It would be an understatement to simply state that international education has had its share of obstacles in the last few years. Specifically, international admissions staff and foreign credential evaluators are met with changing documentation standards and new digital processes with less resources and more responsibility than ever before.
Stressed yet? These needs and the anxieties they create are why I want to talk about remote learning in this environment. What are the tools and practices at our disposal that can instill confidence in our ability to serve our various missions and the people they benefit?
What follows is an introduction to some things you can do to launch remote training with little to no experience, using free or consumer products you can use on a non-optimized computer. While the size of your organization and resources available will impact your options, you will see that expensive top-tier software and services are not necessary for you to have success with remote learning. In future installments, I’ll dig deeper into each area of importance in our exploration of this vital new terrain.
Many offices may not have the resources to buy brand new laptops or business computers to operate a full-scale evaluation operation from home. The unfortunate reality for a lot of smaller offices doing evaluation or admission work is that professionals in the field often rely on their personal equipment to support their work. Given this reality, the more uniformity in your staff’s hardware profile, the easier it will be to codify and unite your collaboration groups through software applications. Personal computers will need internet compatible hardware, such as an ethernet card or wireless card. Additionally, different localities have vastly different access to broadband internet capabilities, which often requires additional, more expensive equipment to achieve the same results as an onsite network and server.
Other hardware you will want to invest in are headphones, microphones (or better, a headset that will do both), some kind of webcam, and reliable internet service. Some communities have better access to high-speed broadband, and your workplace may have certain rules or expectations regarding internet at home or in another, non-business space.
You do not have to have a huge IT budget to be able to start remote teaching and learning. Free software exists that you can use to jumpstart a training or use as a steppingstone before committing to business products. For folks who are used to the efficiency and comfort of having actual human colleagues to talk to and ruminate on issues with, this need for some new-fangled bit of machinery can seem daunting. Luckily, the vast need for safe ways to communicate has led to significant innovation and quick turnarounds for new features.
Some of these you’ve no doubt heard of, but others may be more specialized or unique.
• Google Meet
Some of these applications have sister office suite applications and file sharing capabilities. Not being in the same space means a thousand copies of files and documents and slides. If you don’t have the money for licensed products, look into open-source software that will allow you to track changes to your materials, a must for any multi-party, multi-session in-depth training.
When you are tasked with repackaging and producing information you are comfortable presenting in-person, but have no experience presenting remotely, it can seem overwhelming
Plan your training to have digestible modules of information, with regular intervals for learners to ask questions and interact with the material. Have a learner’s support system in place, with mentoring co-workers and supervisors who focus on making sure the training is being absorbed to your expectations.
Regular one-on-one check-ins are a must and should be encouraged both for the learner and the trainer. Questions will inevitably arise, and the trainer should be able to review and identify any deficiencies that need to be addressed.
The amount of quality training you will be able to accomplish will rely on the foundation you and your organization already have in place. Think about the infrastructure and how processes can be adapted to a remote collaboration environment. What are the library and archival resources available, and how can you access them? Who are the skilled professionals in your field, and in the areas of expertise your office and organization need to keep evolving? If you can identify gaps in this foundation, now is the time to address them as you build a remote learning and training environment for your staff. If you have the right hardware and software in place, you should be able to suss out best practices for your organization in accessing resources remotely.
This is what you’ll need to get started training staff in a world of remote work. International education and the professionals who support it have been thrown for a few loops recently. By investing in these tools and techniques I hope you’ll be able to weather whatever the next storm might be with confidence and continue to serve the just mission of understanding and knowledge in our connected world. I’d love to hear from you about your experiences. Did you have the tools you needed when things shut down? What were some of the obstacles to returning to “business-as-usual” for your training process? When we return to these subjects in the future, I hope to go in-depth on choices you can make and best practices or rules you can establish to make sure your organization is trained up and ready for the next challenge.
Charles Hoehnen is an Evaluator and has been with ECE since 2011. He specializes in country systems from Belgium to Zimbabwe, with particular focus on educational systems in transition.