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Bridging the Gap: Turning Face to Face Into a Synchronous Distance Learning Language Class

John Graves (Yale University, US)
Chrissy Hosea (Yale University, US)
Session Information
April 23, 2012 - 5:30pm
Teaching and Learning
Areas of Special Interest: 
Innovative Blends
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Poster Session
Executive A-D
Session Duration: 
60 Minutes

How do you effectively adapt face-to-face classroom instruction to the distance-learning environment? We investigate this question through a pilot program between Yale and Cornell University.

Extended Abstract

In 2011-2012, Yale University and Cornell University started a synchronous distance learning pilot course in Dutch, with the instructor physically present at Yale and students attending the course both from a classroom at the Cornell campus as well as a classroom at the Yale campus. This new situation presented a number of challenges. Firstly, the right technologies had to be chosen and implemented in a way that allowed for unimpaired oral as well as visual interaction at all times. It also had to accommodate the specific teaching style of the instructor and various interactive classroom activities. The instructor had to adapt her teaching approach to the new technology-enhanced language learning environment in the areas of teaching style, course planning, classroom management and learning activities, while still preserving some of the most fundamental aspects of the communicative language approach. This includes extensive interaction in the target language between students and instructor and amongst themselves, collaborative learning and negotiation of meaning, each of which would normally take place in face-to-face interaction. In order to be able to incorporate all these elements, we opted for a two-way solution using video-conferencing technology for whole-class interactions as well as installing workstations equipped with the Adobe Connect software for pair-work and small-group interaction. This two-way synchronous solution guarantees the best audio and video quality for class discussions and teacher-centered activities. The work stations maximize student speaking time and closely simulate traditional classroom activities that involve movement and collaborative problem-solving, at times resulting in more authentic tasks than in a regular classroom. In addition, the workstations allow the instructor to give private feedback to the students. Finally, we will discuss the learners' reactions to the distance learning context by presenting the results of the student surveys.