Digital Learning in the New Normal: 45 DFA Personnel Complete FSI’s Rank-Based Online Course

The Basic Foreign Service Staff Employees’ Course (BFSSEC), the Foreign Service Institute’s (FSI’s) first rank-based Course to go 100% online amid the COVID-19 pandemic, has been completed by 45 personnel of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

To be able to offer its training programs and widen its reach beyond the DFA Home Office during this global health emergency, the Institute has shifted from the traditional classroom modality to 100% online learning. FSI conducted the first online BFSSEC from 22 June to 03 July 2020.

The BFSSEC is one of the Institute’s core training programs. In its current design, the Course has six (6) parts, delivered through a hybrid online modality: five are synchronous and one asynchronous.

In the synchronous sessions, the resource person and the participants met together in real-time, while the Gender Sensitivity Training (GST) asynchronous session allowed the participants to access the Course’s online learning content and materials at their own time.

The online sessions of the Course employed lecture-discussions and workshops in teaching and held trivia games to engage the participants and gauge their learning.

The combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning sessions helped the resource persons gauge the needs of the participants. These modes of learning allowed the Course’s participants to continue enriching their knowledge and skills without physically attending the sessions in the Institute. 

The Course is designed to equip the participants with the basic knowledge and skills required of their positions and enable them to carry out their functions more effectively. It includes topics that focus on enriching the knowledge of the participants in clerical, administrative, and technical work. In addition, it aims to enhance the participants’ basic communication skills.

Since it was the first online implementation of the Course, FSI’s Core Programs Section faced the challenge of handling 50 participants—a first time for the Course to accommodate such big number of students.

  • The participants and resource persons encountered technical challenges, such as utilizing the proper equipment to support the activity and internet connection stability.
  • Resource persons found it challenging to stimulate a high level of engagement and interaction with the participants. This task is easier to achieve in face-to-face sessions, in which the resource persons could rely on facial or audio cues to help them determine the need to adjust the pace and content of their lecture.

Notwithstanding these adjustments for the FSI team, the Institute’s resource persons, and BFSSEC participants, the Course has become a pioneering example of how the Institute is using available technologies and resources to deliver its training services while ensuring the safety of its employees, participants, resource persons, and guests.

The participants particularly appreciated the accessibility and convenience provided by the online delivery of the Course, citing the use of trivia games and quizzes through Kahoot and Mentimeter to be effective methods in promoting participation and interaction during the sessions.

BFSSEC participants with Ms. Anna Patricia Silerio (top left) of PeopleStrong Human Resource Consulting for the session on Telephone Etiquette.
BFSSEC participants in the session on Telephone Etiquette.

Despite all the challenges in the new modality, one of the resource persons highlighted in her feedback of the Course that, during a pandemic, online classes are much preferable than traditional face-to-face classes, and even commended FSI’s agility in migrating its programs online.