Academic English Studies instructors and students proved their resilience and adaptability in the face of adversity. When notification was sent on Thursday, March 12, that Lewis & Clark campus would close and all classes would move online by March 18 in response to the need for social distancing, AES faculty sprang into action. Already familiar with using online learning systems like Moodle and Google Classroom, instructors and students quickly became adept at meeting online through Zoom in just three days. AES instructor Brittney Peake, demonstrated the use of Zoom during a virtual office meeting held in the AES offices to help instructors prepare. By Monday, March 16, AES was already online.
When asked how they were adapting to taking courses online, students remarked that they were finding synchronous learning through Zoom to be almost as good as meeting in the classroom. “I really like the breakout discussions on Zoom,” said one AES student, “because we can work in small groups and not be interrupted by discussions in other small groups like in a classroom setting.” Other students said that they enjoyed being able to wake up a little later and just join classes without the rush to prepare and/or commute to class. Students have become comfortable with the video format, and all agree that it helps in building a sense of community.
While it is not the first choice of second/foreign language instructors, teachers have noted some benefits of distance learning. Classes can still be taught synchronously using Zoom, and it is easier to note student participation because it is easy to see all of the students on the screen at the same time. Additionally, teachers can pop in and out of small groups using the breakout room function to observe and provide more feedback than in a classroom setting. Students are also developing digital literacy skills by using different online platforms and are enhancing their ability to present and conduct themselves in video meetings. There are more opportunities to “flip” classroom activities, allowing students to work at their own pace on materials, and view videos and listen to recorded lectures multiple times.
AES faculty’s strong working relationships have eased the transition to online classes. Instructors have coordinated their schedules of synchronous and asynchronous work to ensure a balance of daily classroom interaction and manageable workload for students. Instructors use Moodle and Google Classroom to provide assignments, course materials, and videos so that students can work asynchronously. This has allowed teachers to have more time to schedule individual meetings with students to provide feedback on their work, while maintaining a sense of community and meaningful interaction during class meetings on Zoom.
“We’re in This Together”
As the situation surrounding the pandemic changes almost daily, everyone has worked together to adjust. Teachers and students have negotiated class meeting times to accommodate some students who have returned to their home countries to finish classes. For some classes, this has meant meeting in the evening so that classmates in China and Japan can join at a reasonable time for them. We are also grateful for the Lewis & Clark undergraduate students who serve as AES class assistants. They have continued to join online classes to participate in discussions and activities even while adjusting to their new schedules with distance learning.
It has been wonderful to see the continued support for students outside of the classroom as well. AES teachers and the director offer Zoom meet-ups to check in with students and to provide academic and emotional support. Student workers, Brenna Ketchum and Bailey Steinbach, have been coordinating virtual conversation partner meetings with AES students to continue cultural exchange. Participants in our Community Friends Program, led by Amy Baskin, continue to contact their international students, inviting them for virtual dinners, movie nights, and game nights.
While both students and faculty miss the daily interactions with each other on our beautiful campus, they have embraced the move to online classes showing the grace, flexibility, and resilience of true global citizens. The faculty and students’ responses to the necessary and quick move to the virtual classroom demonstrates the commitment both instructors and students have to our AES community. Our goal is to remain connected and focused in order for all students to reach their academic and language goals. It also exemplifies the experience and professionalism of the AES instructors and their dedication to embracing 21st century classroom technology.