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Bryandale Primary School in Bryanston, Johannesburg had to physically close its doors – like all other South African schools – on Wednesday 18 March. But just because the school is not open does not mean learning has stopped.

For Charmaine Naude, a Grade 7 English teacher at the school, it is business as usual: using the online tools available through Microsoft Teams, she is able to seamlessly share videos, audio recordings, worksheets and the necessary learning resources, as well as communicate and interact with her students in real time.

The school’s other teachers, across grades, are using Teams for the same purposes, to fortify and enhance learning by exposing pupils to educational technology tools and different teaching methods to prepare them for the digital future. Teams essentially provides an online classroom that brings together virtual face-to-face connections, assignments, files and conversations into a single place accessible on either mobile, tablet, PC or web browser.  

Adopting digital teaching and learning methods has not been a sudden decision for the school. Naude began using Office 365 Education Edition, an integrated collaboration platform in 2019, initially making and sharing video tutorials with students and providing them with additional learning resources and materials to supplement what they were learning in the classroom.

“I put the entire grade onto the platform, and there were up to 80 students at a time using it for extra lessons last year,” Naude says.  “We soon saw great results, with every single learner performing better. Several learners obtained abnormally high grades for the grammar section of my tutorials, for example. Using the tutorials allows students to learn and practise at their own pace, revisiting parts of the curriculum they feel they need to spend more time on, as well as pausing and rewinding where necessary. It can break lessons up into bite-sized pieces that make it easier for students to learn.”

She has also noticed that they love the interaction – last year, they were able to communicate around exam time, which helped their performance significantly. And right now, even though the school is closed, she is still talking to her learners and they are asking for more worksheets. Using it has made the students excited about learning and given them a sense of accomplishment as they navigate their way through the curriculum.

Ramping up digital learning capabilities

Experiencing the impact both on their learners’ results and interest in learning encouraged Naude to ramp up its use this year, as well as get more teachers on board with adopting digital learning tools and techniques. So far it has worked, with Naude and another Grade 7 class in the school remotely linking to each other to create a virtual classroom.

Now the platform has been implemented across the entire school, and teachers have been empowered by realising that they can record audio and/or videos of their lessons, which continue to live on the platform along with the learning resources that the learners need. 

Another benefit Naude has noticed is that it cuts out absenteeism because it accommodates the demands of a busy learner’s diary and allows students to catch up when they are available. The Microsoft Teams platform will be useful if schools do not return for the new term as planned – helping facilitate virtual teaching that will allow learners to keep up-to-date.

Digital learning is helping teachers and learners alike, by allowing them to rethink ways of passing on and gaining knowledge. Teams also incorporates elements such as whiteboard apps and document cameras, which helps personalise the lessons by allowing teachers to use their own handwriting in lessons and tutorials.   

“Teams as a platform is one of the easiest I have found to use because it allows instant communication between teachers and learners, and empowers teachers to find new ways of teaching. We’ve already enjoyed great results with it at Bryandale Primary and we have everything in place for virtual teaching going forward,” Naude says.