Simulated teaching sequences and video tutorials

Virtual courses at the Language Resource Center

2020/05/05 by

The Language Resource Center at TU Darmstadt is now also providing its lessons for German, English and 17 other languages or specialist languages online. The lecturer Karen Fleischhauer explains what assistance and didactic or technical options the rapidly formed e-learning working group is considering for the virtual courses and how the internal communication between the around 90 teachers has also changed.

Currently only digital: Language courses at the TU Darmstadt.

Karen Fleischhauer teaches English and German as a foreign language. She was born in the USA and has worked at the university’s Language Resource Center since 2000. She usually stands in front of her language students and teaches them in the classroom but everything has changed for the digital summer semester. “Switching everything over in such a short space of time was a major challenge”, she says. The team at the Language Center quickly got together to exchange ideas on the learning platform Moodle and on Zoom. An e-learning working group was then formed to define the main focal points for internal communication and the requirements for holding language lessons in a digital setting.

Many questions and a lot of details

What needs to be considered when holding virtual lessons? What didactic and technical options are available? How will teachers and students cope with the new challenges? What is the best structure for the online lessons? Karen Fleischhauer discussed all of these questions and details with her colleagues Karin Pertoft, Barbara Stolarczyk and Sandra Sulzer in the e-learning working group. There was a lot of uncertainty amongst many of the teachers at the beginning. How can we do it? This was one of the reasons why the team initially organised internal exchange forums and workshops for the teachers. “We tried using Zoom together for the language lessons and tested the intricacies of the tool in detail”, explains Karen Fleischhauer.

In the last four weeks, the team has organised more than ten Zoom workshops for which there were more than 70 registrations. The teachers received training on Zoom and Moodle, discussed possible tasks and talked about the technical options for synchronous and asynchronous language teaching and group work. The Language Center also offers lecturers video tutorials – and clearly presented teaching materials. “For example, we set up a Moodle course that was tailored to the language lesson and recorded additional video tutorials to explain the individual steps in Moodle”, says Fleischhauer.

In addition, the Language Center simulated a teaching sequence on Zoom and recorded it. “We also prepared teaching and learning recommendations for digital language lessons and set up a Moodle consultation session on Zoom. All of these things can be used by my colleagues“, the lecturer continues. “We have tried to focus on the wishes and needs of the teachers”, she emphasises. There has been huge interest in the workshops and visual aids and the feedback has been positive. Karen Fleischhauer praises the strong level of cooperation and mutual support at the Language Center.

Alternating groups

The Language Center and its e-learning working group recommend splitting large courses into smaller groups. At this point in time, a total of up to 15 students can, for example, participate in a 40-minute Zoom lesson and then continue to work asynchronously for a further 40 minutes on tasks and exercises on Moodle. During this time, the next group of students is then speaking with the lecturer live. Some teachers are also giving 90-minute lessons via Zoom but only every two weeks, and in the meantime the students are given homework, listening exercises, language videos, question and answer games or language tests to practice at home on Moodle. “The teachers have developed their own individual formats”, says Fleischhauer.

Focussing on the positives

Due to the varying quality of Internet connections, the e-learning working group recommends that listening exercises and videos should not be played live during synchronous lessons but instead links should be provided for online learning at home. Based on the principle of the “flipped classroom”, Zoom will be reserved for verbal communication and other platforms will be used for preparing for the course or completing follow-up work.

The language lessons are already running and the Language Center now has to focus on some new questions: How can exams be held online and what formalities and guidelines will apply? How can the student’s progress be documented? “The e-examination working group is now looking into these questions”, adds Karen Fleischhauer. The English and German lecturer has also found something positive to take from corona and the new digital challenges. “We have now all become closer and meet up regularly via video chat.”