How Science of Sport did it and lessons we learned along the way
Science of Sport is a nonprofit organization that teaches kids STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) through the lens of sports. Earlier this year, we were gearing up for another busy season of camps, with summer just around the corner … and then COVID-19 hit. As the pandemic prompted more restrictions of in-person activities around the world, it quickly became clear that our programs would be affected. Knowing the impact our camps have on kids in the communities we serve, it was important for all of us to find a way to move forward despite the challenges.
This year, for the first time ever, our STEMadium summer camps are being run entirely online. This was uncharted territory for us; our community-based programs had always been delivered in person. Here’s how we made it happen with Brightspace.
Step 1: Transitioning from a Paper-Based Curriculum to a Digital One
Once we decided to move our camps online, we needed to take our paper-based curriculum and transform it into something that campers could consume digitally. We took a step back in order to understand what we’d lose through the transition, but most importantly, what we’d gain and what we’d be able to do now that we couldn’t before.
While we knew that we wouldn’t be able to replicate experiences exactly—the athletic activities, for example, would be harder without someone coaching and encouraging campers—facilitating camp online has opened the door to new types of engagement not otherwise possible. We can now share our screens and share more resources, directing campers to valuable websites that can support them on their learning journeys.
Step 2: Designing the User Experience
There’s so much more to online learning than uploading your curriculum to your learning environment. To be effective, you need to go beyond using a snappy template filled with static content. We worked with an Instructional Designer on D2L’s Learning and Creative Services team who provided recommendations on how to get the most out of Brightspace. Suggestions were made such as:
- Make use of the Homepage in Brightspace to share important information about your course.
- Consider the different roles within Brightspace. Campers, facilitators—even parents—can all interact within the platform. What will their experiences be?
- Use your brand to customize templates and provide cohesiveness across your courses.
- Anticipate learners’ questions and build that information into your content.
We also used video to make content really come alive for learners. Brightspace provides the ability to embed videos directly from YouTube within a module. For each lesson, we created three short videos: an overview of the lesson, an explanation of the academic topic, and a demonstration of an athletic activity.
Step 3: Determining the Logistics of a Virtual Camp
With experience and content sorted out, our next hurdle was logistics. Based on our needs, we decided to start each day of camp with synchronous communication through Virtual Classroom in Brightspace. This makes it easy to engage with campers and start the day off on the right foot. Everyone signs in at 9am and has a chance to ask questions and troubleshoot (if necessary).
We also wanted to be mindful of different levels of access to technology. Science of Sport has been fortunate to be able to provide each participant with a tablet for the duration of this summer’s program. We preloaded each tablet with an internet browser, YouTube, the Brightspace Pulse mobile app, and our STEMadium app. In this way, we were able to give campers everything they needed to participate and removed obstacles like having to compete with parents and siblings for computer resources at home. The only thing campers need is access to Wi-Fi.
3 Things We Learned Along the Way
It took some time to understand how to best manage the camps and run the virtual classrooms. Here’s what we learned in a trial run:
- Don’t go overboard. We realized we had too much content at the start. Set expectations and ease your learners into the material. Build in some time for exploration.
- You’re going to be competing for attention. Without facilitators in the room with campers and with unknown distractions around, it’s harder to keep everyone engaged. The shorter the synchronous sessions are, the better. Be laser focused and then break for 20 minutes for a self-led activity.
- Community guidelines are different online. As with curriculum, you can’t just apply to a virtual setting what works in a face-to-face classroom. Some of this became obvious to us after the fact. While you no longer need to worry about Johnny pushing Billy, you do have to worry about Johnny installing an app on that tablet that shouldn’t be on that tablet.
What’s Next for Science of Sport
Now that we’ve gone through the process of setting up virtual camps, we realize the immense opportunity that exists for future programs. We’re starting to think about hybrid camps, which may involve a blend of in-person and digital content.
Related to that is the chance to provide more cost-friendly camping options to a wider, more geographically dispersed audience—and quickly. Before Brightspace, the only way to grow the program was to hop on an airplane and fly from California to New York and everywhere in between. Today, we can monitor multiple camps at one time from our desks and campers can join from anywhere.
And as we’re running our first-ever online camps, we’re also simultaneously conducting a study on their impact. We ran a pretest earlier this year to level set knowledge of math and science, as well as general baseball knowledge. After we wrap up this summer, we’ll measure the improvement. We’re looking forward to the academic validation of the camps and the additional insights we’ll glean from the study when we publish the results later this year.
It’s been quite the season already, and we have even more camps lined up to take us through the rest of the summer. With Brightspace, what felt like an uncertain camp season impacted by COVID-19 turned out to be a virtual home run.