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“How to learn remotely in a foreign language?” Ronan FENEUX, senior professor at Chimie Pekin, shares his experience.

Ronan Feneux, Senior Associate Professor in Chemistry and the Chemistry Coordinator at Chimie Pékin

Ronan Feneux is a Senior Associate Professor in Chemistry, and the Chemistry Coordinator at Chimie Pékin. He works at this Sino-French Institute since September 1, 2019 He delivers his testimonial on distance teaching.

"February 10, the news is now confirmed: Beijing University of Chemical Technology will not re-open its doors the following week, and the first weeks on the new semester must be organized online. Eventually the entire spring semester had to be delivered online. The first question that arose was not "How to teach remotely?", which, apart from practical work, did not seem insurmountable, but rather "How to learn remotely in a foreign language?".

Indeed, in our teaching context, we have to tackle the more specific question of the French language mastery by our Chinese students. After a quick survey, confirming that all our students are well-equipped and connected and that they have a satisfactory workspace, I quickly opted for the solution of offering 2 "live" chemistry lessons each week. This solution made it possible to maintain regular contact with them, a working tempo, and their oral comprehension skills, developed since the start of the preparatory cycle. Specific video lessons made it possible to reinforce precise methodological aspects (e.g. determining the value of a mixed potential or representing a reaction mechanism).

The first experiences of "live" lessons showed that the main challenge was to maintain the attention of our students throughout the course. The teacher had none of the visual indicators that usually allow him to detect if the class is dropping out or not. So, I decided to use online questionnaires (on Microsoft FORMS, functional in China) to instantly check the understanding of a concept developed during the course, or to train students through application exercises. These changes in rhythm allowed each student to regularly adjust his attention, and the teacher to regulate his intervention according to the observed feedback.

Online education brought its first and true advantage. Our classes count between 50 and 80 students: when delivering courses face-to-face, the most brilliant students monopolized most of the teacher-student exchanges, whereas online teaching allowed each student to have the same visibility and the same access to the teacher. For the teacher, these snapshots on some students’ learning process sometimes brought disappointment, but above all constituted a corpus of precious data to adapt his teaching, and offer activities to build up students’ capacities. Capacities that were fragile for the greatest number, and could be now observed without the phase shift observed in a more traditional sequence of courses / evaluation / remediation.

Great prospects are opening up, to develop new teaching strategies for the next school year, and for conventional classroom teaching of course!"

The ParisTech Grandes Écoles