High School Student Exchange via Video Conference
For many years now, the Albert Schweitzer Gymnasium (academic high school) in Gundelfingen, Germany, and the Cicero-North Syracuse High School that is part of the North Syracuse Central School District have been conducting exchange projects. Video conferences are now as much a part of this as real-life meetings and correspondence.
A tradition that inspires
The teachers Marlise Kasper from Gundelfingen near Freiburg and Dr. Mary Ann Niemczura from Syracuse, New York, are convinced that student exchange projects can lend wings to foreign-language instruction. The least cost-intensive version is surely student encounter via video, which has met with enthusiasm by the young people on both sides of the Atlantic.
“For me personally, the video conference experience has expanded my world,” Nicole Schenk, a student in Frau Niemczura’s German class who enjoyed a reunion with her German exchange student via video conference, sums it up. “Last year I had the opportunity to host a German student and getting to see her again through the conference is great!” To date, other students have only gotten to know their exchange partners through correspondence, and see them live for the first time by means of video transmission. Kevin Printup from Syracus finds that: “Seeing your pen-pal instead of just reading is much more interesting and meaningful.” And for his fellow student Ellen Traub the video conferences are almost like a trip to visit the exchange students in Germany.
Worth the effort
The two teachers prepare the video conference in the form of pen-pal correspondences. They discuss with each other which students might fit well together and initiate a correspondence between them. In this way, the young people get to know each other before meeting via video. The American student Eric Perdew writes in his experience report: “Between the letters and the conferences, I have been able to make a friend.” In the run-up to the video conference, he and his fellow students collect questions that they would like to ask their German exchange partners during the live encounter: “We only have a little bit of work. We come up with three questions, check them for phrasing and grammar, and then pick two to ask. We practice talking in front of a camera briefly, and then confidently come in the next morning ready to inquire and learn, and make new friends. ”
Organization work by the teachers is naturally involves much more work. Ms. Niemczura explains: “We start one year ahead and look at the school calendars and try to plan.” She and her German colleague Frau Kasper gladly take on the extra work-load since they are convinced of the many advantages the video conferences have to offer “We know it's best for the students and first and foremost that is why we teach. It's the best way for them to learn. It is such a rewarding program.”
Mistakes in speaking are secondary
Many friendships have already developed in this fashion. Understanding that there is hardly any difference between them and their exchange partners on the other side is often a central insight for the students. Thus Vicky Sakowski: “When doing the video conferences I learn about culture differences between Germany and America. But in reality, there aren’t many differences. Students in Germany and students in America are very similar.” The teachers encourage active participation by the students, so that they can take full advantage of the opportunity. They should not feel constrained by language insecurities. Mutual understanding is far more important than correct grammar. Ms. Niemczura therefore does not comb the students’ questions for mistakes: “While I realize there are student errors, they can still be understood.”Sometimes during the conference, difficulties in understanding each other even results in amusement for the participants. Ms. Niemczura recalls: “In the early years one of my students asked if there was wrestling in Germany – ‘Ringen’. The teacher understood ‘Singen’ and started to say that ‘yes they sang in many places’. My student looked puzzled. I then intervened and explained we were talking about a sport. Then everyone on both sides of the Atlantic laughed very hard.”
An experience that makes one eager to learn German
Experiences such as this are what make the video conferences unforgettable for all participants. Cicero-North Syracuse High School’s German program strengthened them; that much is clear. In the entire school people are talking about the video meetings with Germany. Many students want to learn German themselves because of the positive experiences reported by the German classes. A few of them are even considering studying German in college. “Last year, I always heard about these conferences and didn’t really understand why everyone enjoyed them,” as Kaitlyn Rude, a student from Syracuse recalls. “Now I have had a couple of opportunities to find out what the fuss was all about. These experiences have really changed my view on German. I have found a new love for German. I really got a new picture of German, Germany, and their people. It is an experience that lasts a life time. Because of these conferences I have started to think about minoring in German when I go off to college - that way I can eventually study abroad in Germany.”
The video exchange program of Cicero-North Syracuse High School in Cicero, New York, and the Albert-Schweitzer Gymnasium in Gundelfingen outside Freiburg is a good example of the fact that a transatlantic student encounter need not be expensive. The video conferences are fun, awaken interest in language and culture, and bring young people together who live on different continents. In this way, English-language instruction in Gundelfingen and German-language instruction in Syracuse have become more exciting and attractive to both teachers and students.Sie benötigen den Flashplayer , um dieses Video zu sehen
The warm-hearted farewells on both sides indicates just how great the anticipation of the next video conference is – including for Björn Technau of the Goethe-Institut New York, who was invited to take part in the conference for the first time.
Björn Technau, 30, has been active as an expert on teaching at the Goethe-Institut New York since February 2011. Mainz in Rhineland-Palatinate is his native city.
Corinna von der Heyde, 24, is currently completing an internship at the Goethe-Institut New York. She is studying American Studies and Literature and Media Practice at the University of Duisburg-Essen.
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Copyright: Todo Alemán
This text is a translation from German.