In the spring 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, vocational special education and training shifted to remote implementation like the rest of the world. There were many challenges to overcome: different learning problems and support needs of the students, the distribution of students’ places of residence throughout Finland and the quantitative inadequacy of digital equipment and suitable digital teaching materials. Not to mention the teaching staff’s resources and skills as well as the changes in working life which resulted in a radical decrease in on-the-job training placement availability. It quickly became clear that the implementation of individual paths for students with special needs required new types of methods. Flexible methods with combinations of physical and digital teaching, physic-virtual learning environments and cross-border interactive e-learning.
Before Covid 19-pandemic, vocational special education schools have not had extensive experience in implementing distance learning for students in need of special support. Therefore, high quality, achievable digital teaching materials or e-learning environments have not been comprehensively produced for vocational special education needs. It has now been recognized that more working life-oriented and digitally achievable learning materials that support especially practical skills learning and virtual learning, is needed to enable vocational skills training also to special needs students at a distance.
The aim of the project is to develop physic-virtual learning environments, visual and virtual digital learning environments suitable for practical skills training, across borders teaching model that will utilize interactive whiteboards / touch screens and digitally accessible material for students with special needs to support hybrid teaching and guidance.
Physic-virtual learning environments will be built in the project partner organizations. The virtual learning environments aimed for practical skill training are created for three fields of study in cooperation with the service provider. During the process, functions are planned for the virtual environment. This means 360-degree filming of work environments used in working life cooperation, making recordings and exporting the material into VR and AR environments, transforming it into a ready-made learning environment and testing it with students. The interactive whiteboard / touch screen is tested in across borders teaching of common study units. During the project, an accessible digital support material utilizing video, images and audio will be created for the teaching and guidance students with special needs. A teaching model utilizing physic-virtual learning environments is created.
The result of the project will be the introduction of a physic-virtual learning environments with diverse learning enabling digital hardware and software. Three virtual learning environments have been created and implemented for vocational special education. Interactive whiteboard / touch screen utilizing across borders teaching has begun. To support physic-virtual learning and teaching diverse and high-quality digitally accessible teaching and support materials for students with special needs have been created.
The teaching and support staff have a new kind of competence for utilization of virtual learning environments for practical skills training and working life cooperation. Digital pedagogical operating models that utilize physic-virtual opportunities in teaching have been introduced. Opportunities for students with special needs in practical skills training have increased and diversified, resulting in improved student employment possibilities. Students’ general digital skills are also improved which supports inclusion and participation in an increasingly digital society and working life after graduation.