Tag Archives: blended classrooms

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

classroom at Yale

Please note: These notes are a summary of the keynote session presented by Chrissy Hosea of the USA at the recent Perfecting the Blend Conference at Mt Clear, Victoria, Australia

Chrissy Hosea teaches Dutch over three campuses at university level in USA

  • Students meet in a classroom on a campus at a designated time, 5 x 50 mins per week
  • The Instructor is positioned @ Yale
  • A student assistant is placed with the class in the distant campuses

Project background

  • How not to lose teaching style!
  • Classroom interaction is important

Role of student assistant

  • Setting up classroom
  • Turn on and check the work stations
  • Print and distribute handouts etc
  •  Minor technical troubleshooting
  • Administer quizzes
  • Instruct class in case of emergence
  • Help with promotion/Dutch events
  • Petest new exs/software
  • Give me feedback on class – using google document Most has something to do with technical issues, kids who aren’t in class, something happens, takes attendance. Groups and who is working with whom.

Important Tips

  • Backup plan for videos and worksheets so that people are occupied for when technology fails.
  • Positioning of room – important that all students can see each other all of the time – need to feel part of the class all the time.
  • Most important in languages is communication – need to practise their speaking with communication, therefore needing as much interaction as possible. What are my teaching principles – what do I do in a classroom.

Teaching Principles

  • Students feel safe and comfortable (many feel inadequate cos new to the language)Polycom Video Conferencing Equipment (VC) has  very good audio and video quality. All participants can see and hear each other at all times, therefore relationship with far-site students can be established thru common experiences. Instructor can manipulate camera view. Choose what do I want them to show them my screen or choose what they see.
  • Language input is to be current, rich (preferably authentic) and relevant to the students
  • Students speaking time is maximized
  • Classroom activities are stimulating and engaging – kinda forget you are learning but helps you learn more
  • Students engage in meaningful communication

How can this be achieved – videoconferencing  technology for classroom acitvities and web conferencing technology for group/pair work eg skype, gmail chat etc

Seeing students are not sharing one physical space how to guarantee

  • Students feeling part of the same class and both locations share similar class experience
  • All students speaking as much as possible in meaningful communicative tasks
  • Activities that are inherently interactive

Group work

  • Students need to know and trust each other, therefore they need to talk to ea other and work together
  • All feel equally part of the class

How to achieve this…

  • Student speaking time is maximized
  • Use group and pair work when possible
  • Classroom activities are simulating and engaging.
  • Need interactive games and activities
  • Collborative writing ex – write a story together. Eg

Once upon a time….. There was a class…..  of Dutch students… Where?…. In Ithaca NY

Connect with remote students

  • Assure similar classroom experience for all students (try and step into their world eg share what happens on campus so part of the conversation0
  • Refer to events happening on the remote campus
  • Have (obligatory) online office hours
  • Conduct remote campus visit
  • Have students work together in as many ways as possible (in class, online: blogs, shared documents)
  • Have remote visits if possible.

Also online – student blogs – choose own topics eg own foods. Get students to read each other blogs and comment on each others.

Compile work lists – all have to do 10 words, get translation, etc in google docs

Try and visit students 1 or twice per year. (For Chrissy this is a 5 hour drive but have f2f classes so difficult to do).

Student feedback


  • Less contact with instructor
  • Self-conscious w camera
  • If talk softly people cannot hear you
  • Technical problems are frustrated, difficulty reading monitor or hearing others

Agreed that

  • Class was similar to a f2f class
  • Would recommend it to others


  • One way of doing distance learning
  • Limited scalability
  • Complicated logistis (schedules, breaks, credits, registration)
  • Possibility of technical difficulties
  • Big time commitment for instructor (training, developing courses)

Oh me, of little faith!

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This week, I was fully reminded of the fact that I should never, ever doubt the ability of students and what they can achieve when highly motivated and engaged. Thinking it would be great to blend two classes – one in Boston, USA and mine in Hawkesdale Australia in a virtual classroom, it was suggested to Lorraine Leo, my great colleague in USA. Lorraine suggested Friday 16th our time, or Thurs night 15h March, their time. Yikes! That was only two days away and we had nothing organised.

The challenges

  • That was only two days notice.
  • the interesting mixed collection of students in my year 9/10 ICT elective class
  • the student mixed ability levels
  • lack of time to practise, rehearse etc.
  • our continuing problems with sound on the student netbooks (they had just been reghosted and handed back to students)

As there was one single, precious lesson prior to the online session, we tested sound/audio/access/application sharing/use of web camera etc to Blackboard Collaborate, the webconferencing software tool to be used and also brainstormed some ideas on a wallwisher. However, the time was not long enough. Students were then told to bring their photos and scripts with them on Friday ready to share with their global counterparts.

Feeling quite nervous on Friday about whether:-

  • anyone had brought photos and more importantly how many had not done anything
  • they had anything to talk about and would they stutter, stumble and take frights (as many of these students are extremely shy)
  • they would behave online
  •  the webcam would be used to good effect
  •  the application sharing of pivot and some stored photos on student computers work etc…
  • sound/audio would all work

I was surprised to find all of them were all organised. They had taken time consuming, fascinating photos at home and on their farm, had brought products into share and wanted to come in at recess to get organised. Some of these are students who rarely complete homework! Here is what it all looked like.

  • an opening comment by Lorraine : Thank you for inviting us to Australia to visit your students.
  • Problems as always with sound – most students had to come to my laptop to speak and demonstrate
  • in my nervousness, I forgot to go through the tool bars and elements of Blackboard Collaborate at the beginning, but most seemed to work it out as we went a long.
  • A classroom of 21 participants, including Mrs Leo, the teacher from USA, 5 of her students, logging on from home (as it was 7:30pm at night for them), two adults from Japan – one  a university professor creator of a global project – World Friends with Scratch, the other a parent, a student teacher from Saskatchewan Canada; a parent of one of my students and Mrs Leo’s mother, an amazing 86 year old lady in blackboard collaborate for the first time. Such a blended classroom, made possible with technology.
  • my students presenting on topics such as:- Hawkesdale, my farm, my pets,our school, my interests, pivot and demonstrating sample student work, including quilting.
  • Once the initial nervousness dispersed, the obvious pride that my students took in sharing their passions, how well spoken they actually were and that they were all organised!
  • the support that students gave each other
  • the fast paced nature of the chat, where participants asked questions, gave feedback and generally shared across the globe.
  • interacting on the collaborative whiteboard to share names, farewells, favourite technology.
Despite being  pushed outside their comfort zones, students really enjoy interactions such as this. They find it fun and engaging and are curious about each other. Each person has a voice and is able to interact in the chat. A big thank you to our global participants for coming to learn about us and to Mrs Leo for her work in making it possible.
I love this comment from a thankyou email from Lorraine:-

 Thank you again!  I really appreciated your time and all of the behind the scenes work in putting the meetup together. I know that for many of my students and for Noriko and my mom, being in a Blackboard Collaborate room was a completely new experience.  Can you only imagine what it must be like for my mom — at 86!– listening to students all the way over in Australia!  She really enjoyed the experience and I’m sure will want to be included the next time there is a meetup.

Read the student reflections

  1. Georgia
  2. Rachael
  3. Sean
  4. Tamiko
  5. Kim
  6. Jess
  7. Ivy
  8. Aza
  9. Nathan

Here is the link to the recording