How ITS-ICT Piedmont Pivoted to Online Learning Just in Time for Lockdown
In February 2020, as the possibility of a national lockdown in Italy was becoming more evident, ITS-ICT Piedmont Director, Giulio Genti, contacted Learning Solution, an eLearning platform solutions company based in Torino, Italy, and Open LMS Channel Partner, to set up the organization’s digital learning environment to offer uninterrupted learning during the foreseeable quarantine period.
ITS-ICT Piedmont is the Communications and Information Technology division of ITS Foundations, a group of tertiary education institutes modeled on the German Fachhochschule system. ITS Foundations has 104 active institutional centers across the country, each focusing on a specific field of study, with the aim of preparing young individuals to enter the job market. Currently, there are approximately 16,000 enrolled students across ITS Foundations.
While ITS-ICT Piedmont had used Moodle in the past, it had only done so to manage some student assignments and the advantages of an LMS system and eLearning at large were mostly unknown to the institution. With COVID-19, it suddenly had the imminent need to migrate its five core courses fully online and train staff to use the various tools to deliver learning effectively.
Fully Online in Time for Lockdown
On March 17, 2020, when the lockdown took place, ITS-ICT Piedmont was fully set up to go online. While there was some initial concern with desertion rates, after proper implementation of an eLearning ecosystem encompassing Open LMS, Blackboard Collaborate, and Coursera courses, the institution experienced a strong 90% attendance rate.
One of the keys to the success of the transition was ensuring equal access to online learning for all students in the form of technology devices. Since 2018, ITS Foundations had been working to solve access to computer devices by awarding funding to the various institutes that displayed excellence in education. In 2020, students were granted access to institutional servers, benefitting from high-performance computing and access to school software. Moreover, to protect the right to education, Foundations developed a free device loan system to equip students for distance learning.
In terms of faculty training, while instructors were already digitally savvy and had little obstacles in learning how to use the various technologies, the challenge for Learning Solution was in facilitating knowledge transfer to all 106 faculty members before lockdown. They achieved it in about 20 hours of workshops, with training sessions taking place via Blackboard Collaborate. Additionally, some follow-up tutoring took place, but mostly on behalf of some especially well-trained faculty members.
The Future of eLearning at ITS-ICT Piedmont
During the winter months in 2020, the Piedmont region of Italy went into a second lockdown, which prompted the continuation of online learning. Fortunately, ITS-ICT Piedmont was already prepared and experienced no issues by this point. In fact, new rules for tertiary education in the country and specifically for vocational training institutions allow for schools to choose to carry out up to 20% of their programs online. This marks an unprecedented step toward digital transformation in a section of education in Italy that had historically resisted digital learning.
“The COVID-19 emergency has presented the world of education with an unprecedented, extraordinary challenge and our response must be just as extraordinary”
ITS-ICT Piedmont is planning to continue using eLearning as much as possible in the future. In a time of such dramatic changes and uncertainty, educational institutions must serve as a touchstone for learners, and ITS Foundations and ITS-ICT Piedmont in particular, managed to successfully carry out its role. Despite all the hardships, 2020 turned out to be a year of academic success, innovation and new projects, shaping the future of learners and reaffirming ITS Foundations as a prominent body of institutions within the specialized vocational education sector.