Ohio University was forced to expand its online learning offerings during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, as the university is moving back to more in-person learning it is seeing key opportunities that online learning continues to offer students at Ohio University and elsewhere.

Specifically, the university has used synchronous online learning to expand access to infrequently offered language courses. In a press release, the school discusses how synchronous online learning has allowed the university to increase access to Swahili language courses. Ohio University said it is one of the few schools in the state offering courses in Swahili, and with new classroom technology it is easier for students from Ohio University and other universities to access hard-to-find language courses.

“I used to get several inquiries every year from students at other institutions asking about online Swahili classes at Ohio,” said David Bell, Ph.D., chair of linguistics in the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Swahili and Arabic programs. “But I had to respond that there was no way we could offer both in-person classes and online classes.”

The pandemic caused the school to adopt Microsoft Teams to facilitate online learning. As the school returned to in-person teaching in the fall, it has also looked to integrate remote and quarantined students with classroom-based students. To do so, the school’s Office of Information Technology has equipped most classrooms with webcams mounted on swivel monitors and distance microphones. These capabilities have proved useful for online language courses.

“Now, there was a way we could recruit remote students at other institutions and integrate them into the regular in-person class,” Bell said.

In a press release, Ohio University said that Jillian Turcola, a full-time student at Lorain County Community College who wants to join the Peace Corps, became the first remote, non-degree student to take Swahili at the school.

“Swahili has been going great so far. I feel like I have learned so much so quickly,” Turcola said. “The course moves pretty quickly, with every new topic adding on to the last. However, between the speaking and listening assignments and normal, written homework, it’s been easy to keep up.”

“This is the first time I have taken such an intense, interactive course online,” she added. “I had imagined it would be difficult, but Microsoft Teams is a wonderful thing. [Seline Ayugi Okeno, coordinator of the Swahili language Program at Ohio University] shares her screen so I can see the lecture PowerPoint, and it’s as if I am right there with my classmates.”

Prior to fall 2021, Okeno had only ever taught and attended fully in-person or fully online classes.

“I was therefore not prepared to receive a student who would be joining my in-person class remotely for the whole semester,” she said. “The technological upgrades in the lecture halls make the switch seem easy, until I realized that a foreign language class has a unique set of demands. Top of this list is the sense of community. I had to acquire an extra laptop to position facing the students in the classroom, so that my remote student could see her classmates. This laptop also comes in handy during pair work speaking practice.”

The school explained that since students in the classroom are not logged into Microsoft Teams, Okeno was not able to use the breakout room function, which she had used when she taught synchronous online classes. Instead, Okeno paired an in-person student with the remote Turcola, using the laptop for the speaking activities. “After these speaking activities, my remote student and whoever she was paired with spend a minute or two getting to know each other, thus building relationships,” Okeno said.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs