The Challenge of Distance Education


Yves Bélanger, Servir

For the past five years, the French as a second language virtual classroom pilot project has been the pride of Canadian Forces Language School Detachment Saint-Jean (CFLS Det Saint-Jean). To date, some 40 Canadian soldiers from around the world have had the opportunity to take these courses in a very special environment.

Virginie DiGiorgio, acting pedagogical advisor at CFLS Det Saint-Jean, explains that this training is special in that it is a full-time program during which students do not have to go on temporary duty. “They can learn the target language from home in a user-friendly virtual environment. The platform is easy to use. It allows teachers to form sub-groups, propose team work and correct student pronunciation,” she said.

Since students are released from their regular duties for six weeks by their chain of command, they can take the intensive course from their workplace or from their computer at home. “This makes them more relaxed. It is an easier environment to learn in,” adds DiGiorgio.

An interesting challenge

Pascal Ntirampeba has been teaching since the pilot project was created and admits that he was attracted by this unorthodox method, saying, “I found the challenge very interesting and I never regretted my choice. In my opinion, what we are doing now is the future of education.”

The biggest challenge has been to train teachers to use technology. “The rest of it is traditional teaching. We have the exact same objectives as we do for the courses that are offered to students in person,” says Diana Fares, who has been a virtual classroom teacher for over two years.

Of course, the team worked extremely hard at the start to set up these virtual courses by integrating visual material and interactive applications. “The goal is to find things that allow us to keep the students’ attention,” says Julie Robert, who is currently a principal teacher on the team. Her job is to support students in their learning by working directly with them. “It is also with me that, every week, individually and for a period of time, they work on the oral aspect of their second language.”

Team members agree that they are comfortable teaching in front of a screen. “You forget about it quickly. I must even say that I’ve become very comfortable talking to my screen. This has allowed me to develop relationships with military personnel whom I would probably never have had the opportunity to meet because they are too remote or isolated,” explains Ms. Robert.

An official educational program

With such conclusive results, the pilot project will end on 21 June and then become an official program. “Our formula is suitable for many people and does not exist anywhere else. It has great potential that can be developed over the years,” says Mr. Ntirampeba.

Looking for candidates

The Canadian Forces Language School is seeking eight candidates for its next courses:
PL 9, 2 May to 14 June 2019
PL 11, 2 May to 21 June 2019

These courses are open to all Anglophones in the Regular Force as well as to Class B Reservists whose organizations will allow them to participate in the six (or seven) intensive weeks of the course.

Equipment required: a computer, a high-speed Internet connection, a camera and a headset with microphone.

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