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Published June 7, 2020 | English (Second Language)

Emergency Transition to Distance Education - A Language Teacher's Story

This real life story is a translation of a text published in Profweb’s French edition.

In May 2020, Patricia Lapointe, pedagogical counsellor at Cégep Limoilou, interviewed (at a distance!) 2 teachers from her college about their experience with the emergency modifications that had to be made to their courses in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These teachers come from 2 different disciplines and work in different contexts.

You will find below the testimony of Andy Van Drom, a language teacher. (Andy is also an editor with Profweb). Also consult the story of Geneviève Gagnon, a math teacher.

What didactic reflection led you to the pedagogical strategies you chose?

I have focused on accessibility, flexibility and diversity of content and resources to create a learning experience that promotes the success of all my students, regardless of their personal situation.

As a result, I opted for an asynchronous approach on Moodle, allowing students to access content at their convenience.

In order to help students plan their study time, I created weekly content modules, divided into 3 sections (each corresponding to one hour of class and its associated personal work time). However, this is a structure to guide students; except for the final evaluation, completion and delivery dates are flexible.

The content offered takes different forms:

  • short readings
  • interactive videos
  • active learning exercises
  • forums
  • wiki
  • etc.

Each section includes activities in several formats (which intersect) to allow students to access information in the ways that are accessible to them, but also to encourage their attention and motivation.

Numerous informal and formative games and quizzes allow me to provide frequent feedback, which also acts on motivation and perseverance.

In addition to the asynchronous formula, I offer question-and-answer sessions and exchanges in a synchronous format via Zoom. I offer these optional virtual meetings at several times during the week: not only during the initially scheduled class hours, but also at various times (including evenings). For these meetings, I programmed a reminder in the Omnivox calendar with a list of suggested topics.

Based on my observations of the work done on Moodle, I also send personalized invitations to some students so they can get explanations about material that seems less well understood.

Of course, I am also available via MIO.

At the beginning of each week, I send a message (in text or video format, I alternate), which, of course, covers pedagogical content, but above all, also establishes a human contact aimed at encouraging my students.

How do you choose the right technopedagogical tools to achieve your goals?

First of all, I questioned myself on the limitations of this unusual context and those resulting from the particular situation of my students. Given that we had to make a seamless transition from face-to-face to distance education for all courses, I chose first of all to stick to a single platform. In this way, I wanted to limit not only the learning curve for my students, but also the potential technical problems, as I would not be able to help students in person to learn different tools, as I usually do in the classroom and in the lab.

Secondly, I also made sure that all my students had at least basic access to the Internet (cell phone or computer), which was the case.

I chose the Moodle platform to distribute the content and learning activities as the language students had already used it in several courses in their program and could access it using the usual username and password they use at the college.

Being a digital learning environment, Moodle allows me to offer different types of content and activities within the same space. To choose the type of activity, I ask myself what element of the skill to work on and what I want students to develop or demonstrate in relation to that element.

The activity or tool being merely a way to make people learn, I always make sure to choose it in function of the content, and not the other way around (trying to adapt my content so that it works with a previously chosen tool).

For the videoconferencing sessions, I chose Zoom (taking the necessary security precautions), because the students only have to click on the link I share on Moodle (no software to download, no account to create).

What are your students' reactions to these methods?

I was very pleasantly surprised; I received several spontaneous positive reactions from my students.

Their praise especially related to the ease of navigation and intuitive use of the content I put together.

They really like the interactive videos--each about 10 minutes in length, with integrated questions and comments. The viewing is interrupted and the student has to answer the question to continue. My students have told me that this helps them not only to ensure that they understand the concepts, but also to stay alert.

They also like the fact that I offer them collaborative activities that can be done even remotely, asynchronously--they didn't think this would be possible. By making creative use of Moodle's forum and wiki modules, I have built several activities that aim at co-constructing knowledge.

Finally, they appreciate the fact that for many of the assignments, I allow them to submit a typed text, a photo of a handwritten text, or an audio or video explanation. Moodle facilitates the submission of different types of documents; it is possible to record yourself directly on the platform.

What's your favorite application or digital platform that you would like to share?

I really like H5P, which integrates with Moodle, among other platforms, and allows you to create fun and varied learning activities:

  • interactive videos
  • games
  • crossword puzzles
  • flash cards
  • etc.

It's easy to program to create engaging micro learning for students.

Editor’s Note

To learn more about H5P, read a text published on Profweb about this tool.

What advice would you give teachers who are new to digital tools?

As far as technopedagogical tools are concerned, students often experience a chosen tool for the first time, as do their teachers. The range of platforms and tools available makes it very likely that they have not yet used the means offered to them (unless you stick to certain “ubiquitous” tools such as Kahoot).

Therefore, put quality before quantity, and don't put pressure on yourself to quickly take ownership of a whole range of tools, as you will increase not only your own stress level, but that of your students as well.

Keep it simple and don't hesitate to ask your colleagues for advice.

How do you meet the challenge of distance learning in your professional reality (without labs or equipment)?

Above all, the language laboratory is an effective way of getting students to work at their own pace in a classroom context, offering a series of activities that they can customize, while allowing the teacher to give personalized feedback. Since students now work from home, at their own convenience, it is easy to achieve the same level of personalization, or do even better. The challenge is to think of activities where students can receive immediate automated feedback, or brief activities that allow me to provide quick formative feedback.

The fact that the course is asynchronous, which reduces my teaching time and ensures that I don't receive all the activities at the same time, allows me to do this.

I also include peer feedback steps, which also has the advantage of enhancing the interactive aspect. In the case of a language course, it's above all the human aspect that doesn't always transpose as easily to the distance format, but with the activities I've described in the other sections (forums, wiki, exchanges on Zoom, ...) we get there!

How do you deal with balancing telework and personal life in your own situation?

For me, it is above all a question of maintaining a healthy work routine, by clearly delimiting my work space (office) from the personal spaces in the house.

Having opted for an asynchronous formula, I first invested my time in developing the online course. Once this is done, I can devote my class and office hours to providing feedback and guidance to my students (via Zoom and MIO).

About the Authors

Andy Van Drom Andy Van Drom enseigne l'anglais, langue seconde, et la linguistique depuis 2005, d'abord à l'Université Laval, puis, depuis 2012, au Cégep Limoilou. Après avoir terminé des études doctorales en linguistique, il travaille maintenant à temps partiel à une maîtrise en enseignement collégial avec Performa. Andy a également publié 3 manuels chez Pearson ERPI et a développé plusieurs ressources éducatives libres en format numérique. Son grand intérêt pour les outils technopédagogiques et l'apprentissage actif l'ont mené à travailler avec Profweb, où il est éditeur depuis 2017. En 2019, il a reçu une Mention d'honneur de l'AQPC et le prix EF Excellence Award in Language Teaching.

Patricia Lapointe has been a pedagogical counsellor at Cégep Limoilou since 2002. She is in charge of the college's academic success support strategies and the educational newsletter. This newsletter, written for the teaching staff, is published monthly and offers, among other things, references on pedagogy in higher education.

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