I’ve never considered myself a computer expert, so I was a little nervous when I started my AmeriCorps VISTA role last August as the ELC’s next distance learning coordinator. However, I quickly learned the same lesson I now try to impart to students: Distance learning isn’t scary, and anyone can do it.
Over the last six months, I’ve worked to build upon the program that Marlee, last year’s AmeriCorps VISTA, started. We’ve expanded last spring’s pilot course so that students now meet twice a week in the evening instead of once. Students use USA Learns, a free, government run website that helps adults learn English and prepare for U.S. citizenship online. The best thing about this course is that students can continue working on their lessons outside the classroom. I’ve helped many students learn how to use this program on their mobile browsers. In an instant, they can practice English anytime, anywhere!
This flexibility offers several benefits. Students can rapidly progress in their studies. They complete huge amounts of work because they’re so excited to practice reading and writing whenever they want – even during school breaks. Work completed outside of class time also counts as in-class hours, which can help students qualify for assistance programs like MFIP.
In addition to our USA Learns course, this past fall we successfully piloted a new Burlington English course. Burlington English is a highly sought after online English learning program. Access is both limited and expensive, so we were thrilled to receive ten accounts from the state to use in our computer lab! Like the USA Learns course, students meet in the computer lab twice a week. However, the first day is an instructional day where vocabulary, grammar, or reading concepts are introduced. On the second day, students practice the skills they’ve learned through computer activities that match the previous day’s lessons.
Students especially love the Burlington English course because they’re able to practice listening and speaking, in addition to reading and writing. The accounts come with fancy headsets with built-in microphones, which allow students to record themselves practicing vocabulary and short conversations. Practice with pronunciation is definitely a student favorite!
As we look to the future, there are so many possibilities for both of these distance learning courses. We started the Burlington English course with intermediate level students but hope to offer additional courses tailored to beginning levels. We also plan to take advantage of recently added citizenship curriculum on USA Learns. Many students come to the office asking for extra citizenship help, and now they can take practice exams before their big day!
Eventually, we’d love to offer online English classes for students on our waiting list. This way, they can begin learning while they wait for space to open in our transitional classrooms. For now, however, we’re working hard to make our existing distance learning classes well-rounded and sustainable so we can grow with confidence and care.