The Order of Saint Augustine: How the Pandemic Accelerated the Institution’s Digital Transformation Roadmap From 5 Years to 5 Months

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The Order of Saint Augustine is a religious organization with a global presence. In the case of its Peru branch, it develops pastoral, religious, and educational activities. E-Learn had the opportunity to speak with the Order of Saint Augustine, Province of Our Lady of Grace of Peru (OSA), which encompasses four parishes, an education center, one retirement home, four schools, and one higher education institution. 

In 2020, OSA decided to implement online learning in order to continue its educational mission. The organization’s eLearning education project has mainly impacted the four schools, which represent 95% of the digital education transformation project: Saint Augustine School of Chiclayo, Saint Rose School of Chosica, Saint Augustine School of Lima, and Our Lady of Consolation School. 

E-Learn spoke with each of the schools’ principals to understand the scope of the eLearning project. Each K-12 school has been using Open LMS as their robust and innovative eLearning platform with the aim to develop lessons and use the integrated Blackboard Collaborate plugin to deliver lessons via video conference. Seidor Peru was the Channel Partner that managed the relationship between the technology providers and The Order of Saint Augustine.

Let’s take a look!

Meet the Interviewees:

Jorge Marín Sojo – Principal, Saint Augustine School of Chiclayo

Maribel Malpartida Zevallos – Principal, Saint Rose School of Chosica

Mónica Fuentes Quiroz – Principal, Saint Augustine School of Lima

Carmen Concha Tenorio – Principal, Our Lady of Consolation School – Surco

E-Learn Magazine: What are the pedagogical challenges that this new virtual modality has posed for schools?

Saint Augustine of Chiclayo: Technology has played a predominant role in the current global context, and challenges posed at a pedagogical level, so far, include mastering the technologies. In the case of our institution, we are experiencing challenges as we get more acquainted with the tools. As we discover more capabilities, it’s positive in that when considering that education continues to occur in a rather traditional way—characterized by the teachers’ strong participation—learning about these different tools allows for the teacher-student interaction to evolve and for them to share the role of learning. 

Saint Rose of Chosica: One of the biggest pedagogical challenges was to establish and maintain the teacher-student-family relationship within a virtual environment, where the different tech tools have become the medium to “consolidate” this important bond during a difficult time. If we take into account that teachers already experience using technological tools in their professional roles and that students as digital natives had explored these resources—even if it was for recreational rather than educational needs—in this new scenario, another challenge has emerged: managing to provide students with autonomy at home and teachers with the creativity to transform learning and create new ways to reach students.

Saint Augustine of Lima: Online education has represented an opportunity to reinvent ourselves as teachers, by discovering new skills and ways to teach that enrich our pedagogical skills. We can innovate in lesson planning, making the most use of the different learning modalities optimal for eLearning: learning through discovery or exploration, developing online research, designing and creating collaborative projects online, among others. All of this without losing sight of the most important element for proper learning and inherent to education, which is to maintain the student-teacher bond, while also coming up with strategies to keep students motivated.

Our Lady of Consolation: While bringing new competencies and skills to the table, online education also implies many challenges. These include keeping students motivated, screen exposure time (especially among younger children), the inability to handle physical objects and materials, and, finally, that feedback ends up focused on the academic aspect rather than on the personal and emotional aspect, as we would like. 

E-Learn: How would you describe the digital transformation journey that OSA schools have undergone during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Saint Augustine of Chiclayo: It has been an accelerated and intensive process that forced us to make important decisions, such as the acquisition of online platforms that provided a quality virtual experience, or how to provide Chromebooks to our students. It impacted our work processes in that teachers had to become the most applied learners, as they saw the need to acquire knowledge in order to be able to transfer it correctly.

This process was also characterized by having to include parents in the transformation journey towards digital, in a more involved manner than is usually required of them. At the administrative level, it enabled us to share experiences and resources among all of our schools, which broadened the opportunities for professional growth at all levels. 

Saint Rose of Chosica: It was a process that we began intuitively, taking giant steps and trusting each other. The path to digital was supplemented by the acquisition of online platforms and Chromebooks, as well as the continuous and progressive mastering of the tools and applications. We feel a part of an entire assembly system in which working across the schools and administrations has strengthened the sense of belonging and leadership among the apostolic work of the OSA.

Saint Augustine of Lima: It was a challenging process for teachers, students, and parents. We adapted to a new learning and communication modality which implied understanding the needs, strategies, and goals for each school cycle.

Having to quickly learn about the digital tools, as well as our desire to provide our students with the best possible outcomes, implied collaborative work among all teachers. This included ongoing training on the tools that would impact the students. 

