Without the luxury of in-person classes, modern language instructors look to technology to keep teaching

With never having taught a language online, the Modern Languages Department must now learn to teach interactive classes on through the internet. (File Photo by Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

Professors in the Modern Languages Department are trying to find solutions using online platforms to help students continue their language studies without the benefit of in-class discussions and communication in the target language.

The main goal for most language classes is to be able to go out and speak the language in experiences like study abroad programs.

“It is about, in terms of our students, getting enough minutes of practice to improve their ability to use the language and that’s harder online,” Kathleen Antonioli, professor of French, said.

Students have expressed concern that this change to online-only classes followed by a summer break will make the in-person language classes more difficult in the fall.

“You feel that difference when you walk into a classroom and go ‘Woah I haven’t spoke at this level for a long time,” Olivia Swyers, junior in Spanish and pre-nursing, said.

One of the ways that professors are trying to provide students with continued speech practice and discussion is through recording videos. A website that some professors are using is called Flipgram.

“Students record short videos and students can reply with more videos on Flipgram,” Laura Kanost, professor of Spanish, said.

Kanost is allowing students to reply to discussion groups with videos instead of typed out responses so the students can have more practice speaking.

She also is using a mixture of written and video feedback to students so they can have reading and listening practice.

“We’re all trying to figure out a new normal,” Kanost said.

Classes switching to online have changed testing procedures as well, but in the effort to keep students from buying proctoring services, professors are getting creative with different assignments.

Kanost had a class create an infographic in Spanish about theater with the help of a script they read.

“This is an opportunity for them to synthesize the material in a different way that you can’t really cheat on something like that,” she said.

Most professors are looking to new websites or opportunities to supplement assignments.

Rebecca Bender, professor of Spanish, said her classes have started using museum websites for different projects.

Antonioli said that she wants her students to practice French with things they enjoy.

“Follow a French Instagram. If you are interested in makeup, watch a French make-up tutorial. If you like watching video games watch a French Twitch stream,” she said.

Some professors are also focusing on helping their students despite this unknown situation by choosing not to assign more assignments or having asynchronous classes.

“I’m trying to make sure we are doing the same goals of the class in a more flexible way to reduce the stress,” Bender said.

Looking forward, some professors said that they can see themselves using Zoom and Flipgram even after classes resume on campus.

“We all have had a crash course in a lot of different tools that could be really useful even after we go back to our normal mode of teaching,” Kanost said.