Digital learning: a review by academia Bilingual School Basel.

Editor: Katrin Huber, 18.06.2020

Normal classroom teaching – in conjunction with strict safety and hygiene measures – was resumed at the Bilingual School Basel in the Schifferhaus in Kleinhüningen on 11 May 2020.

Ninety primary and secondary school students as well as kindergarten children received digital instruction for around two months. Jarrod Brauer, principal of the academia Bilingual School Basel, Jürgen Jaks, 4th grade teacher and two primary and secondary students look back.

Dear Jarrod, the lockdown on March 17 came as a big surprise to us all. To what extent was your school prepared for digital teaching? And what did you have to organise ad hoc with your team and the teaching staff?

Jarrod Brauer: We were fortunate to be prepared for lockdown the day it occurred: students were already equipped with their school materials and especially their iPads on their way home the afternoon lockdown was announced.

One big advantage at our school was that all our primary and secondary school students were accustomed to using iPads as educational tools for a broad variety of subjects. We embedded personal iPads in our schooling for grades 3 and higher, while project-based learning always had its place in our educational philosophy anyway. Our little ones occasionally also use iPads as shared devices in class.

At one point, we also presented Microsoft Teams, which took us a few days to set up, and the platform worked exceptionally well. Of course, some upskilling of teachers took place as we moved forward, but it was relatively logical and simple to initiate the basics such as sharing documents, conducting live chats and establishing timetables.

Which programs did you use to continue digital teaching? How did this work?

We used Microsoft Teams in kindergarten as well as at primary and secondary level and it turned out to be a terrific tool. There were some restrictions we needed to consider for differing age groups, but we felt that even the younger children would enjoy some contact with their teachers. In kindergarten for example, we used Microsoft Teams for language development activities. Show and tell, book reading and online singing were very popular for example. It was important for us to cater for the fact that children, like adults, also require social contact so this provided something the children could look forward to during the day. The pupils adore the teachers, so seeing smiles, albeit on a screen, was a joy for all.

At primary school level we quickly noticed that Microsoft Teams requires some degree of maturity for pupils to use it once they are competent with navigating the platform. At times, coaching was needed for online etiquette. Keeping students online for an entire school day also necessitated appropriate adaptation for different age groups. There were distinct differences between secondary and lower secondary level teaching. Our secondary students essentially followed their normal timetables. We were thrilled to see some terrific project-based work submitted over the course of the 8 weeks.

Overall, having looked at a number of platforms, I was happy that we chose Microsoft Teams as a highly effective medium for our school.

Finally, I cannot thank our parent group enough. Without their support we wouldn’t have been able to manage as much as we did. Many parents supported their children so that they could stick to timelines, motivated them to work on and finish projects, while juggling work meetings and other commitments. What a challenging time for us all!

How did the students react to the online classes?

Generally positively. It was interesting to see how students reacted to online instruction. Some rose to the challenge finding solutions to problems independently when they encountered difficulties during the first week or two. Others needed additional encouragement. It was certainly extra challenging for our newer German or English language learners. Here we were fortunate that academia has invested in support teachers so we could continue to target students with reading tasks, check-ins and problem-solving exercises, or simply pull students out of class work to clarify key concepts.

How did the students react to the online classes?

Did any other projects take place?

We created some school-wide sport and art challenges. Mr. Locker and Mr. Lorenz decided to keep us busy with some physical activity in an effort to register enough kilometres to run across Switzerland. Mission accomplished, I may say.

Mrs. Berger developed a naturalist art portfolio challenge. This was great and we had some lovely entries from multiple age groups.

Dear Jürgen, from one day to the next, school was basically relocated to take place at each student’s home. How did you manage such a quick and smooth transition to digital classes?

Jürgen Jaks: At the beginning of lockdown, we first started to prepare intensively, i.e. we met online via video chat and discussed, tested and compared the different options. There was a lot to learn for me. I was lucky to have colleagues who shared their screens with me and showed me how to do things. Without this patient support, I wouldn’t have managed to cope so quickly.

What was different during teaching/classes?

