Distance learning is held two times a week since 2018, and communication with students takes place over audio and/or video link
Online classes started yesterday in whole Croatia. Although whole system is still catching up, Grammar school Gaudeamus from Osijek did not have problems like other schools. This private high school holds online classes since 2018 two times a week, and since COVID-19 outbreak, they were the first school that began daily with online classes. Since 26th February 2020, their students do not attend school, and all runs smoothly. They assess students and conduct curriculum as planned. This is enabled by their private learning platform for a distance learning in which development they invested 1 mil HRK (132.000 €) through EU funds. We talked about the distance learning with Mirna Šakić,who works as a psychologist in this private high school in Osijek.
Can you briefly introduce your school?
We are a private grammar school established in 1996. This school year we have 2 classes with 25 students and 2 classes with 16 students. Our working method is a little bit different than the rest of grammar schools since our courses are divided into obligatory, elective courses, foreign languages, and creative courses. Obligatory courses are Croatian, Maths, and foreign language. Elective courses are those needed for their specific studies. E.g., students who wish to study medicine will opt for Chemistry, Physics, and Biology. Third group or creative studies are made of courses that are taught on a general knowledge level because these are not needed for the state graduation exam. Within the History course, students will be more focused on what is related to history and their specific point of interest within the course they wish to study. The same applies to students who wish to study medicine. The uniqueness of our school is tutoring. Each student has his mentor who helps him during schooling.
How much does the scholarship cost?
Our school is situated in Osijek, so the scholarship is way decreased in comparison to these in Zagreb or Split. The scholarship is 22,000 HRK per school year and can be paid in installments up to 8 years.
When did you start experimenting with the online classes and how does this function now?
We started 6 years ago. We tried via Skype, Facebook and some other social networks and apps. As nothing of stated was not fitting into our idea of online learning, in 2015 we applied for EU funds and started developing our own online learning platform. The title of the project which derived our online learning platform was ICT Science Lab, and aside online learning, its goal was developing interest in STEM subjects.
What is the name of your online learning platform?
It is called Loops. Students of our school have passwords for access, and upon request, password can be assigned to students of any other school. Our platform has been put on disposal. We have also offered it to Croatian Ministry of Education, but there has not been interest so far from their side.
What are the options of the platform and how do you hold classes through it?
Teachers have audio and video connection with all students. Teachers sit in the classroom, and students can follow classes from whichever place they like. When needed, a teacher will ask them to turn on the microphone and answer some questions or give their comments and complaints. The platform also enables check-up of their participation and testing. All in conducted in real-time.
How do you control participation and are there any restrictions in case if they miss classes?
We control them mostly over sound, but we have an option of turning on the video, too. That is done rarely because we give them option to follow classes from wherever they want. We are not bothered if they wish to do it from their bed. The most important thing is that they do their assigned tasks. If some students did not hand in the task, he will get minus points from the activity. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, we had the rule that a student who got 3 notices, must be present in school even in days when there were online classes. Notices are gained in case a student does not respond to the inquiry of the professor or does not send the assigned task. Nowadays, we had to adjust the methods since we all must be online, so we try to motivate them in different ways.
You also stated you can do online testing when they are at home, how do you prevent copying?
It is ordinary that in the days of online classes we would write a shorter evaluation so they and us could get a certain feedback. Important exams as well as yearly ones were not conducted via Loops. Yearly exams are conducted as a simulation of state exam and are written in school. This situation required conducting all assessments via Loops. There are few options to prevent copying. Tests can be limited by time. Also, we can limit the time for answering each question. Also, we try to make personalized questions.
Each student can get different questions, and each question is differently formulated. E.g., we would ask them to think and create some example or the question would be related to their personal experience. In case that they use a book or Internet, that type of answers they cannot copy.
You developed your app for professional orientation. How does it work?
Students will fill in the app with their notes and ideas during the class, and it is mostly used to correlate with their personal experience. E.g., a student can correlate ICT with gaming. Through span of months, the app points to the subjects which student mostly correlated and that is used as a guideline about his interest.
What are the results of your students on the state exam?
We are among the best. Three times we were the best and had 41,55 % above the national average. One of the most relevant criteria is percentage of students enrolled in faculties. In this field, we also have great results. Between 85% and 90% of our students enroll faculties which were their first choice.
What are the pros of online learning in your opinion?
Since a part of the system is already digitalized, the biggest advantage is that students can get feedback right away. In tests where they have to choose and circle or fill in the gaps, students see the results right away which saves grading time for a teacher and giving written feedback. In open type of answers, we can open all students and compare their answers. Pros of this type of assessment is that a student works in relaxed working atmosphere and is not disturbed by others. Our students stated that as the biggest advantage.
Do you think that is realistic to expect that part of classes will be held online in public schools?
There are no obstacles, a quality preparation is necessary. We have done that throughout the years. The most important thing is education of the staff because, without them, it cannot function. Nothing goes from today until tomorrow. There are no reasons why this cannot be reality in the whole country if technical requirements and internet connectivity predispositions are met.
/Dominik Đurin, 7.a; foto: S.L./
Original article is available in the school digital magazine Klinček