Briercrest students using Skype to teach English in China

Posted: November 5, 2010

By Amy Robertson


Photo by Rob Schellenberg.
tudents as far as China are feeling effects of English language teacher training at Briercrest College and Seminary.

The college has launched a pilot project as part of its Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages degree programs that is allowing 16 English language students in China to work with 16 of Briercrest’s TESOL students to improve their English via Skype, an online video conferencing service.

I like to use this way to study English. It's good for us. Some of the problems (the Briercrest teacher told me about) I've never met it before.

Each Chinese student is paired with a Briercrest student, and each week they meet over Skype. On week one, the Briercrest student asks questions about the student’s background, family, and plans. After listening to the Chinese student’s answers, recorded on a Skype recorder, the Briercrest student assesses the Chinese student’s use of English, emails him or her suggestions for improvement, and they discuss the suggestions the following week. The week after, they begin again with another interview.

“The impact has been huge, and it has affected our students in ways that most assignments do not and cannot affect them,” reported Doug Sadler, a Briercrest TESOL professor who is coordinating the project.

“As the (Briercrest) students meet their counterparts overseas, there is a bonding and an enjoyment of one another which has had a strong impact on all concerned … It has also been a confidence-builder for the (Briercrest) students as they see that they can actually help ‘real students.’ The Chinese leaders assure us that their students are enjoying the contact just as much.”

"It really makes it real for those of us who want to be teachers," Alisha Epp, a second-year Briercrest TESOL student participating in the project, said. This is Epp’s first opportunity to put what she’s learned in the classroom and through observation into practice.

"It makes us want to try more because we see the goal we're working toward.”

"I like to use this way to study English,” wrote one Chinese student. “It's good for us. Some of the problems (the Briercrest teacher told me about) I've never met it before, but the teachers who are from this group told me about that, especially this group can give us the form and let us know where we should pay more attention to it."

Sadler and David Catterick, another TESOL professor at Briercrest, did a set of test interviews with one of the teachers in China before the project launched.

“We found the experience very challenging,” Sadler wrote. “I am strongly impressed that our students are doing so well in tasks which we, as seasoned instructors, found difficult.”

The relationship with the language school began with Briercrest's modern languages professor, Crista Cornelius. The idea to run a Skype project arose during a recent visit to China by Catterick.

The first two-week cycle began October 4. The project will continue through November 2010 and conclude with a party—via Skype.