Tutor Talks: Bridging the Virtual Gap

i Feb 4th No Comments by

We invited ALTA tutors to share their adult literacy volunteer experience. Today, begins a series of articles that capture these candid discussions. In addition to tutors’ perspectives, the conversations also included insights from a student’s point of view. In part 1, ALTA tutor Nicole Pichery shapes the discussion with fellow volunteer Chela Bhimull on adaptations made to accommodate virtual learning in the face of the pandemic.

Nicole: Chela, you have had the opportunity to teach ALTA’s face-to-face classes and ALTA-V. Like many of our tutors, you had to quickly adjust to teaching virtually when our classes were closed suddenly in 2020 because of Covid. So tell us about that first experience of converting from face to face to teaching ALTA virtual classes.

Chela: I try to look for the best in every situation and my ALTA-V experience was a positive one. On 13th March 2020, the ALTA San Fernando office sent an email to us tutors saying that classes would be placed on hold because of the pandemic. What happened in the background was that the regional coordinators worked assiduously to coordinate an effort of virtual teaching, organizing and coordinating us tutors with our classes to continue the ALTA programme by way of whatever device possible.

ALTA also adapted and customized our usual workbook lessons into a format that we could disseminate with our students. We were advised to create WhatsApp group chats with our students and then to use Zoom, which in itself was a challenge.

I consider myself very fortunate to be able to lead the way in terms of creating a virtual classroom for my students, who were very grateful for the experience. They showed a mix of emotions because, as you know, with all new things, there’s always a learning curve. We were also very lucky in that most of my students had devices. I know this was a bigger challenge for some other tutors.

So some of my students had a smartphone, which was very, very helpful. One had a laptop and one had a tablet. And from that we were able to start by using WhatsApp on the smartphone, and then switch to Zoom on whatever device they had.

In order to begin, I had to share with my class how to access the Zoom application, and then how you use some of the Zoom features, like “mute,” “raise hand” or “hello”. Also how to use the chat features and to some extent the whiteboard.

What really helped my ALTA students was family and peer support. They were often guided by their children. One student was guided by his eight-year-old nephew (who I have my eye on as a future Alta tutor by the way). I remember the eight year old: “Uncle. No, no, no, no. Wait for Miss to send you the link and you have to log on.” and “Quiet – don’t talk in class!” He was guiding his uncle in the protocols of the Zoom classroom.

Nicole: I love that! That is quite a lot that you had to do to get your students to start learning virtually. Our tutors and students who rose to the challenge have to be commended.

Chela: I agree with you. During the pandemic it was not easy for them in terms of financial difficulties, technical difficulties. So having a classroom setting by way of ALTA helped alleviate fears, and allowed them to focus on their lessons which is what I can say made our class a success.

Nicole: Right. Some students may be fearful of using a computer for the first time or using Zoom for the first time. We are often afraid to show our faces on camera. So, Chela, tell us, were there challenges with ALTA-V and how did your students adapt to the virtual world?

Chela: I think the biggest challenge with my students was actually getting across the hurdle of using Zoom. We had students who were tech savvy, but we had a few mature students who were not used even to being in a chat room, far less using Zoom. So we had to do some handholding in terms of allaying fears, providing that reassurance that we’re all in this together and this is about learning.

It’s about providing that support, that level of mentorship. Eventually they got it. It wasn’t an easy journey, especially for one of my students who had to share a smartphone with members of her family. So she was not always in class at the designated hours.

Then there was another individual who had a sporadic internet connection. We made up for what couldn’t work by way of WhatsApp, and when that couldn’t work, we made up for it by going back to the traditional phone.

It’s about getting the message across – and we will find a way literally and virtually to get it done.

Nicole and Chela’s discussion on ALTA-V continues next week.

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