Academia+: Online training "Counselling migrants and refugees (C-STEP1)
In this unusual spring of 2020, when a long worldwide quarantine stopped the world and forced billions of people to stay in their houses, protecting themselves and others from a deadly virus, the Internet provided an immense opportunity to try new tools for work, education,communication or, simply just to satisfy our curiosity. In the education system, it is clear (although it has not been calculated, yet) that the quarantine has caused a really strong and unexpected push towards change. Without being able to carry on the learning process in the usual, i.e. obvious ways, the education system had to go digital and move to the virtual realm.
Change occurred also in our Erasmus + project “Counsellors’ study and Training Exchange Programme for Key Challenges of European Labour Markets and Societies”, or, to make it shorter, Academia+. We started in 2018 and, at this stage, we were planning to provide training sessions in most project partner countries. Our training is directed at career professionals and education representatives working on and researching about issues related to integration of migrants, refugees, and older people into the labour market. Among the other things, these training sessions are also designed to introduce participants to the challenges of the future labour market. However, at the beginning of the quarantine, it was clear to all partners that people would not have been able to come to the first of the three trainings planned (known as C-STEP1, C-STEP2 and C-STEP3). After a discussion with partners in agreement with the German National Agency, it was decided to change the trainings into virtual sessions. Thus, we joined our forces, divided our work, looked for the most suitable speakers to cover all topics and implemented our virtual rooms. At the end of March, we carried out several online partner meetings on a weekly basis. We were constantly in touch, ready for the trainings and, at the end of May, we started our first 4 days training (C-STEP1). (https://academiaplus.eu/outputs/).
These virtual lessons on 'Counselling and labour market inclusion for migrants and refugees' (C-STEP1) brought together more than 10 rapporteurs, specialists and, above all, more than 40 participants from different European countries who were working on various volunteering jobs and were facing numerous challenges when recruiting migrants and refugees. It was a big challenge for the project organizational team, which had to provide 6 hours of training per day with different speakers, making it easily accessible, interesting and non-monotonous, too. Speakers with more and less experiences in the virtual educational space were encouraged to use interactive tools while delivering their lectures. They also had the opportunity to improve themselves, trying to make feel the audience more included, work in groups and share information across different platforms.
At first, eMundus participation in this project was not expected to include the development of an e-training platform. At the current stage, eMundus work included only the creation of a website and an online educational resource, but after having to deliver online trainings, responsibilities increased, as eMundus had to keep website's information up-to-date, organize the online registration for participants and offer a user-friendly learning environment that could accomodate the needs of all learners. When demands for registration started to rise, we automatized the whole process, sending automatically to all participants a link to the moodle platform, which included training materials, messages and videos of the presentations. Together with our partners, we improved our competencies in using IT tools and platforms such as Zoom, Zoom breakout rooms, Microsoft Teams, Google Drive, Jamboard, Padlet, Mentimeter, Moodle, OBS, and many others. In this way, we have been able to fully convey planned materials and smoothly operate our work in groups.
The feedback received from the participants after the first day of training were encouraging. The content delivered was deemed relevant and partcipants even worked 6 times in different groups, being happy to communicate and exchange their experiences with others. On the second day we had to change the meeting platform from Zoom to Microsoft Teams, since in the German offices, where the coordinating body is located, Zoom cannot be used. However, despite this little inconvenience, the third day went smoothly. Before the training sessions, we dealt with the work, tested interactive tools with most of the rapporteurs, and provided B plans in case of any technical difficulty, but it was only thanks to teamwork that we successfully coped with some unexpected problems. We used a WhatsApp group to share quick resolutions and small communications within the partnership, presenting our plans, issues and ideas. Apparently, all the meetings organized and the detailed discussions about the trainings' program did not only help us to achieve the expected results, but they also gave us the opportunity to better know and understand each other. They also provided us with an important lesson: teamwork always overcome challenges!
The last day of training has been delivered on the 9th of June, and all project partners from Germany, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Lithuania and the participants of the training have shared only positive feedback, thanking all the team for being able to meet, work and deepen everyone’s knowledge, bringing together so many people at international level after such a long absence of social contact. If it had not been this pandemic and the subsequent quarantine, we would have never took this opportunity to improve our digital skills, learn how to use new programs and strengthen our teamwork.