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Going Digital with Hands-on Learning

Like so many areas of our lives, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted our in-person training at PEN. One of our main activities at PEN is to conduct training workshops throughout the year; these workshops are focused on science teachers.

2020 did not go as anyone planned. Goals were set and plans were made but the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic took the whole world by surprise. Schools were shut down, teachers were made to stay home (as was everyone else) and parents became the new teachers. 

At Practical Education Network, our area of impact is focused on building teacher capacity through a series of in-person workshops where we train science teachers in Basic, JHS and SHS levels on hands-on pedagogy. We had our first in-person training of 2020 in January and were prepared for more, until the lockdown happened in early March 2020. Due to the nature of the pandemic, we were forced to discontinue our in-person training. We had to re-strategise.

Next came virtual learning. 2020 was the year for virtual learning solutions and we decided to explore that option. But, here’s the thing: the whole PEN concept of learning by doing is to show learners how activities can be done with the use of your hands, hence the name hands-on learning. We were faced with the challenge of translating an in-person curriculum into an online module. How do you take a workshop that is meant to show participants the concept of hands-on learning and turn it into an online course?

It seemed daunting, almost impossible to translate our curriculum, which is heavily dependent on one-on-one human interaction, to a virtual, digital mode. We brainstormed on different ways to bring our workshops to life. We experimented with some digital content to keep our teachers engaged and on September 18th, 2020 we had our first ever online teacher training with teachers from the Presby cluster of schools in Kumasi.

It was almost  a disaster!

Our first attempt didn't turn out so well and we quickly learned that online training is only possible if the participants are technology savvy, or in this case, virtual-learning-platform-savvy.

We were yet saddled with another hurdle. How do we teach participants who are not familiar with virtual learning technology? We went back to the drawing board and decided to include preliminary training on the use of virtual learning platforms to prepare the participants ahead of the training. 

We modified our learning content one more time to include training on how to use learning management systems and video conferencing tools. 

We tested our solution once more and were again hit with another obstacle - internet connectivity. As if that was not enough, poor internet connectivity in some areas and the high cost of internet data also posed to be a challenge to our transitioning to online training. To curb this, we sourced for and settled for digital tools that required lesser internet bandwidth to function. 

On 11th November 2020, we rolled out an upgraded version of our online, hands-on training and it was a huge success. The participants were motivated by the desire to learn a digital skill in combination with the hands-on skill of teaching science using locally, available materials. 

Since then, we have had a total of 19 online sessions and trained 106 teachers on the use of the hands-on practical approach in the teaching of science. Who says you can’t go digital with hands-on learning?

Our online, hands-on training is evolving, as we iterate for optimal impact. It has not been a jolly ride but we are grateful for the support of our donors, PEN Pals, teachers, volunteers, interns, staff, and friends of PEN.

We love you all and look forward to more wins this 2021!

Nancy Ewurum is the Communications and Marketing Officer at PEN

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