May 2003
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Connecting - Hola, mi nombre es...
By Karin G. (exchange student from Venezuela), Fredericton High, Fredericton, NB

Television, VCRs, radios, computers; those are instruments now used to teach a new generation of kids living in a technologic world. Schools have had to adapt to new demands and new equipment, and what a better way to use it but to improve our education.

New programs have been developed based on new technology, and they have been implemented in New Brunswick. Distance education is one of those.

The project began in 2001, when Premier Bernard Lord announced that Spanish online courses would be offered in New Brunswick. Two years after, the program has consistently grown, and it's willing to keep doing it. This course has also lead to an increasing online course selection, such as advance math, advance physics, law, etc; right now, 27 online courses are being offered in the English program.

The Spanish Online 110 course is aimed to teach high school students interested in Spanish, and because the school does not have enough students as to fill a classroom, the course is not currently offered. In that way, students all around the province will be able to enjoy the course selection in the same way whether you live in Moncton or in Oromocto.

High schools interested in having the program would have to contact the New Brunswick Department of Education and request a number of spots. There might be 4 students from one high school, 7 from other and so on.

The program has just two English and one French teacher. The English program is being managed in Fredericton High School, where the teaching takes place. The teaching includes nine school district in the province, with the participation of high schools such as Woodstock, Oromocto, Sussex High School, etc.

Ms. Chantal Lafargue, online Spanish teacher, said: "it's the best thing at the current time". The distance program had been implemented in schools before, but never with such interaction, Ms. Lafargue commented.

The course is taught through a computer program, where the students work on their own, helped and supervised by a facilitator, who is online at the same time. Each class has an hour - the same time as if it is in a classroom- and, at the beginning of each class, the students go to an agenda, where it says what are the activities of the day. The students can access to the program from any computer with internet access.

The online website, which you can only access if you have a password, becomes the student's book. All lessons and exercises are booked in there. The website also links to other Spanish websites, where students can learn about some Spanish speaking countries.

During the course, the students will be expected to work as hard as if the course is taught in a classroom. The students had to interact with the facilitator, repeat some words, listen, do the activities, and do homework. The facilitators had the access to each students account, where they can see how much work they have done.

The most innovative part of this program is that the classes are very dynamic. The students play games such as creating a person with the characteristic asked.

The speaking part of the program is made by Spanish-speaking members of the Fredericton community. The program also tries to include people from different Spanish speaking countries; they may have speakers from Mexico, Peru, Chile, Spain, etc, in order to expose the students to different accents and pronunciations.

The course is just an introductory level of Spanish. Lessons such as "¿Quién Soy?" (Who Am I?), "Los Amigos" (Friends), "La Familia" (The family) will teach the students the language basics, including description and vocabulary. Another part of the course is grammar, with learning question and answer, and sentence structure. The students will learn verbs conjugations in present as well, knowing the regular, and main irregular verbs.

By the end of the year, the students will present the major project, El Amigo Virtual(The Virtual Friend), using all the learned knowledge. The project contains a speaking description of an "imaginary friend", telling how he looks like, where does he live and what he does.

According to Ms. Lafargue, the students will have a good base. "If they decided to take Spanish in university, they're very likely to be the top class students", said Ms. Lafargue.

The program runs well, according to Ms. Lafargue; however, the system is not perfect, and the course may not be as well developed in all high schools. The technology, that has to be at least acceptable for the program to run well, and if the computers do not work fast enough, that may delay the teaching process.


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