Implementing an online English linguistics course during the Covid-19 emergency in Italy: Teacher's and students' perspectives

Antonella Luporini
2020 ASp  
Foreword 1 Crises breed wide arrays of diversified reactions in human minds, ranging from utter dismay to a dogged determination to extract silver linings from the darkest clouds. In her paper, Antonella Luporini illustrates the latter disposition well. She explains how she promptly reorganised a BA's third-year ESP module to teach it online in reaction to the sudden Covid-19 lockdown that closed Italy's northern universities in spring 2020. Her report is both concise and detailed enough to
more » ... ailed enough to understand the step-by-step decisions she made to ensure the successful completion of her teaching assignment while engaging her students to join in and take active part. Many western European university teachers were similarly confronted by the Covid crisis in early 2020 and our ASp readers will certainly find interesting insights in Luporini's testimony. They will also probably gain a sense of brotherly or sisterly empathy when the author develops trains of thought that we all shared when we faced the same digital issues in our efforts to keep our pedagogical shows on the road while lockdown shut us all in. 2 In my case, two remarks by the author stir instant familiarity. First, she observes that the University of Bologna already used a Moodle platform when Covid struck. That was the case at my university in Aix-Marseille, and I am quite sure most western European universities were in Implementing an online English linguistics course during the Covid-19 emergen... ASp, 78 | 2020 1 similar situations at the time. The implication is that many colleagues were not totally caught off guard by the crisis; in many faculties, it was just a case of accelerating the latent ongoing process of bringing teaching practices online and taking it to full completion. The bottom line, however, as Luporini realises, is that online tuition devours time to the point of totally redefining the calculation of teaching loads, which will give headaches to teachers' unions who are eager to defend their members' rights. 3 Second, she describes the low level of formality in her online exchanges with her students and her remark confirms the recurring feeling I have that the keyboard is a great equaliser. Even if some form of hierarchical emailing etiquette is kept between students and academics, I believe keyboard-mediated exchanges are largely anti-ex cathedra communication. From my own Covid experience, that tendency may have been increased by the sense of urgency shared both by teachers and learners when they felt they had to strive together to complete courses or exams to save the year. Luporini observes as much when she underlines (unusual) expressions of gratitude from students to teachers for the latter's determination to "safeguard teaching activities during the emergency" (section 3.). At the time, some form of "mission impossible" challenge braced us all towards priorities of action and evacuated unnecessary formalities. The sense of shared commitment may also explain the high and consistent levels of student attendance she registered during the module at Bologna, and may contrarily suggest that they are not to be taken for granted if online teaching is pursued in less dramatic circumstances. 4 As was to be expected, the author administered a questionnaire to collect student feedback. Doing without would have been odd and it is indeed highly instructive. Yet, I take it more as a snapshot of a highly specific situation than as a bearer of long-term lessons. For one thing, the IT landscape is changing so fast that responses may well fall into irrelevance when we return to the breach. For example, cheaper, more ubiquitous computing devices may rapidly close the "digital divide" highlighted by the paper, and soon make it a moot point among online teaching issues. Second, if digital training turns universal, upcoming generations of learners may steadily desert the "strongly disagree/disagree" columns as they may not even remember or imagine that alternative (e.g. face-to-face) teaching methods were once standard practice. As a result, to take stock of responses in a longer perspective, I would have added a more general question to the poll, even if its meaning sounds vague: "In your opinion, what is the more 'normal' teaching situation: online or face to face?" Repeating the question over the years would bring informative measures of students' evolving adherence to online tuition. 5 Many thanks to Antonella Luporini for her highly instructive and elaborate report: it provides us all with quality food for thought in these challenging times. (Michel Van der Yeught, Aix-Marseille University)
doi:10.4000/asp.6682 fatcat:t24ftmu6cfbifltvbpem2hx2pu