Embracing the challenge of transforming our award-winning learning environment for online learning, SMGS’ Virtual Campus was officially launched on Tuesday 24 March 2020.
What is the SMGS Virtual Campus?
Our Virtual Campus has the following elements:
- Delivers learning which gives students daily contact with teachers and their classmates
- Live interactive lesson delivery
- On a timetable like that of our physical campus
- Adapted co-curricular and sport programs
- Regular Tutor group, Positive Education and Bounce Back sessions
- Learning support and extension sessions
- School counsellor and wellbeing support available through online conferencing.
Selecting the right platforms for effective learning and collaboration
Careful consideration was given to ensure the appropriate selection of technology and delivery across all year levels, from our technology-savvy Senior School students to our youngest learners in Kindergarten and Year 1.
Junior School – Microsoft Office 365, SeeSaw and Zoom
Senior School – Microsoft Office 365, Canvas and Zoom
The building blocks of our Virtual Campus
When designing our Virtual Campus, the following overarching principles were considered:
Continuity – It is our goal to continue to provide, as well as possible, an experience for our students that remains consistent with regular, at-school lessons.
Curriculum Content – Our teaching staff are equipped with the skills and tools needed to deliver their curriculum through remote online learning. Our Virtual Campus is based on live timetabled interactive lessons with classroom teachers that requires student interactions with both their classroom teacher and their classmates. Thus, the curriculum is still immersive and led by quality teaching, just delivered online.
Connections – We provide our learners with opportunities to connect, not just with curriculum content but, arguably more importantly during this time, with their teachers and their friends.
Training and preparing our staff at the coalface of our Virtual Campus
Preparations for our transition to our Virtual Campus began well before we officially transitioned to it.
It was fundamental that the teachers of our school were informed, prepared and ready. To achieve this, we engaged our teachers in opportunities to collaborate on curriculum design, and facilitated training in online pedagogy and instruction in online platforms that were additional to those we were already utilising.
Our Head of Teaching and Learning, Ashleigh Pratt, said, “Since the launch of our Virtual Campus we have engaged our teachers in continuous, reflective processes that pinpoint vital information to evolve the Virtual Campus. This reflection assists our school in remaining agile in our thinking and at the forefront of learning-at-home experiences in our community.
As a school, we are supporting our teachers through access to discussion forums, training opportunities, reflective meetings and, importantly, monitoring their wellbeing. Our teachers are invested in the success and sustainability of our Virtual Campus.
Embracing the Virtual Classroom – SMGS students rise to the challenge
In parallel with preparing staff to move to the virtual classrooms, training for our 300 Kindergarten to Year 12 students also occurred. During training, our students worked with our Virtual Campus team and their teachers to ensure they could navigate each platform where their learning would take place.
A Virtual Campus support portal was created for staff, students and families to reference to ensure that they have all they need for engaged and productive learning. This page is updated as required with FAQ and articles.
Students in Years K-4 who did not have a suitable device were provided with technology, as Years 5–12 are BYOD.
We are incredibly proud of our student community that has adapted so quickly to their new learning environment during this incredibly challenging time.
Adapting our Wellbeing programs
Our Virtual Campus has not only successfully upheld our rigorous academic programs, but our wellbeing programs have also been continuing. In the Senior School, students and staff alike welcomed the return of Tutor time and Positive Education sessions last week. Our Junior School students still engage in weekly Morning Sit-Mindfulness Practice and Bounce Back Sessions. Our K/1 students were over the moon to find out that their anticipated “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” was still going to run as a virtual, interactive event.
Other initiatives to ensure that the Virtual Campus is a fun and engaging space include a Year 7 Masquerade Party, Bring Your Pet to School Day and Onesie Day in STEM.
Our Wellbeing team also initiated a trial live Easter Chapel, one of the most important Chapel assemblies on our calendar. This was followed by a Kindergarten to Year 12 Virtual Easter Hat Challenge and, on the last day of online class, the Easter Bunny visited the K/1 and 2/3 classes during their Zoom lessons.
In PDHPE, students have been participating in fitness challenges and live group workouts.
Communication is key
From very early on, SMGS Principal Dr Andrew Bell and our Executive team have ensured timely, transparent and constant communication with our parent and student body. These communications formed the COVID-19 information housed on our school website. Here, parents can access information such as new government policy and regulations around COVID-19 and our school, guidelines for online learning, developments in our Virtual Campus and an FAQ, amongst other areas of interest.
Our parent community has been extremely supportive through this transition, and we are thankful for their encouragement:
“You’re doing an amazing job! Thank you for your preparedness and responsiveness to this pandemic and for keeping families up to date on all plans. Thanks for the hard work to keep us safe. We’ll be taking advantage of this virtual campus from tomorrow.”
“An amazing effort by SMGS to bring tech live in such a short space of time to ensure our kids maintain school life.”
“Amazing effort by the teachers and SMGS staff. It is evident how much work has gone into creating this for our children. Thank you.”
“Great to see a school make sensible decisions and making it work. Congratulations to all involved.”
“Such a brilliant job you’ve all done. You have just made this seriously crazy period so much easier for SMGS students and families. Thank you.”
“My son loves (the Virtual Campus) and is excited to wake up every day. Brilliant work, team SMGS.”
“Great work, team SMGS – working flawlessly from Melbourne.”
“Love your work, SMGS. Two very happy girls at home today learning from their wonderful teachers.”
“So impressed! Well organised and the children knew what they had to do! Well done, SMGS.”
“You guys are making the difference … my two think the world of their teachers.”
Inquiry, Discovery and Learning must continue
The launch of our Virtual Campus means that students can continue their learning journey and stay connected to their teachers and classmates.
Dr Bell said, “In combination with our highly skilled and dedicated staff, our Virtual Campus is one of the best in the country, exceeding what is being offered by many other schools. I am thankful to our staff who have taken this all on board so quickly and effectively. Lessons are continuing daily with face-to-face teacher/student online video interaction, complemented by our extensive online learning management system. Our teachers are enabling social interaction online with students as well as hosting other opportunities beyond formal learning. Snowy Mountains Grammar School is providing a state-of-the-art online learning environment which is something our whole school and wider local community can all be very proud of – it’s been extraordinary to implement this all so seamlessly, with further refinements planned for next term.”
Ashleigh Pratt, Head of Teaching and Learning, echoed Dr Bell’s sentiment, saying, “Our teachers are the shining light in this new territory. Not only are they committed to building virtual learning experiences that rival the physical campus experience, but they are also continuously working with individual students and families to enable access to learning while monitoring the social, emotional and physical needs of our students.”