while learning about each other’s cultures.
The ambitious initiative, part of a joint German-Israel Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) project, encourages students from both countries who are studying to become English teachers to practice their English speaking skills while simultaneously overcoming stereotypical beliefs about life in the other country. When Karen Abel, who prepares students at Beit Berl’s Faculty of Education to become English teachers, and Dr. David Prickett, who teaches a similar course at the University of Potsdam in Germany, joined forces two years ago, they had no idea that they would be setting a trend that would be especially ideal for the Covid-19 era. They designed parallel courses for teaching English oral proficiency, dividing their students into mixed groups of 5-6 Israeli and German students, who learned together remotely.
The timing of the pilot project was auspicious, developing a new model precisely when the whole world was switching to distance learning, during the first stage of the Covid-19 pandemic. The groups were assigned different tasks and met virtually outside the classroom in order to complete their assignments and record their presentations. The joint course covered a range of themes: accepting the “other,” getting to know German/Israeli culture and education systems, and an introduction to studying abroad. “The students from each group had varied and rich intercultural and personal histories which provided fascinating viewpoints during the group discussions,” notes Abel. “They gained international experience while improving their oral proficiency.”
The students from both Beit Berl and Potsdam were very motivated and enjoyed the opportunity of getting to know one another. “They made huge efforts to accommodate each other,” Abel confirms. “In spite of all the diversity, we are not that different after all. And that is what connects us,” says Katrin Mertens, a participating student from the University of Potsdam. “The project was very productive for us as future educators,” agrees one of the Beit Berl participants.
The results of an online questionnaire were unequivocal: nearly 80% responded that the project strengthened their oral fluency and accuracy and motivated them to participate more in English discussions, and more than 90% stated that the course promoted their intercultural competence.
Karen Abel and David Prickett are offering the project again this semester, after improving the course based on the pilot experience. For example, the classes are now offered synchronously. As a result, some of the lessons will be taught together by both lecturers in different countries, courtesy of Zoom.
The project was presented at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) conference “Moving Target Digitalization: Re-Thinking Global Exchange in Higher Education” in October. For more information: click here