in.’