Welcome to A New Academic Year: Expectations and Aspirations
Aug 14, 2020
Welcome back to ISF for the 2020-21 Academic Year!
We ended the last academic year to start our summer vacation with high hopes of a reprieve from the unprecedented troubles of the past 12 months, both viral and social. Summer usually offers something of a ‘time-out’ for many; it brings to families a change of routine, a change of pace, a time to pause, recuperate, and refocus. This year, while no doubt full of ‘activity’, the summer seems to have left us a little restless, as we wrestle with puzzling questions about what lies around the next corner.
I am sure we all share a deep sense of disappointment that health concerns will see us start the year back in e-learning mode.
As we survey the landscape at this time in human history, once more we find ourselves in troubled times, in a troubled world. Local health concerns and economic challenges dominate headlines in the media, only matched perhaps by rising tensions of a global nature. We see heightened friction between countries, cultures, and regions. Pessimism seems to pervade public discourse.
I cannot offer any certainty on these external factors. However, if we cannot change the challenges we face, we must change the way we face the challenges! I can attest to the optimism and positivity that has informed our preparations for ISF learning programs this year. All faculty and staff are very keen to welcome back our students in person, but this happy day will have to wait a little longer. We are, however, once again ready to launch ISF learning that reflects our sustained commitment to excellence in education, underpinned by an unshakable belief in our vision, mission and values, despite the ongoing unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As in-person instruction has been suspended by the Education Bureau, we have taken the opportunity to review the content and means of delivery for our online learning. Accordingly, our regular induction and commencement activities and meetings have been heavily modified. Many of the ‘social’ elements that mark the start of a new year will be modified, postponed, or cancelled. The all-important briefings for new staff, new students, and new parents will be offered in different ways. Faculty and staff will be ‘on deck’ working on behalf of the ISF community, but we will ensure social distancing in accordance with government guidelines. Some induction activities for new students and their families will need to move online, pending the resumption of normal classes in what we hope is the very near future.
To the extent possible, we will be seeking to work from campus, streaming live sessions from our classrooms and teaching spaces. This will ensure that we can offer our students the best online learning experience possible. Our technical systems and underlying support services can therefore be more responsive and focused to enhance the student learning experience.
I believe this will also offer our students a stronger sense of normality; they will be going to ‘school’ in their own classrooms, even if they cannot be physically in the classroom.
Over the past few months, we received feedback from parents, students, and teachers regarding online learning. We have thoroughly reviewed all aspects of our planning and practices, from the technical to the pedagogical, to ensure that the learner experience is balanced, productive, and sustainable. The IT Office and the Educational Technology Center have been busy working to enhance our technical systems to better support learning, particularly real-time ‘live’ teaching. The following summarizes these upgrades and enhancements:
- Core server hardware for PowerSchool and Moodle has been upgraded to improve performance and storage capacity;
- We reviewed online resources used for student learning and provided additional teacher training to enhance tools such as Explain Everything and Padlet;
- We have added additional platforms to support learner engagement, such as STAR Math, Screencastify, Mathspace, and EdPuzzle;
- We have upgraded the Exchange Server to improve e-mail performance and storage capacity;
- We have implemented a Single Sign-On protocol for Webmail, PowerSchool, Moodle, O365, and Google to make it easier for students to navigate their resources; and
- We have enhanced cyber-security to protect personal data through the introduction of Lastpass to support password management for all staff on all external platforms and websites.
We are no longer reacting to a sudden closure of schools. Our expectations of ourselves are very clear: we now have the time to plan how we will deliver our learning programs with purpose and focus within the existing conditions in the Hong Kong community. We have learned a great deal about effective e-learning, about managing screen-time, balancing independent individualized tasks with shared, collaborative projects. We know much more about what works and what needs more thought.
While we do not know at this point how long we will remain in e-learning mode, we are professionally committed to offering every family in the ISF community the best learning experience possible.
Our aspirations remain to be the best school of our kind – anywhere. We owe each member of the ISF community no less than that.
Dr. Malcolm Pritchard
Head of School