Sophia is a Gap Year Volunteer with CAFOD and shares with us some of what she has experienced over the past few months.
This academic year I am taking part in Step Into the Gap, CAFOD’s gap year programme. In a usual year, I would be working with schools or in a retreat centre and we would be taking an international trip. The times being what they are, I am working from home doing tasks for the education section, and there is no international trip.
Yet, sometimes a loss can be a gain: instead of focusing on learning solely about the country that we are due to visit, we have instead been meeting a country representative or programme officer from a different country each month, which is giving us a fuller picture of CAFOD’s extensive work around the world. This Lent, I shall be sharing some reflections from these calls.
In the event the school set up the Zoom invitation and shared screen to allow the PowerPoint to be shown and it was no different to joining all the other Zoom meetings we have become so accustomed to over the last year. There were a few glitches at the beginning from the school’s end but they sorted it out quickly and the assembly went ahead with each class of the children who were in school watching from their own classroom.
The advantages were that I could do it from my own sofa with no travelling and getting lost trying to find the school for once. Also it was slightly easier to concentrate on the script and be word perfect when not in front of a live audience. However it is not so easy to be interactive and each time I asked a question our contact had to ask a year group to unmute themselves to answer the question. She felt the children who were in school enjoyed it as it was something different from what they have been doing.
On balance I am looking forward to returning to in person visits to allow for better interaction with the children and staff, but virtual visits are a great way of maintaining contact when this is not possible.
CAFOD Education Volunteer, Ruth Sinclair-Jones, shares her experience of her first virtual visit to a secondary school.
I am a natural technophobe, so after I’d signed up for virtual school visits I wondered what I was letting myself in for!
I’m familiar with Skype and Zoom – but Microsoft Teams and screen-sharing were completely new to me, and the idea of speaking live to an audience I could neither see nor hear – but who could see me – felt very strange.
And this session would be a whole hour long, without a break, so somehow I had to make it lively and find ways for the students to engage with the material and interact with me.
The Chaplain, who had invited me, was really helpful and we had a planning meeting using Microsoft Teams so I could see how it looked, learn how sharing screens worked, and agree how we could use the chat function for interaction with the students during the presentation.
Planning my presentation took longer than usual, partly because I felt I needed a tighter script than I would normally have. In a live session of this length I would have broken it up with some discussions in pairs, feedback, Q &A etc, but in a virtual environment, with the students joining from their own homes, this was going to be more of a flowing presentation – with some student feedback in chat. And the session was going to be recorded and shared more widely too – so it had to be good!
On the day there was no going back – I was live on Microsoft Teams and that was that! The technology worked, the slides and films livened up the presentation, and the hour passed really quickly.
It is definitely harder to speak to an invisible online audience, and to keep up that sense of enthusiasm for a whole hour without being able to sense or respond to the audience reaction – but now that I’ve made my first virtual visit – and even enjoyed it! – I’m looking forward to more virtual visits and keeping the connection with schools in this way until we can visit face to face again.