Magdalena Đurasek, a Community Story from Croatia
My name is Magdalena and I am 25 years old. I graduated with a degree in Italian Language and Literature and Ethnology and Anthropology from the University of Zadar. I am currently working as an external associate at the Centre for Lifelong Learning and Culture Bjelovar where I teach Italian to adult students. Taking into account both my professions, when learning a foreign language, I often talk about the customs and way of life of the country whose language I teach. I only heard about the EPALE platform recently thanks to the groups of teachers with whom I communicate. However, I only recently created an account and began to actively monitor the work of the platform in the field of adult education.
When I'm writing my story is May 4th and I can say that the general mood in our country is more positive than it was in mid-March. Of course, I say this given the current easing of restrictions and the opening of shops, the relaunch of the regular health care system, the opening of children's playgrounds, etc. On the other hand, the situation is still grave and I think it will be even worse when the economic consequences that Coronavirus will leave behind come to light. However, my first work experience in the profession was brought about by the new epidemiological situation in Croatia. The Centre for Lifelong Learning and Culture Bjelovar has decided as an educational institution to continue its task of encouraging lifelong learning among citizens. Precisely because of this, the Centre decided to use the time people are spending at home due to social distancing measures for their personal and professional development.
The Centre "moved" many of its educational courses to virtual classrooms at the end of March. The Italian language course has been positively received, both in our city and abroad. As well as the students from Bjelovar, where the Centre is situated, the course is also attended by students from cities in other counties, as well as by our fellow citizen who currently lives in Greece. In addition to the opportunity to learn a new language, the Italian language course aroused the attention of the public because we presented it as a form of showing support for the citizens of Italy, which as we all know has been one of the countries worst hit by this so-called invisible enemy. In addition, the first 30 hours of the intensive course, which was held four times a week, were completely free.
When we talk about online teaching, I have to admit that it is a completely new environment and a welcome challenge for me, even though I belong to the younger, more tech-savvy, generation.
During their studies, professors do not prepare students for teaching in emergency situations, and even they themselves hope that this will never happen and that the classroom as we know it will always be available to us. We learn a language, whether native or foreign, primarily through contact and communication with other people because we are social beings.
So how now, when we are forbidden to be social, are we supposed to cling to learning, and teaching, a foreign language?
The answer is of course: online – contactless teaching. The use of the media and the pros and cons of its use have always been a hot topic of debate. However, now the main question is no longer whether to use media and technology in teaching, but rather how to implement it in regular classes. Online teaching contributes to the achievement of the desired learning outcomes even when teaching takes place normally in an actual classroom. A group of students who attended the course for the first 30 hours made various observations about online teaching. Because the participants were of different ages, the problems they encountered were also different. The biggest problem I encountered was the internet connection and poor computer literacy. The platform I work on is Skype, although I also use Zoom. In addition, I often use YouTube and other apps like Kahoot. Lectures take place live, in real time, in the evening so that the course can be attended by those who work during the day. At the beginning of the lecture, while I wait for everyone to enter the classroom, I play Italian music so that we start each lecture cheerfully.
I can conclude that online foreign language teaching has its pros and cons. The biggest advantage of such a course is that the student does not need to be physically close to the institution running the course. Having said that, since it is about learning a foreign language, I would be happier in the classroom, interacting in person with my students. However, while I strive to be better at the language I teach, I also want to improve my teaching methods and techniques, whether in the virtual world or the real one.
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