What challenges did you face?
Due to the relatively informal and ‘class-independent’ nature of this exchange, the Clavier Project team has avoided many of the problems which telecollaborative teachers often encounter. The exchange does not intend to be an integrated, assessed part of the foreign language programme and therefore does not encounter challenges related to coordinating class timetables in both institutions, academic recognition of activity etc. It does, however, rely on the motivation of the organising teachers and of the students themselves who have to use the platform and tools to find a particular partner and develop their own discussion topics and schedule outside of a class structure.
The challenge of organising and running such an exchange can obviously be difficult for the teachers involved. Teresa explains that “...as we have many part time staff, a lot of this type of work is carried out by full time contracted staff. We were fortunate with our model as it was based around facilitating student interaction and therefore mostly in their [the students’] hands.”
What did the teachers think of the project?
In order for such exchanges to work, Teresa believes that each institution needs “...at least one champion or project leader on the team to get the ball rolling and share good ideas to inspire others”. She suggests successful exchanges require finding partner-teachers who “...understand each other, even if they have slightly different expectations. Allowing sufficient time for staff to engage with student queries is also important”. She also believes that the Clavier exchange will become more successful as time goes by as it becomes more embedded in the students’ approach to language learning at both universities.
Two staff visits were made by Simon Ensor (French co-ordinator) to Warwick during the year to discuss the project and, thanks to Erasmus funding, two members of Warwick staff were able to make a return visit on a teacher exchange in June meeting with the French tutors, presenting the project and connecting with a wider teaching body. This resulted in the development of a set of tasks to be embedded in lesson planning for the academic year 2012-13.
The project was reviewed and evaluated to be a successful model to be further refined and developed through an agreement at institutional level.
What did students think of the project?
An online survey sent to both cohorts was completed by 168 students towards the end of the year. These revealed several findings worthy of note. Firstly, that the students were already using a range of technologies to connect with friends and to support their language learning and were clearly comfortable with their use. Tools of choice included instant messaging and social networking tools, with email providing a familiar and reliable tool for 65% of respondents. They felt, furthermore, that their endeavours in language acquisition were important should they spend time abroad (58%) and should be accredited (66%).
What kind of institutional support did you receive?
As regards institutional recognition and integration, Teresa reports that in Warwick “...we did get clearance for a press release and our Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning have been supportive”. A recent institutional teaching and learning review also praised the initiative and proposed the project’s application to other languages. The document states:
“The Review Group commends the Language Centre’s development of the virtual exchange between Warwick students and students at UniversitéBlaisePascalin Clermont-Ferrand. The Review Group advises that the Language Centre should continue to develop similar virtual exchange programmesand take a more active role in seeking international placements and links with overseas institutions, including the University’s core partners, noting that the Centre is in a position to share best practice and advise other departments in this regard.”
In the future, the institutions involved will be looking at how projects such as this one can strengthen the links between virtual and physical mobility between institutions. Clermont Ferrand, for example, is hoping to formalise a three year link with students of French at Warwick which will mean financial support to facilitate staff visits as well as providing higher visibility for the online initiative. Furthermore, Evan Stewart, director of the Language Centre at Warwick, recognises the possible link from virtual mobility projects such as Clavier and physical mobility: “Warwick already has one of the best records in of UK universities in terms of outgoing student mobility. This [project] supports mobility with less outlay on the part of students who may be deterred from physical mobility for financial reasons.”