What is the secret behind the success of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts in providing distance education solutions under the COVID-19 pandemic?
During the first quarter of 2020, the majority if not all educators have received an email from their school/ university notifying them about shifting to distance learning, and most probably, every educator went through a phase of confusion, and many questions popped to the mind:
- Am I ready to teach behind a webcam? Are my students ready for this change?
- Which platform I will use? Am I comfortable with using technology?
- We are not in a real, interactive classroom anymore; How can I ensure the engagement of my students behind screens?
- How can I deliver the material in a simple way in the absence of the real interaction where body language, and facial expressions are missing?
- How transparent and accurate my assessments are?
And many other questions, concerns and mixed feelings are still there since beginning of the pandemic that is still affecting our world till today.
On the top of all these concerns, the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts faculty body had another challenge since more than 50% of the curriculum is hands on based where real practice is the key to master the skills.
Besides the traditional face-to-face classroom learning and during the past two decades, two new learning styles were introduced to the education field: “Blended Learning” and “Distance Learning”. These concepts were adopted as an education model by few educational establishments on a narrow scale. However, due to the crisis of COVID 19, these styles have emerged to the surface and starred as the only choice for all the educational institutions around the world to survive and keep the wheel of the learning process rolling.
So what do these two styles mean? And who they differ?
Blended Learning Vs. Distance Learning
According to Oxford Dictionary, blended learning is “A style of education in which students learn via electronic and online media as well as traditional face-to-face teaching. While Distance learning a system of education in which people study at home with the help of special internet sites and send or email work to their teachers.
This article will take you through the journey that RACA had to go through like thousands of educational institutions in the world to adopt the concepts of Blended and Distance Learning. The Royal Academy of Culinary Arts (RACA) has shown an exemplary story of success during the crisis time by following the below steps:
- Choosing the right learning platform
RACA has chosen Microsoft Teams as the learning platform. The choice of the platform was based on a series of meetings done by all the faculty members in coordination with the IT department to try all the features of the platform and choose the best practices. Both faculty and students were fully trained on how to use the platform for teaching/ learning purposes.
2. Deciding on the delivery mode.
Many educational institutions went for either recorded lectures or live sessions. To ensure the optimal scenario of a fully remote learning experience, RACA went one extra mile of doing both. The lectures were recorded by the faculty members over recording on PowerPoint slides and streamed through MS Teams 24 hours before the live session. The recorded videos served as the material to be used as reference for students while the live sessions were more assimilating the interactive classroom where students are fully engaged with the Faculty members through where Q&A, activities and group work. This enabled the faculty to highly follow up on the students, measure their comprehension level of the topics discussed and reflect on the students’ learning experience.
3. Utilizing technology at its best.
Nowadays technological platforms and applications left no room of excuses for educators regarding the restrictions they might face due to the shift from face-to- face learning into distance learning. Many applications and platforms are handy to help you do your class activities or group work without being hindered by the lack of physical contact. RACA had the privilege through its partnership with Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) to be introduced to many applications; such as, Socrative, NearPod, Padlet, Kahoot, EdPuzzle, Quizlet, Flipgrid, Google Forms. These apps allow the learning process to be very similar in nature to a real classroom environment through class activities, group work, quizzes, assignments’ submission and discussions.
4. Ensuring that practical classes are taking place on campus.
The subjects that are based on hands on experience took place and are still taking place on campus. This decision was taken by RACA to ensure that the students are gaining the maximum benefit of the hard skills learning that would make them competent chefs. Despite all the challenges of coping up with the pandemic restrictions in terms of social distancing, curfew hours, suspending of classes due to positive cases, RACA was committed to its promise to students and took all the precautions and measures to ensure that the students are receiving these classes on campus through splitting the classes to smaller numbers, doing double shifts, and prolonging the semester period to cover the missed classes.
5. Having all assessments taking place on campus.
To ensure the transparency, reliability and validity of the assessment results, RACA ensured having all the graded assessments on campus. This required great effort to organize an assessment schedule that ensure conformity with the pandemic regulations issued by the Ministry of Higher Education and scientific Research.
6. Having regular monitoring and evaluation process to ensure the highest standards
Regular class observations were done to the faculty member by the Quality Assurance department, as well, as, by the peer faculty to have a circle of ongoing constructive feedback that aims for improvement. On another note, students received many surveys on regular basis since the end of the first week of distance learning to measure the level of satisfaction and take corrective measures for any challenging issues they are facing whether technically or during the learning process.
The Royal Academy of Culinary Arts is proud of what was achieved on the level of distance and blended learning during the pandemic critical situation. This remarkable success could not be possible without having the wisdom of the management, the dedication and flexibility of the faculty members, the cooperation and willingness of RACA students, and the support of the governmental bodies who considered the special nature of RACA curriculum.