Due to the sanitary situation in Hong Kong, no French course could physically take place in any of Alliance Française’s centres. And yet, classes still happen! Indeed, since early February, our teachers have been adjusting to the circumstances, using news methods, new tools, and new habits.
Rather than taking place in the same room, face-to-face with the students, classes have been carried out remotely through the software ZOOM. It allows the teacher and her/his students to still see each other and speak through webcams, as well as share screens.
The whole organisation of classes had to be revisited in a new manner. “What we do is a ‘Classe inversée’ (flipped classroom),” explains Céline, an AF teacher. In this system, the teacher first uploads contents on HKinFrench or on HKids (for children), two platforms with social network functions specifically created by the Hong Kong Alliance Française in order to support this new kind of digital lesson. Both were designed and launched within four days.
Based on the uploaded materials, students are to prepare themselves by completing homework which they also upload online. Then, the class
takes place in the form of a ZOOM session, with a discussion on the previously done homework. Besides, HKinFrench
also provides a space for students to ask questions on several dedicated forums. Whatsapp groups are frequently used for reminding students
about homework and at what time the ZOOM session takes place. Teachers work from home or from AF’s offices, while students
mostly attend classes at home.
Hence, the use of video is not without its issues: “Some students do not want or cannot show themselves. Without seeing them, it is difficult as a teacher to know if they understand the lesson or not,” further explains Céline. Indeed, not every learner feels comfortable with her or his own flat and privacy visible to others online as a background, and leave the webcam off. Noisy surroundings (kitchen, young children) and family obligations, such as meals, may also compromise the involvement of students. And some of them have to cope with their own work adjustments due to the virus and finish work later than they used to. But there are also benefits: “compared to the previous organisation, HKinFrench is actually a very good mean to see what our students do as homework, and which levels have the most reactive and productive learners.”
“The new system requires teachers to be very organised,” adds Marielle, another teacher. “Internet connection is a major concern before each session, and it is a source of stress. But overall it is a very interesting training, and among our students the young kids are very reactive.” For the youngest among AF’s students, prior to each class, the new vocabulary, grammatical structures, and exercises are introduced through videos, rather than reading materials: teachers rehearse, act, film themselves, and then upload the final result. “We basically become Youtubers!” explains Céline.
To cope with the very special circumstances, new methods were experimented by the team, and eventually the new system was set up within two weeks. “Everyone had fear at the beginning,” explains a teacher, “but it turns out to be quite successful!”