I could tell from the children’s comments that they missed me and that they weren’t sure about how we would be keeping in touch. Some of them, for instance, said goodbye to me when they went to bed and greeted me again in the morning when they got up. They would then ask me how I was and there were more personal questions without the school setting.

What was different during teaching/classes?

What were the biggest challenges in the virtual classroom? Are there any differences between primary level and secondary level classes? To what extent?

The biggest challenge for me was when children switched each other off. I eventually learned how to prevent this. Constant adaptation to digital options demanded a new kind of flexibility from me

What did you find positive about online classes? What worked better? What was worse?

It was good that the children were really focused and put in their best effort to complete the tasks. This is certainly thanks to the great support from home, which I also experienced as something positive during brief conversations with individual parents. But it did become very clear that online classes cannot replace the personal contact between teacher and student, the pedagogical effect takes place during the interaction between people.

What are the lessons learned? And are there any media or techniques that you want to continue to use as an extension to classical classroom teaching in the future?

I came to appreciate and value the individual learning apps. They offer a great supplementation that I will definitely keep making use of.

What are the lessons learned? And are there any media or techniques that you want to continue to use as an extension to classical classroom teaching in the future?

Beatrice is an 8th grade secondary school student and Nikolas is a 4th primary school student at the academia Bilingual School.

How did you find the transition to digital classes? Can you describe a typical day of classes?

Beatrice: During distance learning our days were full of work: from the first to the very last lesson of the day. We would usually meet up with our teachers on either Zoom or Microsoft Teams to receive our work, which would come with an explanation. This work was usually due for the end of the week. From then on, we would work on our assignments until the end of the scheduled lesson. Then it was up to us. I personally tried to do all my work once I got it, this would allow me to work really hard until around Wednesday, and then I would have the last few days a bit more relaxing. For the extra lessons, like Art, Music and Sports, we would be told to do something on the topic. For example drawing, learning about what goes in to film making and going out for a run. I personally really liked when our Sports teacher would set challenges for us to accomplish, for example juggling a toilet paper roll with your feet.

Nikolas: I would start at 8:15 am each day with homework I didn’t do the day before until 9:00 am, when I received a call from my teacher. The call went on from 30 minutes to 1 hour. At 10 am we would have a break for 20 minutes. After that I did some more school work independently until lunch time. Usually at the end of the day I would check in with my teacher for a little help. I continued with French, Art and Music, but not so much with Sport. I went for long walks with my family.

Did your learning go equally well, worse or even better?

Beatrice: I think that during the distance learning, the amount of work assigned increased to keep us on track. In the end I think that the learning aspect stayed the same. I agree that it was harder to concentrate at home and also sometimes more difficult to understand what we were doing, but the teachers were always happy to answer questions, even during the weekends. This made the distance learning better and better as the weeks went on. We started off a bit rough, but it soon improved.

Nikolas: I learnt a little less during distance learning because I couldn’t do group work with my friends.

What did you particularly like? What did you miss?

Beatrice: I really enjoyed the fact that we all had more rest, we would go to sleep later but also wake up later, which was good. I also liked how there weren't many tests assigned during this period, even if the moment we got back to school we had to do loads of tests. I really missed seeing my classmates and also being able to work together. At home it was basically all independent learning. Although in some cases independent learning is good, I did really miss working as a group. Overall, I think the experience was fun for a bit, but I hope I won't have to do it again.

Nikolas: I found it good because I got so much free time. Sometimes I didn’t have to do class because I finished all my work earlier. I didn’t always get extra work. I missed the school especially Mr. Altherr’s (our chef) home-made chicken schnitzel. 😊

What did you particularly like? What did you miss?

What do you appreciate now that classes are taking place at school again?

Beatrice: Being back at school I am happy to see all my friends. I value the fact that we can actually see each other face to face. At school learning is so much better, if someone has a question the teacher can answer it straight away, making it easier to understand. We are in the last three weeks of school, but I have to admit that even though so many things happened in the past school year, it has flown by.

Nikolas: I like not having to use the iPad as much.


Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, so we can learn and benefit from one another. We wish you a lot of fun and all the best for your future learning. Your academia Bilingual School Basel.

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Photo Credits: Andrew Teoh J. Kelly Brito