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Language students, professors display anxiety, flexibility amid course uncertainties

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Chairs sit in designated spots to maintain distance between students in Room 174 in Cate Center One on Sept. 11.

As the COVID-19 pandemic affects universities across the country, students and professors in language courses are having to rely more on technology and have encountered both challenges and unexpected benefits from more work online.

OU’s Modern Languages, Literatures and Linguistics department is seeing students and professors adapt in unprecedented ways. 

Classics junior Gabriel Anguiano is taking two language classes this semester, a continuing beginning French course and an advanced Latin course. Both of Anguiano’s courses were originally intended to be held in person. 

However, his Latin professor was exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and has since moved classes online. His French class remains in-person but was moved online for one week with no explanation, causing some confusion for Anguiano.

“I can’t really understand the situation,” Anguiano said. 

Specifically for his French class, Anguiano said the adjustment has been hard. 

“I would certainly say that the quality of education has worsened a lot,” Anguiano said. 

Anguiano said he is uncomfortable being in his French class because there is not adequate social distancing, and other safety protocols are not being effectively followed. 

The class has approximately 20 students enrolled and Anguiano said the dimensions of the room make it essentially impossible to have six feet of space between each student and still allow room for the instructor to move around the room. 

Anguiano said the class frequently engages in collaborative and partnered work where students move closer together, sometimes with as little as two to three feet of space between them. 

“It makes class really stressful,” Anguiano said. “It’s just unfortunate. I dread having to risk my life for second-semester French.”

Anguiano has stopped attending in-person classes and is now attending class via Zoom.

Psychology junior Elaine Rabalais said she has had a fairly positive experience with her language class this semester.

Rabalais’ Latin course is held in person with a small class size. Rabalais said everyone in her class follows OU’s masking policy and physically distances themselves in class, but she’s still worried about the fate of the semester and said her professor is moving through the course quickly in an effort to minimize the amount of material left to cover at the end of the semester, should classes move online.

“I feel like my instructor is anticipating us being pushed online sometime soon,” Rabalais said, “because we're going by so much faster than I feel like we would have initially, had there not been a pandemic.”

Audrey Townsend, the basic French language program coordinator, said the pandemic has encouraged the department of modern languages, literatures and linguistics to adapt its teaching styles to integrate more virtual learning while also maintaining collaboration. 

“I'm grateful for the privilege of working with some of the most creative, flexible and original scholars on campus here in MLLL,” Townsend said. 

Townsend said the department's main goal is to provide the same quality education while also following OU and CDC guidelines. She also said having to rely on digital learning platforms like Canvas and Zoom has proved to be beneficial in some ways.  

“In our French classes, we can listen to a podcast from Guadeloupe, watch an extract of the nightly news broadcast out of Paris or read a blog out of Québec — all in the same class,” Townsend said. “We had the ability to do so before, but our new normal has given us an opportunity to implement these sources far more frequently since we do so much online now.”

Townsend also stressed the importance of student-to-student and student-to-teacher connections in language classes. 

“For a discipline like ours that relies so heavily on verbal and face-to-face communication, I can't stress how valuable it is to be able to maintain direct connections with our students,” Townsend said.

These connections are achieved in a number of ways amid the pandemic, including Zoom. Townsend said students in quarantine are able to attend class via Zoom while the in-person class is still taking place. 

Townsend said while adjustments have had to be made, she is grateful for her students’ flexibility. 

“I couldn't possibly take the credit for the patience, flexibility and cheerful, positive and productive attitudes they display as I share my passion for the French language and French and Francophone culture with them even in these tough times," Townsend said. "That's all them."

senior news reporter

Jordan Hayden is a journalism junior and a senior news reporter at The Daily. Previously she served as the fall 2018 and spring 2019 assistant engagement editor.

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