Every dark cloud has a silver lining. I thought about that a lot the other day, and well, there are dark clouds that seemingly do not have any sort of silver lining, but nonetheless, many dark clouds do give birth to things that might either just be good or even a solid improvement.
The Pandemic, on this, day 108, continues to decimate and to show the inadequacies of the American political system as we grapple with a fascist, almost would be dictator. We are currently and have been for some time the epicenter of the epidemic due to our irresponsibility in properly reacting and to the fake news syndrome that denies, lies, manipulates, and poisons every aspect of our culture. Enough of that, my rant is keeping me from talking about the good side of the Pandemic, if we could even say that.
Since 2012, besides teaching online French at Oakton (which unfortunately I have not been doing for over a year now due to the Arabic Professor needing the French classes), I have done ESL and French Conversation Hours. Normally, they are F2F (Face to Face) but given the situation, clearly that wasn’t happening. Once Confinement set in and we were unable to go to the campus, the language lab and its management asked me if I were willing to do it online. Although I had been teaching online, this is a totally different ballgame. There was a specific software vehicle for the online course in which I didn’t conduct any live classes. That was always a possibility, but not an integral part of the program and frankly, I was depressed at the thought that my students were not interested in pursuing that at all.
At one time, I was asked by my Department Chairman to propose a hybrid course, which in my estimate, is on of the best ideas, taking the best of F2F and online. To be frank, one of my colleagues shot it down and I now think that the reason was that when a course like that is approved, the proposer has dibs on it.
So, here I am, a confident, competent language educator who is at least able to do some good by doing conversation sessions. When the language lab director proposed the idea, I toyed with Zoom and Google Hangouts. After taking a look at both, I realized that Zoom was more to my liking. It seemed to be an easier vehicle and one in which I could show the notes I take during the session, research immediately things we were conversing about on google and show my research to the group. Following the session, I always send a copy of my notes in Microsoft Word (I type them in Pages and convert them when I send them).
When I was doing the conversation hours F2F, I sometimes had as many as eight participants, but usually less, one never knew as it is not a class and provides no credit. When I first started the Zoom sessions, I had one participant for several weeks. Soon the word spread and for the past several months, I have had twelve to fifteen participants. The interesting thing is that virtually none of the regulars from the F2F are on Zoom, although several who were no longer attending F2F are now on Zoom.
In the first days, I continued to have two ESL sessions a week and one in French. Now I have four ESL sessions a week with one in French. I now even have a young American English speaker with disabilities who attends to get more confidence and to work on his spelling. I even have a person studying to get a degree in ESL and TOEFL teaching attending to get ideas as she is unable to do her regular internship.
Oakton normally starts these free, non credit sessions about the third week of the semester and ends them about a week before the end of the semester. They quickly okayed my continuing them despite the end of the spring semester and just run them into the summer semester. Therefore, the people who were depending on practice are able to do so. Currently, the participants in my sessions are originally from: Vietnam, China, Mexico, Iran, Syria, Ukraine, the Dominican Republic, Poland, and the U.S.
My strategies for them are to utilize their motivation to become better conversationalists to adjust and adapt more easily to the United States and its culture and to make them feel comfortable in doing so. I start out each session with an image from www.bbclearningenglish.com that I find on Instagram and we discuss it. It is usually some sort of idiom or grammar point. Yesterday’s was the difference and comparison of the words ‘such’ and ‘so.’ Our conversation takes off from there. The past few days, when I log on, there are usually several people already ‘attending’ and conversing in English. I am amazed!
So, the Pandemic isn’t all bad. We are reaching more people than before and helping diversity at Oakton.