Our Lady of Consolation: It has been an interesting learning curve, which wasn’t based on a timeline but on the need to respond to the crisis. What we had planned to accomplish in three to five years had to be done between three to five months. We still have to polish the quality of the learning provided, where we make the most of the resources available and effectively transition from a traditional teaching model to an online learning modality.

E-Learn: What advice would you give to peer institutions that are considering implementing a digital learning ecosystem?

Saint Augustine of Chiclayo: I would say that this is the right time to do so. Education and educational processes have always been dynamic, but this moment in time is not only dynamic. It requires a necessary leap into what the world is demanding today—to harness technology in favor of education. If schools don’t believe that education has already changed, the schools that don’t have the ability to adapt may be at risk of stagnating or disappearing altogether. 

Saint Rose of Chosica: Digital transformation is already a part of the education and lives of our children and teenagers. If we stop discovering and conquering more digital tools and environments our students are already engaging with, then we will not be able to respond to their needs. We shouldn’t go back on the path we have tread so far. We have demonstrated that as teachers we have the necessary skills to innovate in a scenario of uncertainty and which is challenging us every day. It’s almost a necessity to continue implementing a digital learning ecosystem with the experience we have gained—not doing it would be foolish.

Saint Augustine of Lima: Take on changes as valuable learning, provide teachers with training opportunities and support, and provide students and parents with the needed support, motivation, and confidence.

Have the peace of mind that this is a new way for students to learn through the use of technological strategies. It will allow them to perform at a quicker, more motivating, and collaborative pace, having updated learning modalities and innovative resources at their disposal.

Our Lady of Consolation: Contact the best technology allies, make big decisions by assessing all angles carefully, rely on an assessment/diagnosis, train teachers, and work together with families. Have management backing. I would also say that in the race to improvement, a need arises for the entire organization to advance towards the finish line, and support throughout this process will be key.

E-Learn: How do you motivate teachers, students, and parents to adopt technology as a means to enable education continuity?

Saint Augustine of Chiclayo: Having assessed the results of the new implementations, I don’t believe there are any members within our educational community who feel that educational technologies haven’t helped us ensure education continuity in spite of a pandemic. Motivation will always be present as long as we attempt to continue showing the benefits of these new tools. In regards to security, perhaps teachers link technology to negative or high-risk situations for youngsters, but if we keep the right focus, we can make the most of it.

Saint Rose of Chosica: The current global situation is an important motivator for us. It’s not ideal, but it has driven us to identify technology as a tool that enables education continuity. It’s important not to lose sight of such an enriching experience, not only at the academic level but also at the personal development and spiritual level. Emotional and spiritual support has played an important role in the lives of our students, the parents and our teachers to help them endure the isolation we are all experiencing.

Saint Augustine of Lima: First, I would say by sharing other schools’ success stories, including what digital transformation has meant for teachers, students, and parents alike. Also, by creating spaces to share the various online experiences developed by teachers, pointing them to the archives where they can find tutorial videos, materials, and recommendations on the use of different resources, establishing a pedagogical support structure, developing ongoing communication with students and families to go over the advantages of technology, and interviewing students and families to receive feedback on their individual needs.

Our Lady of Consolation: By showing the advantages through practice. If they discover the benefits, they will undoubtedly join.

E-Learn: What are the differences between primary and high school students in terms of technology-based pedagogy?

Saint Augustine of Chiclayo:  There are many differences as their innate interests vary, especially if we take into account their own psycho-evolutionary development. A seven-year-old child with a more concrete thinking capacity will require learning experiences that captivate their attention and allows them to enjoy their activities. High school students, more than enjoying their activities, need to see their abilities and skills challenged, as the obstacles they face in their life will impact their learning.

Saint Rose of Chosica: The needs and interests between primary school students and high school students are different, but the scenario and conditions are similar. Students want to have an adequate learning environment, where they feel in control of their learning and that the class responds to their needs. A place where they know that online learning will not be an obstacle to interact with their peers and have experiences that motivate them to continue learning.

Saint Augustine of Lima: Needs vary, therefore strategies and resource selection must take into account the learner’s age. Nevertheless, it’s important to highlight that technology came, stayed, and triggered a change towards more active learning. In the case of children and teenagers, technology is part of their everyday activities and, therefore, the use of different technological strategies is motivating for our students at any age. This must be accompanied by training around digital citizenship that allows for a proper, respectful, and risk-averse use of technologies.

Our Lady of Consolation: Regarding digital citizenship, the emotional and educational aspect is simpler in primary schools, and can be an ongoing risk in high schools. 

The range of motivations is also different. Children in primary school gain autonomy over time and need more support at first. Instead, high school students use the tools, even beyond the ability of the average teacher. We have noticed that primary school students usually turn their cameras on, but that high school students don’t do so willingly.

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