Caren Senter, Communications Manager and Program Director at Upstate International

    by Caren Senter, Communications Manager and Program Director at Upstate International

    Learn a new language at Upstate International this summer! Our classes have gone virtual and people are loving the new experience, according to Christine Hofbauer, Upstate International’s language school director. UI has discovered that online teaching has some definite advantages, not the least of which is ease of use and time-efficiency with no need to drive to class. Hofbauer admitted that it was a challenge to get the teachers, all of whom are volunteers, to learn the new technologies necessary to transition to online learning. Fortunately, their passion for sharing their language and culture with others was all the motivation they needed and UI has managed to not only retain its teachers but also add new ones who are teaching from their home countries of Germany and Mexico.

    To everyone’s surprise, once the initial technical issues were overcome, students have found that the learning experience is enhanced in a number of ways. For example, there is more time devoted to teaching and learning as there are significantly fewer distractions and it is easier to be on time for class without worrying about traffic and weather conditions. Of course, the weather has occasionally affected internet connections, so it isn’t perfect. The classroom is also surprisingly easy for the teachers to control online, giving each student equal opportunity to practice speaking, ask questions, and engage with one another. In addition, Hofbauer noted, the teachers are better able to share materials with their students through the use of Google docs, and they have easy access to the internet during a class and can share their screen immediately with their students. Moreover, students can use the chat capabilities to ask teachers questions without interrupting the class.

    Hofbauer is thrilled that UI’s students are not just from the Upstate anymore, either. While UI has broadened its horizons out of necessity, it is broadening the connections among students and teachers. Of course, Hofbauer admits that everyone misses that before- and after-class social interaction that happens in person, but they are already hearing stories of new friendships being forged online. While, initially, some students may have been a little intimidated by the online format, they became more relaxed, more comfortable, and more focused in just a few short weeks.

    Upstate International has been teaching languages since its inception over 20 years ago. It began with a simple English Conversation Club that met somewhat informally to allow recent expats, and other non-English speakers, to work on their English. Hofbauer got involved with UI 16 years ago, volunteering as an English Conversation Club facilitator. Today, UI offers anywhere between 15 and 22 foreign language classes each semester.

    Membership levels have remained steady in spite of the transition to online.

    Most prefer the in-person experience, but there are some that we have connected with who would not have otherwise found UI. Hofbauer says that one of the most surprising benefits to the transition we have made is that we can actually offer more classes since we are not confined to UI’s 4 classrooms.  Going forward, Hofbauer hopes to have more students utilize our services who are not located in the Upstate, and to increase our roster of teachers to include many more teaching from their home countries; the only challenge then will be scheduling classes that work in a variety of time zones.  UI and Hofbauer are embracing the new normal and plan to continue with live online classes as an option even once some in-person classes are allowed; a combination of both will provide the greatest access to foreign language learning for our community.

    You can see the full list of languages and register for UI’s summer classes here.