29 augustus 2018

Let's teach in English

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“What are you excited about, and what you are nervous about? Please write that down on these post-its.” I am leading a workgroup as part of the matching for biomedical sciences – in English. Quickly and quietly, my class of prospective students get to work; most of them start to write immediately. Some of them look away. Then the chit-chat starts. They are not afraid to admit they’re nervous about one thing: language. English. Will I be capable enough? What will the level be? Will there be an English apprehension test?

I am quite excited to be teaching my favourite subjects in English from September onwards. Since we prepare the students to be researchers in an international (lab)environment, I think it is nice to be taught in the academic language and gain confidence in this language before starting your research bachelor’s thesis in the third year. But that’s a whole other discussion – I will probably write about this later – the policy is made and here we are, let’s do it in English!

I am looking forward to the enormous diversity we will gain from offering our programme in EnglishIt is a massive transition, though. Not just for the students! Teachers need to do a test and get a C1 qualification (Oxford Online Placement Test) to be able to teach. Material needs to be translated and then checked for the correct biological terms. Our mind-set needs to change, we have to go forward (or back if you were taught in English) to speaking and thinking in English (again).

For me, the aspect to which I am looking forward to the most is the enormous diversity we will gain from offering our programme in English. For biomedical sciences, it is likely we will be teaching approximately 10 percent (about 30) international students. The VU already attracts a very diverse population of students, and adding internationals to this, will increase the diversity even further.

It will also change the dynamics of the classroom. Students might not speak up if they are insecure about their English. For us as junior lecturers, it will be a challenge to create a safe environment in which we allow the integration – or even better, the inclusion – of all our students. Luckily, we give and coordinate the introduction course, starting in September. We are already changing and implementing different assignments throughout the course. And in this, we get the chance to practise what we preach: three new junior lecturers have been hired, and one of them is Irish.

When I think back on that matching day, I would like to say to all prospective students: “Dear students, yes, you can! You will be capable enough, you will try and fail, but you will get up and try again, because that is how you learn!”

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