Preparing education for a digital future

Posted on 16th Sep 2020 in School News, Italy, Online learning

Emma Smith explains how the American Overseas School of Rome found an opportunity in a crisis..

Educational institutions all over the world, the American Overseas School of Rome included, are looking at the current global situation as an opportunity for innovation and advancement of technology in the school community. AOSR has been founded on more than 70 years of tradition, but entering into this new decade we seek to continue our culture of tradition while cultivating progressive ways of communicating and teaching to prepare for a more digital future. We know and respect that virtual learning can never replace the value of learning in the classroom and interacting with peers, and we fully understand that the ability to grow those relationships is still vital, but we have seen through this experience that technology can truly enhance and advance the learning and social connections that already exist in the classroom and our international community.

The idea of education is continuously evolving, but through this universal challenge, we saw that to be particularly true. What we quickly understood was that teaching isn’t the same in and out of the classroom. If we try to deliver the same lessons through an online platform, it won’t be successful. Therefore, our approach, our lessons, and our method of teaching online had to adapt and the norm of a typical school day had to change. We adjusted student schedules and introduced new projects with requirements shifting to encompass more technology. We changed the way and the frequency that students and teachers communicate and set up daily live meetings between students and teachers and screencasts for lessons were implemented and allowed unique learning opportunities to happen! Despite all of these modifications, our curriculum still remains centered on teacher-student interaction and collaborative problem-solving.

Technology has begun to foster other major changes in the world of education. For the first time in history, the hard work that both teachers and students put into school is finally being recognized! Technology has made it possible for parents to fully understand the value of international educational institutions and the significant role they have, both socially and academically in a student’s life. Families have had the opportunity to truly engage with their child’s education, grasp how and what they are learning in the classroom, and appreciate the value of each teacher’s individual method of teaching by seeing it first hand through the online learning platform.

Technology is a tool that leverages and enhances instruction, but it’s important to remember that the instruction itself is the most vital part of any classroom. This has proven true in our own community, and it has been clear that while technology has allowed exceptional learning to continue in an innovative way, we owe the success of online learning to our experienced international faculty. Our teachers are always willing to adapt their teaching methods to improve instruction and student learning and have remained dedicated to being the best educators they can be. Throughout this new chapter in history, our students and teachers have been truly putting twenty-first-century learning, teaching, and problem-solving skills to the test, and our school community has been able to witness this firsthand.

There are many other ways in which we have seen technology play a role in changing traditions in schools. As an American Pre-K to Grade 12 school, many western traditions are often embedded into our campus culture. We host barbecues, our students dress up for Spirit Week, parents gather for our annual Halloween parade, and the cheers from Friday night basketball games can be heard throughout the neighborhood. One typically western tradition which is ingrained into the American culture is to wait until the end of a period of time to publicly celebrate success with events such as graduation and prom. While the big stepping stones in life will always be moments to celebrate, it appears that in the future many institutions will find ways to honor the smaller steps throughout the journey of the learning process more often. The growing engagement of students, parents, and teachers on social media platforms has confirmed the mounting desire of these day to day commemorations, and social media is the vehicle that will allow us to honor these daily achievements more frequently.

The evolution of educational institutions does not only lie in the way students will be learning and teachers will be teaching, but how schools choose to communicate with the world. This period of time has forced many schools to evaluate the way that things are done, and see if there is a more effective and cutting-edge way to do ordinary things. In the past, AOSR has operated with in-person campus tours, and on-campus open house events and college admissions sessions. The temporary closure of school has challenged the traditional ways in which we are used to doing things. We recently revised and developed our admissions process, so that parents from around the world can now go through the entire application and admissions process virtually. From any country, parents can now have a virtual meeting with our Admissions Officer, be taken on a virtual campus tour by students or parents using modern-day technology, and even “attend” virtual open houses to learn more information about our academic and extracurricular programs and ask questions. The amazing part of this transition is that it has not sacrificed the personal interaction that we believe in when guiding families through applying to our school. If anything, it has made the process more interpersonal, with more opportunities for families who might not have had the chance to physically visit the campus before moving to Rome to speak and connect with us.

Campus closure has given us an opportunity to reflect on why we do things the way we do and allowed us to evaluate how we can innovatively enhance our teaching practices, communication methods, and community traditions for the better of our international community while keeping in mind the digitally-focused future of the world.

Emma Smith is Communications and Development Assistant at the American Overseas School of Rome.

This article first appeared in John Catt's Guide to International Schools 2020/21, which you can view in full here: