The English Foundation Program (EFP) joined the Okanagan School of Education in July 2020. The EFP is an innovative and credit-bearing program providing university admission to students who meet all the academic requirements for a wide range of UBCO undergraduate programs but do not yet meet UBC’s English Language Admission Standard.
As the program coordinator, Amber McLeod is the main contact for students and staff within the EFP—assisting with questions, concerns, course updates, and student progress. She also teaches English for Academic Purposes (EAP) courses in the program.
When COVID-19 (coronavirus) forced classes to go online in mid-March, EFP lecturers and teaching assistants worked tirelessly to transition the program to a new format that would meet the needs of their international students.
“March was an exceptionally stressful time for students,” says McLeod. “Many were trying to book last-minute international flights while still trying to complete their final course work and study for exams. During this current term, I have found that they are really trying to do it all, but due to the time differences and the challenges of working from their home environments, they are staying up too late or waking up before dawn, not sleeping enough, and missing assignment deadlines. Treating them with compassion is really key to overcoming this challenging time.”
McLeod, as well as the other lecturers and teaching assistants, have focused on being readily available for students, ensuring assignment tasks and deadlines are easily achievable.
“The first day of class I had so much stress about online learning, especially for English class, but the instructors for EAP really care about students,” says Saba Rahimi, Bachelor of Science student.
While the switch to online teaching and learning has changed classroom dynamics, there is one thing that remains the same—McLeod still lights up when she talks about her students. With her classes focusing on listening and speaking exercises, McLeod designs activities that vary from real-life activities to ones that involve more creative freedom and imagination.
“One recent activity was a mock job interview. We had students sign up for time slots that worked best for them, and myself and the teaching assistants asked them basic interview questions, like ‘can you tell me about a time you went above and beyond the call of duty?’ Students had told us previously what they wanted their future jobs to be, so we also asked them field related questions.”
Other activities included student pairs researching some of the new and innovative studies that were coming out of UBC, discussing their favourite superhero movie, and looking up information about diseases and vaccines.
It can be challenging to keep conversation flowing in an online environment. The results from a mid-term check-in showed that some students felt more comfortable speaking in the comfort of their home, whereas others would much prefer a face-to-face environment.
To help keep her students engaged, McLeod has adapted some of her in-person classroom techniques.
“I’ve found an effective way to keep group discussions going is to assign each person a role. For example, we have a questioner so when there is a lull or everyone has finished answering the question, the questioner comes up with another question. We have a note recorder, who takes down a few notes, and can give me a quick summary when I jump into the breakout room. We also have a moderator, whose job is to ensure that everyone gets an opportunity to speak and share their opinion—so no one is dominating the conversation. And one really important role is the cheerleader. In this role, students learn to acknowledge and use active listening skills to say things like ‘Great job, thanks for sharing, or that’s a good point.’
After the first discussion class, McLeod had several students tell her that was the best discussion time they’ve had yet, with students speaking more for a longer period.
“I have learned a lot of useful knowledge from EAP103, which has laid a foundation for my college life. The lecturers are respectful, and they will consider every students’ feeling in the class. If I don’t understand some points in class, they are willing to spend time explaining them to me after class,” says Yiwen He, Bachelor of Science student. “Thanks to my teachers’ efforts, we have learned a lot and changed a lot in this semester.”
While McLeod enjoys creating warm-up questions, providing vocabulary activities, and practicing pronunciation with her students, it is comments like these that highlight her favourite classroom moments.
“Hearing their feedback just warms my heart so much,” says McLeod with a smile. “I have a lot of fun in class, but getting to know them and getting them to feel comfortable speaking is what I find so very rewarding.”