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Exploring the Outcomes of Virtual STEM Hub

Exploring the Outcomes of Virtual STEM Hub (Cohort 1)

Virtual STEM Hub is an intervention aimed at providing teachers with the necessary content and skills required to engage their students, during the COVID-19 Schools break.

At the start of the lockdown, 239 teachers were asked if they have taught students online before? The findings reveal that 54% of these teachers have never taught students online before. Therefore, the focus of the programme was to ensure that teachers can effectively engage their students despite the pandemic and also have the opportunity to build new skills, through the use of technology and inquiry-based methodology. This programme is hosted on a low-tech platform (WhatsApp) and has customized contents that are bite-sized and consume little data.

Approach

Through the use of WhatsApp, teachers are trained on science topics in physics, chemistry and biology using inquiry based learning and digital labs. While the teachers learn using the inquiry based approach, they are also taught on how to use this approach to engage their students online as well. The teachers make use of the same structured contents from the Virtual STEM Hub to engage their students actively online. 

Objectives

  • That teachers can effectively engage their students at this period.
  • Learning is not hindered, and the outcomes can be measured effectively.
  • Teachers can have content that aligns with their curriculum.
  • Teachers have the opportunity to build new skills, through the use of technology and inquiry-based methodology.

The first cohort of the Virtual STEM Hub ended June 1st. Teachers were taken through various topics in Physics, Chemistry and Biology for a period of 5 weeks. The training provided the opportunity for teachers to interact with the content and in turn used the contents with their students on their WhatsApp group.

Using WhatsApp to teach was not the initial plan, we first explored the use of Google classroom because we felt it was suitable to host virtual classes through the platform. However the consideration for a platform was how simple and easy it enables teachers and students to access learning. Teachers and students must be able to find the platform very accessible and easy to navigate on their ownInfo2

The platform has to be designed in such a way that it helps to reduce the learning curve and digital literacy gap among the teachers and students. Among other platforms, WhatsApp was easily accessible to both teachers and students and therefore we opted to use WhatsApp. Kindly read here to learn how we modified WhatsApp for learning. 

Was WhatsApp effective for learning?

We measured effectiveness based on 3 levels, which is level of engagement/Interactions, learning outcomes and skills teachers were able to develop from the training.

Level of Engagement

With the teachers, we measured the level of engagements based on the interactions in the group. The WhatsApp group was divided into the Nigerian group and Kenya group, to enable easy and effective communication due to time differences. On both groups, the training each day start by 9:00 am (Nigerian time) on the Nigerian group and 10:00am (Nigerian time) on the Kenyan group 

The training starts with teachers indicating their presence through emojiโ€™s. The emoji could be faced emoji to indicate how excited/pumped for the dayโ€™s training. The chart below shows the average level of engagement in both groups.
WhatsApp Image 2020-07-27 at 8.08.22 AMWhatsApp Image 2020-07-27 at 08.18.46

The chart above shows high engagement with the teachers. Teachers could easily interact with the sessions and respond to the questions and comments on the group. In all, the chart indicates that teachers were very much engaged all through the training sessions. 

The month of April had the highest engagement, which accounts for the highest point on the chart with about 2,045 messages, and as the training came to an end, we see a decline in activities in the group.

One method we put in place to enable increased engagements on the groups is the use of โ€œLeader-boardโ€. The leader-board awards points to the teachers who were active in the group and at the end of the week, the teachers with the highest point for the week are displayed in the images below for each country.

The leader-board enabled the teachers to engage more every day thereby participating actively in the activities of the group.

What Outcomes were derived from the program?

A major outcome we sought to measure was learning outcomes. Learning outcomes was very relevant to the approach of Virtual STEM Hub. This is because Virtual STEM Hubโ€™s focus was to ensure learning is not hindered while schools were on lockdown. The training was therefore centered at ensuring that teachers could still continue the learning engagement they had prior to the lockdown, but this time online. 

While teachers were trained on various STEM subjects through the Inquiry-Based methodology, they were to cascade this same learning to their students in a similar pattern. Therefore measuring the learning outcomes from the students will give us an accurate representation of both the teachers’ learning outcomes from the Virtual STEM Hub and how they have been able to translate this learning to their students. This is simply known as the โ€œTrain the trainer approachโ€.

Below highlights the outcomes of the quiz given to the students on various science topics.

The results above shows an average performance of the students quiz in various topics taught by the teachers online. Through the quizzes, it is quite evident that learning took place through the WhatsApp groups. Teachers who had access to their students on WhatsApp, were able to cascade the same learning to their students.

It is important to note that while we tried to ensure all teachers engaged their students online, it was difficult for some teachers because their students did not have access to either a phone or internet service.

Teachers Development

Teachers skill development was a crucial part of the virtual STEM Hub program. We considered that if teachers are to be effective in delivering learning to their students, during the pandemic and the post COVID โ€œnew normalโ€, they will need relevant skills  that will make learning more engaging, fun and effective for both teachers and students.

One major skill we considered is equipping the teachers on how to structure their contents using digital tools. This was a major part of the training, as the teachers were taught on the use of Inquiry Based methodology to structure their contents and pass the learning in a stepwise phase to learners. With the inquiry-based approach, we introduced โ€œdigital labsโ€, It also provides the opportunity for the teachers and students to test their hypothesis or answer the questions through their exploration/experimentation on the labs. For each of the topics taught, we provide the link on the group, for teachers and students to access the lab that relates to the particular topic being taught. Kindly read more about the labs here

Teachers feedback

Teachers explained how they love the approach to teaching science subjects. They commented that it has helped them to see a better way to teach science than what they have known before, they are able to structure their own science courses the same way.

Teachers mentioned they are now using the inquiry based method to currently engage their students for other subjects not thought of in the group. Some teachers mentioned that the videos are well explanatory, they capture the learning required. Other teachers as well mentioned that the life application at the end has helped them discover more things about science, they never knew before. E.g “I learned in the epidemiology class that Ebola is not a pandemicโ€, โ€œThe VSH has brought a lot of innovation and changed my perception of teaching online                                      

We asked the teachers to mention new things they have learnt as a result of the virtual STEM Hub and this gave the response presented above. While this is not all they learnt, they were the major things teachers mentioned they have gained as a result of the virtual STEM Hub. 

In more detail, teachers in Nigeria commented that they have learnt new things in science. While some mentioned the life application and the structure of the contents, have enabled them to understand some topics in ways they did not before.Although they are teachers, but the contents in VSH helped them to see the contents differently โ€œI have not heard of assisted diffusion before, but I learnt it with the VSH sessionsโ€. Also some subject specific teachers, explore other subjects as well

Next Virtual STEM Hub (Second Cohort)

At the expiration of the 10 week learning period, and with schools still shut due to the pandemic, we began the call for applications for a second cohort of the Virtual STEM Hub program. The design of this 2nd cohort was modified to accommodate lessons from the first cohort and to give teachers more opportunities for collaborative activities. 

Some features of this second cohort include:

– Modified course period: 6 week-long Course

– More collaborative activities

– Career talk with Edtech experts

– Project work

– Certificate Issuance at the end of the program.

– A Virtual Graduation Ceremony.

With 88 teachers signed up for this second cohort, (distribution) we are geared to training a fresh cohort of teachers and ready to have an amazing experience. 

Follow us in the coming series as we take you through the Virtual STEM Hub: Cohort 2, the teacher experiences, the collaborative activities, and industry immersion that would lead up to the Virtual Graduation.