Italian innovation: Reducing the distance in distance learning. The meta-challenge of Marco De Rossi

Nov 14, 2020 504

During these months of hard and then soft lockdown, especially in this second wave of contagion by COVID-19, Italy is experimenting with the distance learning approach. Results are not enthusiastic for now: not only for the intrinsic attitude of Italian professors to be against every kind of change but also due to poor technologic background of high schools in the "Belpaese," reduced broadband in lots of places and especially in the several small towns, lack of technological devices and, last but not least, the presence of critic parents during lessons.

But are we sure that this is distance learning?

It isn't what Marco De Rossi believes. Marco founded WeSchool, the only "Made in Italy" digital platform suggested by the Italian government for distance learning for 1.1 million students and teachers. He aims to revolutionize the system of remote teaching, certainly not taking as an example the professor on the couch at home and students listening for six hours and the webcam off.

WeSchool aims to overcome passive teaching in general, particularly distance learning, and aims to establish active contact between teachers and students to produce attractive and interesting teaching.

It is not an alternative approach to teaching in presence, it is an integral part of "blended" teaching: the necessary pedagogical and sociological characteristics of presence teaching are combined with technological skills. It allows students to train and to overcome some barriers such as that of the absent student, that of the student who does not understand, or that of the student left alone.

How does WeSchool work? 

The platform can be used by any kind of device, and it offers different approaches to explain topics. Teachers can divide their students into groups. It is possible to upload materials or every kind of presentation, and to discuss and integrate them with other platforms such as YouTube, Google Drive, or Dropbox for an interactive lesson. Besides, at the advanced level, it is also possible to have different class tests, combining nine types of questions to avoid them copying and evaluating the students live without exiting the website or downloading files. Students have an easier way to create, to interact, to collaborate.

 This approach allows to develop skills that the Italian students are not taught today: how to search online, how to communicate in a more effective way, how to produce an online project, how to understand whether a website is safe or not. 

Are teachers ready to revolutionize the system? 

During the first pandemic wave, they have been criticized for not being that smart with electronic devices. The reality is often quite different because, according to estimates, 20% of professors were quote digitally skilled even before the pandemic, 40% was able to use the Internet at a basic level, and so 60% was aware of the importance of online teaching. The proof is that 223.000 middle and high schools professors crate an account on WeSchool during the lockdown period; this means 52% of the total. 

Marco de Rossi says that WeSchool is part of a path, started 15 years ago with OilProject, a platform that gave the possibility to learn autonomously with videos and papers online. Then the focus moved on professors. The goal is not to replace physical teaching in class with the online teaching at home, but to find a blended way to develop both social and digital skills between students. 

This difficult period has given the possibility to accelerate a process that began way before covid. Smart working is changing the way people work and the concept of companies itself. Teaching is just another step of this pattern, with the possibility to innovate, to improve and to democratize the process.

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