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Professional Development in the Pandemic: MOOCs

Chatteris’ own Aarohi Narain talks us through how our team are fostering their professional development through Massive Open Online Courses.

Shortly after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, online platform Coursera saw the largest number of signups in its history– from 1.6 million to 10 million within thirty days. This marked the beginning of a new life for MOOCs or massive online open courses.

Here in Hong Kong, while the timeline looked different, Chatteris foresaw this monumental growth of online learning. Most courses, featuring self-paced modules with a mix of lectures, readings, and assessments, can be taken for free; however, to receive a certificate upon completion learners must pay a fee. 

So, weeks before registrations on Coursera and other platforms exploded, Chatteris introduced a unique opportunity: to allow employees to complete upgraded courses, and obtain certificates, fully funded. 

MOOCs are one aspect of Chatteris' professional development programme, here tutors play students in a mock lesson | Image by Chatteris
MOOCs are one aspect of Chatteris’ professional development programme, here tutors play students in a mock lesson | Image by Chatteris

“Chatteris began the funding for the MOOCs in February 2020, when the pandemic hit Hong Kong. As a graduate programme, we are committed to providing supplementary professional development (PD) for our tutors usually in the form of in-person workshops and training sessions,” says Primary Programme Manager Christina Welsh, who pursued a course on coding herself. 

“However, due to restrictions on gathering in groups, and many tutors working from their home countries, we had to pivot our PD strategy to opportunities that were more flexible for our tutors and management to gain professional skills. MOOCs provided this flexibility as our tutors were able to take the courses in their own time, and anywhere in the world with an internet connection.” 

Providing funding for MOOCs, which can take several weeks to finish, was initially a short-term solution. But the programme has continued, sustained by staff members eager to enhance their knowledge and acquire new skills. 

“…We decided to continue this funding opportunity into this academic year, even when social distancing rules began to relax, following overwhelming positive feedback from tutors and management that they were able to have considerably more freedom and choice over the areas that they wanted to develop professionally,” Christina notes. 

“We recognised that in an organisation of 75+ employees who come from diverse backgrounds and have varied career interests, flexible, self-directed learning was a worthwhile avenue for them to take in furthering their career goals.”

Teaching while learning 

Many of us opted for courses applicable to our roles as tutors placed in primary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions.

For instance, as a tutor in the secondary programme, I completed two courses. The first showcased teaching routines that quickly became part of my lesson planning toolkit, and gave me practical strategies to use artwork to make curricular topics more lively and accessible. The second, which looked at supporting neurodiversity by tapping into community resources, deepened my commitment to building a more inclusive classroom.

An MOOC on teaching key stage 1 student aided Patience in her transition between our post-secondary and primary programmes | Image by Conservative Baptist Lui Ming Choi Primary School
A MOOC on teaching Key Stage 1 students aided Patience in her transition between our post-secondary and primary programmes | Image by Conservative Baptist Lui Ming Choi Primary School

Similarly, Fiona Wangari, a fellow tutor in the secondary programme, found that her MOOC balanced practical skills with theoretical inquiry. 

“The course was very informative as it looked at a different perspective of teaching as a learner… It involved a fair amount of discussions in the chat groups and peer review assignments to share skills and strategies that teachers can use,” she says. 

“I enjoyed [listening to] the course instructors as they were varied, from different backgrounds, and had years of professional expertise. But they still maintained a fresh outlook on teaching as a learner with the attitude of self-improvement. It was refreshing to see,” Fiona adds. 

On the other hand, primary tutor Alice Deptford selected a topic of increasing importance to educators across the globe: mental health. 

“I am particularly interested in gaining a better understanding of mental health and positive psychology. I also wanted to learn new techniques which I can apply to my own life in terms of improving my mental health, and also within school in order to help improve my students’ mental health; this includes specific breathing and mindfulness techniques, amongst many other methods,” says Alice.

“So far, the course has helped me to better understand some of the struggles that my students, my peers and I may face in terms of mental health. Understanding these problems better has led to an increased awareness of catering for students who may be facing problems at home and in school.”

Patience Ratambwa, who moved from the post-secondary to primary programme, used the MOOC funding to gain practical tips for teaching young learners. 

“Although I had teaching experience, I wanted to explore more theories about teaching young learners considering that I was to teach Key Stage 1 learners who are still at the foundational stages of learning. The aim was to ensure that I am approaching my classes with the right tools that have been tried and tested to set a strong and secure foundation for my students as they continue to learn,” she reflects. 

“The course really opened my eyes to a lot that happens to young learners as they learn. It made me realise how critical this period is for them, and how important it is for me to conduct myself in a way that ensures that my classroom is a safe one appropriate for learning to occur. It’s important to know how to communicate effectively with young learners. This way we can provide enough support as we challenge them to further develop their learning,” says Patience.

Shaping organisational culture 

Having taken two MOOCs, Aarohi has learnt how to create a more lively, inclusive classroom | Image by Aarohi Narain
Through two MOOCs, Aarohi has learnt how to create a more lively, inclusive classroom | Image by Aarohi Narain

Since February 2020, the scope of the MOOC funding programme has widened. Apart from serving as avenues for staff members to dive into themes they are curious about, MOOCs may play a part in creating a more robust and colourful company culture.   

“I can see this shift towards having MOOCs as a learning opportunity changing attitudes around PD at an organisational level,” says Christina. “Group discussions and sharings are a really important part of organisational development culture and could never be replaced, but I think we should pair that with granting more autonomy to our employees to explore development opportunities that are important to them and their career trajectories.”  

The offerings have expanded, too. Now, tutors can enrol in one course each academic term– instead of one over the academic year. 

“I was excited when I realised that I could sign up for another upgraded course because I was looking to further develop myself with more courses seeing how impactful the first one was,” Patience adds. 

“I hope it will be another great way to support the knowledge that I have to develop into an even better teacher.” 

Looking to invest in your skill set and to develop as a professional? Apply now to become a Chatteris Tutor.

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