With only two months to prepare FREN 210: Intermediate French for online delivery, a process that usually takes at least six months, Prof. Saima Ashraf-Hassan knew that approaching the course design from the perspective of a student would help ensure an enjoyable learning experience. Leveraging resources available from Mason Online and ITS Learning Support Services, she identified key elements to bolster students’ language learning needs.

One must-have is that the course be immersive and interactive. Seeking a more suitable textbook, Prof. Ashraf-Hassan worked directly with the publisher to pilot an online platform full of grammar tutorials and cultural videos, all captioned and transcribed in both English and French.

Robust tools like the video avatar and interactive partner help online FREN 210 students engage with and respond to grammar prompts. This is a helpful alternative to student partnerships, which can be difficult for those who work full time or live in different time zones. Images courtesy of Prof. Saima Ashraf-Hassan.

Prof. Ashraf-Hassan also utilizes the Blackboard course structure to immerse students in French language and culture. With most course content written in French, English is used minimally for assignment instructions. Additionally, direct links throughout the course lead to supplemental resources, including various YouTube videos.

“It can be really hard to learn languages, and often students are simply trying to fulfill a course requirement,” she explains. “I have to motivate those who are just seeking a grade, so I try to make the content personally relevant to them.”

To achieve this, Prof. Ashraf-Hassan uses discussion boards to get to know her students and modifies assignments based on their interests. Encouraging students to connect course lessons with the environment around them, one task asks them to record a Kaltura video, entirely in French, touring their room or describing their dream home. Other topics include comparing eating habits between cultures and discussing cross-cultural interests like fashion or soccer.

While the online environment presents increased demands on instructors’ time, Prof. Ashraf-Hassan notes that the effort and time she spent on the course was well worth the outcome. “The result was fantastic, and I was amazed by their progress,” she notes. “When your students see you investing your time and effort, they appreciate that and respond with extra effort themselves. That is the perfect reward.”

For an in depth understanding of the language, Prof. Ashraf-Hassan immerses her online students in French culture. Various videos, like the one above, supplement language instruction with transcripts, captions, and realistic French accents. Video courtesy of Prof. Saima Ashraf-Hassan.

Interested in immersing yourself in a new language and culture? Try FREN 210 online! Check our online courses page for upcoming sections.