Digital Distance Learning with an Old Master

When the Corona pandemic required schools and universities to provide opportunities for distance learning in March 2020, TEFL lecturers at Wuppertal University faced a double challenge: New forms of digital distance learning for future use in schools had to be developed. At the same time, we had to enable student teachers who could not complete their obligatory stay abroad to engage in a form of internationalisation at home.

A virtual tour of the museum

On our recommendation, our students tried out a virtual tour of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to find inspiration for the design of teaching material for future EFL classes. Our own teaching unit Talking pictures – Exploring Jan Steen’s ‚The Merry Family‘ online in the EFL class (see below) offers an example of how learners, working by themselves, can improve their foreign language skills with the help of a painting by an old master and a Prezi presentation. This unit was also made available to schools in lockdown.

Working with a Prezi presentation

The format of a Prezi presentation lends itself to digital distance learning, as content matter can be illustrated vividly and presented in a creative and interactive manner. Input can be varied by embedding websites, texts, pictures, and videos, opening up opportunities for real-life communication. Teachers can use Prezi formats intuitively as technical pre-knowledge is not required. The content matter can be structured clearly, e.g. with the help of a sequence or a main topic combined with several sub-topics. Learners, too, can easily and flexibly make use of a Prezi presentation e.g. by individually choosing which sequence to follow or whether to skip or use additional material.

Fostering distance language learning

A Prezi presentation can also foster language learning by using one topic or object to train different skills. Our chosen object is a painting by Jan Steen, which is entertainingly presented by the curator, Pieter Roelofs, in a YouTube clip #Rijksmuseumfromhome. The painting and the clip are used to develop listening and viewing skills, followed by a complex task (cf. Hallet 2012) of creative writing encouraging learners to write their own short story. A Prezi presentation may include different ways of introducing a topic, pre-tasks, post-tasks, language support, and forms of scaffolding.

A quiz, a video, a complex task

Our Prezi presentation asks learners to study the painting first, then to collect initial impressions about this seemingly chaotic family, and then to suggest a matching title. Only after completing this pre-task are learners invited to watch the clip, drawing, if they so wish, on the language support, a summary of the curator’s explanation, or a visual semantisation of lexical items.

The core task

Further, a little quiz, and a subtask to put into words the thoughts of people in the painting, prepare them for the complex core task of writing their own short story from the perspective of one of the painting’s characters, including even the little dog! To use scaffolding for this demanding task, learners can click on icons where they find information about generic features of short stories. The Prezi presentation is thus complete with handouts and worksheets that could also be used in blended learning formats (see the link to cf. Diehr/Fischer/Uhlmann 2020 below). We believe that heterogeneous groups of learners could benefit from the combination of working at their own pace, choosing scaffolding material individually, and, later, presenting their products in the classroom and consolidating the most important learning outcomes.

Fostering distance language teaching

It was especially rewarding to see that our students, future EFL teachers, after participating in our online class and going on the virtual tour of the Rijksmuseum, started exploring websites of museums, galleries, famous places, tourist sites, and national parks all over the world. Following the example of our teaching unit they designed their own digital distance learning material for schools in Wuppertal – truly inspiring multimedia units, for instance on Jacob Lawrence’s striking Migration Series (1940/41) from the Museum of Modern Art in New York or on Kenai Fjords National Park in AlaskaWith these attractive invitations to digital distance learning, learners in schools can now embark on virtual tours across the globe to increase their knowledge about countries and cultures as well as their English language skills.

This post was created by Bärbel Diehr, Anna Fischer & Lea Ullmann.

Here is the detailed teacher manual by Bärbel Diehr, Anna Fischer & Lea Uhlmann (2020) Talking Pictures – Teacher Manual, available as Pdf-Download.

| This post was created by Bärbel Diehr, Anna Fischer & Lea Ullmann |

References: Bechlenberg, Fabian/Eckhardt, Melina/Fänger, Shauna/Huxdorf, Melina (2020). „Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series in the Museum of Modern Art, NY”. Unveröffentlichte Projektarbeit. Bergische Universität Wuppertal. — Biermann, Nicole/Christofzik, Nele/Diester, Rebecca/Frede, Christopher/Schneider, Sofia (2020). „Exploring Kenai Fjords National Park“. Unveröffentlichte Projektarbeit. Bergische Universität Wuppertal. — Hallet, Wolfgang (2012). “Die komplexe Kompetenzaufgabe. Fremdsprachige Diskursfähigkeit als kulturelle Teilhabe und Unterrichtspraxis“. In: Hallet, Wolfgang / Krämer, Ulrich (eds.). Kompetenzaufgaben im Englischunterricht. Seelze: Klett / Kallmeyer. 8-19.

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