Virtual Teachers’ Training: Embracing the New Normal Learning

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Jaelene sitting in front of her laptop wearing headphones

Introduction

As I sat in front of my laptop, I reached out for the smartphone on my right and pressed the power button. The screen unlocked, then my Talkback announced, “9:20 AM.”

I put away my phone and returned it to its position. I fixed my hair and double-checked if I already have all the things I need. I got my headphone placed on the left side of my workstation, secured it on my ears, and turned my laptop on.

It’s 10 minutes before my class starts, and instead of leaving home for work, I’m still here, sitting against a plain wall with the plastic table in front of me. This is my life now. My life in the virtual world.

Going Backwards

For many years, ATRIEV has been training teachers about the different assistive technologies and strategies in handling blind or low vision learners. There were tons of times that these training engagements happened in different places all over the Philippines, and were attended by regular and SPED teachers, instructors, professors, government employees, and other stakeholders from various companies and institutions.

I remember that before these training engagements took place, ATRIEV, together with the partner institution, had to undergo a rigorous process. It started from the coordination to the registration of the participants, gathering the training team members, booking plane tickets or renting a car for transportation, conducting an ocular inspection, preparing all the documents and materials to bring, and making sure that all the devices like laptops or tablets were safely kept in the container.

When the training finally began, I, along with my co-trainers, had to wake up at 4:00 AM to prepare and make ourselves presentable. After a few hours, we booked a ride, waited for the car to arrive, and spent an hour or two in the middle of the traffic jam. When we reached our destination, we had to walk and climb the stairs for a few minutes, set up equipment such as laptop, speakers, microphone, and projector in the conference room. And throughout the training, we would have to stand and speak for eight hours straight, just to train 30-50 teacher participants at once.

That was the tiring yet enjoyable and fulfilling part of being an ATRIEV trainer. We got to meet different people, travel to many places, taste local cuisines, and at the same time, do our mission to spread awareness about visual impairment. In fact, for the year 2020, there should be a lot of approved training, including those to be held in Capiz, Bacolod, Palawan, and Davao.

So many brilliant plans; a lot of great experiences to look forward to. But everything drastically changed when COVID-19 entered into the picture.

The government imposed Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), suspended the travels by land, air, and sea, and ATRIEV had to cancel all the scheduled face-to-face training for the whole year. We had no choice but to stay at home. Everyone’s affected, and we’re not exempted.

Changing Strategies

We couldn’t do anything to change our current situation, but we could do something to work around this problem and turn it into opportunity. Since we could no longer push through the face-to-face training, ATRIEV initiated the formulation of the eATRIEV, the official ATRIEV eLearning platform, and began to embrace the new normal.

In the first few months of the pandemic, ATRIEV gathered a couple of trainers to have a meeting on the idea of transforming the traditional way of training into a virtual. Then we were tasked to research and take different online workshops on the conduct of training in a virtual setting. We also came up with the detailed training outlines and created digital learning materials suitable for the course content.

Working in the Present

One of the courses we have generated is the Inclusive Design Training (IDT) – a six-day training that aims to provide participants with the knowledge and skills in creating accessible documents for people with visual impairment through Microsoft productivity tools and other platforms. The target participants of this training are the creators of modules and different document developers such as SPED, regular or mobile teachers, college professors, instructors, government employees, and IT experts.

ATRIEV sees this training to be very appropriate in this time of new normal, especially that the public and private schools, and other institutions are all turning into virtual. Hence, we take the advantage of training different individuals on creating accessible documents like learning materials, social media posts, and manuals for all types of users. We also introduce various assistive technologies such as mobile devices and applications to help the blind read electronic contents and scan printed texts.

After five days of learning the tips and tricks in making accessible documents, the participants have to present the skills and knowledge they gained from the training on the sixth day, which will be livestreamed on ATRIEV’s official Facebook page. They will be given five minutes each to present their chosen document and describe its accessibility feature.

In the end, they received not only the skills and knowledge in making accessible Word documents, Excel files, and PowerPoint presentations but also the value of being inclusive and sensitive to people with disabilities.

Presently, we have already trained over a hundred DepEd teachers from different divisions, faculties from several universities, employees from diverse government offices, and other professionals from private institutions. All of them realized the importance of producing and providing accessible documents to cater to the needs of learners or readers with disabilities.

Moving Forward

Many health organizations are already doing their best to put the COVID-19 crisis to an end. We believe that someday soon, this pandemic will finally reach its finish line, and everything will be back to normal. We will be able to return to our original process, where we can meet our participants and hold the training in a face-to-face setting.

When that time comes, both eATRIEV, our virtual platform, and the community-based courses can simultaneously coexist to educate more teachers, content creators, and other professionals from local and international institutions about accessible documents.

Conclusion

After a few minutes, my screen reader finally spoke, and I immediately opened the Messenger app installed on my laptop. I looked for the IDT group chat and entered into the Google Meet link provided by the class moderator.

I joined the room, and the moderator quickly accepted me. “Good morning, ma’am,” he greeted.

I smiled and replied, “Good morning, sir.” Then I accessed the files that I’m going to use in the session.

One by one, the participants came in, and each of them warmly greeted us. At exactly 10:00 AM, we began with our class.

I turned my video on, enabled the present now button for the participants to see my PowerPoint presentation, and started speaking.

“Good morning and welcome to the first day of Inclusive Design Training. Today, we’re going to discuss the four characteristics of an accessible document – Scannable, searchable, legible, and readable…”

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