Lisa Sabey - Global Education Derby, UK
(5 May 2021)
Virtual student conference – the planning
As part of our Thinking Otherwise project, our European partners we were supposed to be taking young people to Ljubljana in Slovenia in May 2020 for a face-to-face Student Conference. The students were to share peer educator training and experiences.
A visit, of all the project partners, was also planned in Ismir, Turkey, for March 2020 – so that we could make all of the arrangements for the Student Conference.
THEN CAME COVID-19 AND WE WERE ALL LOCKED DOWN!
After working independently at home, we resumed collaborative activity enthusiastically in September and, after a couple more planning meetings, we scheduled a virtual Student Conference for March 2021.
A programme of blended learning with online and offline student leadership activities was born promoting:
· Student research and collaboration
· Cross cultural active speaking and listening skills
· Explore critical thinking within the context of social media
· Critique the role of influencers and develop a sense of agency
· Mind map and generate ideas for peer led activity
· Identify roles and responsibilities within a team ·
· Design, plan, deliver and evaluate a critical thinking activity
· Personal reflection and peer review of materials and activities produced
· Give and receive constructive feedback to peers
· Apply learning in online and offline settings to develop personal skills
The first online session
The first online session consisted of a check-in, followed by icebreaker activities and an online quiz, so we could get to know everyone and prepare to meet our social media influencer, Luca Gallone. Students researched the role of social media influencers and agreed on questions that their team could pose to Luca at our next virtual get together. Luca sent us a special welcome message.
Online session 2 was our opportunity to interview Luca. The questions, asked directly to Luca by the students, were brilliant and Luca said he really enjoyed it. At the end, he treated everyone to an amazing magic trick! The students were then put into breakout rooms where they could reflect on the discussion together– did anything surprise you?, have you learnt anything new?, what does it make you want to know more about? There was plenty to discuss.
Offline collaborative working
A challenge was set for students to work on together with their classmates. The task was to look deeper into critical thinking and design an activity to share with the other students, to develop critical thinking skills and awareness.. These could be new activities or based on student led activities originally developed for a face to face workshop - could these be adapted for online delivery? Could the students (and teachers) meet the tight deadline before we met again?
The Final day
We all came together on Zoom again for sessions led by the students, for the students.
The schools were split into two groups: Germany & Slovenia, Turkey & Estonia This allowed time for a screen break between online sessions 3 and 4 to give everyone's eyes and ears a rest.
After a welcome whiteboard activity (How are you feeling today?) and brief introductions about their schools, students from each country led their activity with the other three countries.
Feedback from each session was gathered on a Google Form and this was shared with all the students.
At the end of this session, all students and adults were asked to complete an online evaluation form to critically reflect on the whole of the virtual student conference (online and offline activities).
Everyone had the opportunity to share a comment or picture on an “End of conference celebration” whiteboard, whilst we celebrated with our own cakes!
A lot of work was put in by the students, over the duration of the conference – lots of thought and preparation, lots of critical thinking and planning, to create the resources.
Huge thank you to everyone who participated in the conference that we thought we couldn’t have! It was a big success and we couldn’t have done it without you all! Although we weren’t all physically in the same room together it was a wonderful experience!
Sharing this experience together built confidence for all and provided valuable feedback on the student activity ideas. Following the conference the majority of these activities were refined and included in the student activity section on the Thinking Otherwise website. Check them out!