Distance learning made more accessible
How a GDG lead supported Czech schools transition to online with Google for Education tools during the pandemic
This story was also featured on The Keyword on the 22nd of February 2021.
In 2020, distance education became the reality for many students, myself included. The first week of distance learning was difficult. Teachers were sending so many homework assignments via multiple systems; via email, on the school website, a separate system for tests. What students and teachers needed was a single platform that could be used for everything from turning in homework assignments, to sharing study materials, to just chatting with teachers.
I learned about Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) for Education on Twitter. As a student and a developer, I wanted to assist and decided to help my school (Brno, Videnska Grammar School) in Brno, Czech Republic, to implement this new system. Within a few days, every student was using a school Gmail account, Google Classroom, and Google Calendar for time management. It was a brand new technology for everyone, and I saw quickly that some fellow students in my class and school were having issues getting started with the platform. Some couldn’t find the URL links to Google Meet for an online lesson, others struggled to turn in homework through an application on their mobile phone or to manage their Google Calendar. I realized that there must be students in other schools with the same problems, and it would be incredibly useful to write and record a tutorial for them on how to use Google Classroom effectively.
I contacted Googlers in the Czech Republic that I know through GDGs and they agreed that it was a fantastic idea. I prepared the topics with video scripts and then we began recording several videos for students. The topics covered were Google Classroom, Google Calendar, G Suite Applications for mobile phones, and Time Management with digital skills.
It was exciting, but a little nerve-wracking. It was my very first time sitting in front of the camera. I remember I was recording videos for a whole day. It was kinda hard for me. I had to set up the camera properly, make sure I was consistently speaking and clearly and at the right volume, whilst also managing the lighting in the room. Some of the videos were shot with professionals and a videomaker crew from Google. It felt like being on TV, they had three cameras, microphones, and other video making gear. Google published the videos on YouTube and on their page for helping schools, feel free to check them out!
Google has promoted the videos on their main site, and also as the main banner on YouTube. It was so funny to see myself on a YouTube ad! The first video has more than 60,000 views on YouTube and has helped many students in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
In the fall, when COVID-19 locked the world down for a second time, I was invited to join the Czech Ministry of Education’s conference. The conference was focused on the use of modern technologies like Google Classroom. I lectured about distance education from the student’s point of view in my session. I shared with teachers my tips and tricks, such as having an exact plan for distance learning, making English lessons more about speaking with topics familiar to students, or helping students with time management. Among the other speakers were, for example, Mr. Robert Plaga, the Minister of Education of the Czech Republic, or Mrs. Tania le Moigne, Google Director for CEE. The conference was live-streamed on YouTube with over 800 teachers watching live. I would also like to say a big thank you to Filip from GDG and GUG for reaching out to me with the conference.
Distance education was a huge challenge for us as students. In the beginning, we were using multiple educational systems, we lacked a platform that covers all essential activities related to education. Google Workspace for Education brought us the solution we needed.
In my opinion, remote learning taught us many new things. The most important being personal time management and digital skills. Skills that some students wouldn’t learn in schools. In this new set-up, students have the opportunity to manage their time independently and complete their assignments on their own timetable. Digital skills are invaluable in today’s digital world as well. From my experience, some subjects like mathematics require you to be in school with a teacher. Other subjects like history can be taught online. I hope we will continue using modern technologies or just new applications in the future.
To be successful, learning applications (distance or otherwise) must be used by both teachers and students. Students, however, won’t just watch random tutorials on YouTube. Students are far more likely to watch videos made by their student peers who know firsthand what are the biggest challenges they are facing. So, how about running this project globally?
I am Matěj, a 18-year-old high school student, developer, and event organizer. In the past few months, I ran the Flutter onAir conference about coding in Flutter and currently I develop a voice application for people with Alzheimer’s Disease. Read more about the project here. Check out my personal website and follow me on Twitter!