The annual FET Marine Biology course, run by the team of teachers of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation and sponsored by I&J, has always been popular with students who have an interest in studying Marine Biology and wish to continue their studies at a tertiary level. The course introduces them to terminology and greater detail about organisms they will learn about in their future studies and careers.

Teacher Xavier Zylstra presenting virtually on Phylum Arthropoda.

This year, 50 Grade 10 to Grade 12 learners from across the country were selected to join us at the Aquarium for hands-on interactive sessions with us as presenters and live specimens of animals and plants, where possible. Everything was in place for the course to start in late March - our programme, our presentations, who would present on which themes, and the Aquarium's collections team was tasked with collecting specific organisms for demonstration purposes during the course.

With the onset of Covid-19 infections in South Africa, but before the announcement of the national lockdown, we made the decision to pause all education offerings at the Aquarium. These included school lessons, outreach visits and, of course, all the courses we were planning on offering. At this point, the Aquarium was also closed to the public. The discussion of offering this course online, which has always been one of Head of Education Russell Stevens’ dreams, then began. We pitched the idea to the learners, and 40 of them agreed, with enthusiasm, to participate in our first-ever online course from home!

With this decision made, the Education team had to do some rapid planning (fortunately, this team is always up to the task). Choosing software, setting up presentation spaces at our teachers' homes and adjusting our hands-on programme to be more suitable for an online course were just a few of the challenges we needed to overcome to make this a success. The team settled on doing live presentations, using Zoom and Google classroom as a means of sharing information such as videos, PowerPoints and notes and uploading the daily lesson recordings, in case any student lost connection during the day.

The engagement from the learners was fantastic, with students asking many questions during the live presentations - as they would have if they were in class.

Even though online courses cannot be truly "hands-on", livestreaming has allowed us to show learners a vast array of real-life specimens - including this squid.

As with all our courses we usually do a pre-assessment to see what prior knowledge students have and then ask them to redo the assessment, at the end, to compare the results and gauge the level of improvement. This we administered via Google Classroom, and saw an increase from 51% to 78.7%. Well done!

Teachers Kirshia Koumbatis and Xavier Zylstra practising social distancing at the Aquarium (before lockdown) 

What did the learners think of the course?

“Even though we couldn't do this in person, it felt as if we did. And it made me realize that I am so happy to be choosing this career path, because this is exactly what I'd want to do. Thank you for all your efforts to make this work for us. I can't express in words how thankful I am. You gave us more than we could ask for. And to think you could have cancelled this course but you decided to continue with it anyway. That motivates me in so many ways, to not give up on what I want most. Thank you once again, and please continue to motivate, teach and inspire people. You are the true definition of a superhero.”

“There is not much advice that I have to improve this course. The only thing I want to be different is to be able to do the course at the Aquarium. This is not possible at the moment due to the world pandemic, Covid-19. Besides that, I really enjoyed this course.”

Teacher Kirshia Koumbatis providing technical support during the presentations such as checking that the students could hear us and that the videos were playing. Teachers took turns to do this while the other teachers were presenting and answering questions in the chat during the presentations 

“I can't think of anything that could have been done differently - the presenters did an amazing job with the lessons considering that they were thrown out of their comfort zones by current circumstances.”

Thank you, once again, to our sponsors I&J for providing us with the means to provide the opportunity to these young students, future marine scientists.

blog comments powered by Disqus