Rapid adaptation in Covid times:

from blended delivery to highly effective digital innovation

In the early months of 2020, like most projects around the world, PADILEIA had to adapt its courses, transitioning from a blended delivery to enable fully remote, online course delivery in response to national lockdowns and the related closure of universities in Lebanon and Jordan due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We were keen to understand the impact of these changes on our students’ experience and so commissioned a rapid evaluation study to capture learnings from this period. Lessons learned in this project would also be useful to inform our universities’ approach to teaching models during the pandemic and beyond. 

Key to the changes to course delivery by PADILEIA during this time was a shift from facilitated ‘blended’ learning in physical Study Hubs, where students had access to resources such as internet connections and laptops and had in-person support and teaching from facilitators or instructors, to remote facilitated learning which made use of online communication and teaching tools. All studying took place remotely, and students were provided with data cards and tablets where needed to facilitate this remote learning.  

Key findings 

Overall, both students and staff reported that the transition to remote learning was successfully managed by the project with many reporting positive learning experiences during this time. Significant efforts were made by the project team and delivery team staff to ensure that adequate support was provided to students. The use of WhatsApp groups for instant communication were a particularly successful element of these remote support structures. Training was also delivered to staff to support with the transition from classroom to remote-based teaching. 

Poor internet connectivity and lack of suitable devices presented significant barriers to access particularly for students located in Zaatari Camp in Jordan. Facilitators remained flexible with many staying available outside of normal working hours to accommodate student requests. Attendance rates for facilitated courses remained high overall with drop-out rates varying by course – increased responsibility at home was reported as a key reason for drop-outs. For some students who previously faced barriers to attending the facilitated courses in person as they lived too far away were able to access the courses after the transition to remote learning. 

The main adaptations to delivery of courses included

1) lessons and facilitated sessions were moved online and delivered live using Zoom and Google Meet. Many foundation course lessons were recorded and uploaded to Google Classrooms or USBs for easier access;

2) ongoing student technical and learning support was provided via WhatsApp;

3) data cards were provided to support students where needed on all facilitated courses to support remote online learning and 

4) tablets were provided to foundation course students who did not have access to an internet-enabled device. 

Lessons learned and recommendations 

  • Existing digital scaffolding made for a smoother pivot to fully online delivery for facilitators, instructors and students. 
  • Limited student device access was an impediment to learning, specifically the difficulty to fully engage with online learning using only their smartphones. 
  • Material support was effective in enabling continued learning, in particular the provision of tablets and data cards. 
  • Use of an instant messaging platform with voice-note capability (in this instance WhatsApp) was also a vital cornerstone to the delivery of effective support to students in these low connectivity contexts. 
  • Strong online student support structures were essential to successful remote delivery. 
  • Staff training, planning time and inter-partner communication are key factors for a successful transition to online delivery. 
  • Inequalities of access to devices and internet were a key barrier and must be addressed as a priority when considering blended or fully online delivery, so that existing inequalities of access are not exacerbated by the implementation of new teaching & learning models. 

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