As soon as Covid 19 began to take over the world, UNITO quickly swept into action and established the use of online platforms for distance learning and a new chapter began. Teaching and learning took on a different appearance, something that was really challenging for all of us. Re-organisation, adjusted timetables, online training quickly became the order of the day and words and concepts that we had previously vaguely heard of but never really used, suddenly became the new normal in these dramatically abnormal times. Personally I was both very concerned and very sceptical. I am no technical expert as my students can confirm, and with a very bad internet connection things were initially quite difficult.
Like all things, time and experience and are the best teachers. My attempts were always supported by the absolutely amazing assistance of Dott. Giovan Battista De Gattis and the encouragement of Dott. Alfredo Diano . Like my colleagues, it was back to the classroom for us, the professors…an important lesson of trial and error. Slowly, Edmodo and Zoom and Webex became comprehensible and the idea of an online flipped/ blended classroom came into being here at UNITO. As English lessons pre-Covid 19, were taught very much using thecommunicative method and focussed on both ESP and general English, we decided to try as far as technology, time and health would allow to invest in individual or group projects. Edmodo is a simple, effective tool for communication, sending materials etc and students quickly and competently began to complete their set work. Things began slowly to take shape.
Synchronised lessons. Regular communication with students and our e-tutor was absolutely fundamental. Lessons were organised with specific group or individual time slots and the ball started rolling. There were of course technical difficulties but they were immediately resolved or at least managed by the constant presenceof our super tutor in the virtual classroom. WOW… seeing the students again, hearing their voices, being a witness to their experiences, thoughts, reflections and emotions was something that the screen couldn’t block. Their infectious laughter after so much negativity was truly the best medicine. Assignments were divided and blended into medical and general English. The latest scientific data was discussed at length. Medical texts and developments were reviewed. Work groups were quickly established. Group presentations prepared. TED talks were analysed. Songs that captured the spirit of these unpredicted times were listened to and additional online support was also used. Vocabulary and fluency improved, as did morale. The enthusiasm and dedication and passion of my students is something I can’t put into words.
We went on virtual holidays together using Google Earth, students opened up about incredibly difficult experiences during the pandemic: family members with Covid 19, volunteer work with the Emergency services, fear, solitude, transformation, family time, hope. One of my students took me on a tour of her favourite pasture with her beloved animals…another completed all the lessons the day before giving birth and took the exam with her 11 day old baby. I have witnessed emotions and experiences and been able to assess both linguistic ability and personalities in an unexpected and magical way.
Do I, do we still prefer lessons in the ‘traditional’ classroom? Well as my students have told me it is the little things that make a real difference: having a coffee together, being physically close not just digitally connected. But physical or social distance does not mean emotional distance. We can learn much from Covid 19 and perhaps the flipped, blended classroom is potentially now the way forward. The work I have received and the commitment of each and every student here at CLI Aosta is truly unforgettable. I have learned that online teaching is no longer something to be feared, it is a genuine ally in the classroom and it is another key to what is most important of all: human connection.
Dedicated to all my students
Annitta Tudor - English teacher Nursing Degree Course Aosta