There is a Russian proverb that goes “Live for a century – learn for a century”. Although I thought that I was used to studying at the TU Chemnitz after four years, this April, my Master’s cohort was thrown into a completely novel experience – a virtual semester abroad in Russia! After navigating through the intricate maze in Campus I StraNa, I was surprised to find that our course would take place in a video conference room. Little did I know that I was about to participate in a live session with students from the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Saint Petersburg.
The Two Cities Project is organised by the TESOL Section of our English Department and allows groups from the TU Chemnitz and Herzen University to collaborate in live video streaming course sessions as part of the MA English & American Studies second semester eLearning Seminar. Our local and video lecturers, Ms Prue Goredema, MBS and Dr Lidia Agafonova respectively, each lead the classes on alternate weeks and present us with different ideas, tasks and approaches. They engage both sides in discussions, so we all get to discover the many facets of the issues in the field. Apart from the interesting concept of the project, the eLearning Seminar is in itself a great opportunity to delve into Web 2.0 tools for teaching English, and to learn how to competently evaluate them and integrate them in our future classrooms. We not only get familiarised with digital approaches in second language acquisition theory and methodology, but we also test the applications on our phones and laptops in class and at home. Thus, for instance, I was able to group with a colleague and record a podcast. Planning and creating an attention-keeping discussion was an engaging task that taught us how to overcome some unknown challenges of content production such as dealing with anxiety, bloopers and conversation turns. Then, in our session on game-based learning, we explored some entertaining applications to make language learning more attractive and entered a heated competition for collecting and donating rice grains through English vocabulary and grammar quizzes in Free Rice. Although they looked innocent, the educational games proved to be demanding and got me looking up and learning more unknown vocabulary as I went up the levels.
After each session, the two groups also fill out an anonymous online survey which covers questions on the theory from the seminar, evaluation of the tested tools and feedback on the instructor. I find these polls better than the typical end-of-the-semester course evaluations because the feedback is more realistic on a weekly basis; students can reflect on the knowledge acquired and the lecturers and students can identify areas for improvement. Of course, it is also fun to compare your answers to those of your peers.
Speaking of colleagues, I have found that being part of a group which represents the TU Chemnitz abroad is highly motivating, since we share the responsibility for making a good impression of our study programme. It has also been exciting to get to know the interests of our distant colleagues and to explore their study and teaching methods. Thus, each of the classes so far have piqued my curiosity and enthusiasm.
All in all, this one-month experiment has left me a nice memory of an imaginary semester abroad and I can’t wait to see how the next seminar sessions will unwind.
I hope you are also off to a good start in the new semester!
(Master English & American Studies, 2nd semester)
 Век живи́ – век учи́сь. (Interpretable as “You learn during your whole life”).