When COVID-19 hit the Netherlands, Direct Dutch had no choice but to continue their classes online. For the first time in 35 years, the teachers gave lessons via a computer, instead of in a real classroom. But now, with less strict safety measures, ‘real life’ courses are being reintroduced at Direct Dutch. So what about the online courses? Are they here to stay? Let’s ask the Direct Dutchies about their experiences with online teaching!
Since 1985, all courses at Direct Dutch were given at their school in The Hague. Online courses were not on the agenda. ‘Never in my wildest dreams had I envisaged myself as an online teacher’, says Ruud. He founded Direct Dutch in 1985 with Avril and has been teaching at the institute ever since. ‘Our main aim is to teach people to communicate in Dutch, so in our classes we focused on conversation. For good reason the name of our institute is ‘direct dutch’. We also believed that normal lessons in a class are much more ‘gezellig’.
But then the lockdown in the Netherlands became a fact. Schools, clubs, café’s and restaurants were closed down and people were no longer allowed to meet up. Not even in small groups. ‘When the lockdown was announced, we had two choices: cancel all courses or continue online’, says office coordinator Yolande. ‘Obviously we chose the latter.’
Although this seems like a relatively simple step, a hectic period started at Direct Dutch. ‘First we had to contact all the students who were already in a course’, explains Yolande. ‘We were so happy to hear that most students wanted to continue their lessons online. After that, we gave ourselves one week to get the online courses up and running. In that week we searched for the right online platform, we scheduled tests, trained the teachers (remotely) and ordered extra laptops and cameras. We basically started from scratch. It was a hectic week for all of us, with many late hours working from home.’
The first online lessons
After one week, Direct Dutch was ready to welcome students back, in a virtual classroom. Not all the teachers were equally prepared. ’The first lesson was sheer panic’, laughs Petra. She is both teacher and study coordinator at Direct Dutch. ’I am not the youngest teacher at our institute, and I am not that tech savvy. There were all sorts of buttons and options, I had no idea what they were for. In one lesson, some students suddenly disappeared from my screen. And documents were moving from left to right, to finally just disappear into virtual space.’
‘Luckily Yolande was there to talk me through those stressful moments, on the phone. Thanks to her support and that of my students (thank you, my little hearts) I am very optimistic and hopeful about my online future.’
Despite of the hectic start, students were very positive about the online courses. There was also room for improvement, such as cutting down the size of the online groups from eight to six students. One of the students who was very pleased with her online course is Fathya. She was in the first semi-intensive Beginners group.
‘I began with the online course thinking it would probably not be as good as the ‘actual’ course. But was I wrong! The class was very interactive, the teachers Ruud and Fiona really took the time to elaborate as we asked them to, the media for the class was functioning really well, even the notes made by the teachers during the class can be sent to us (this is a minor thing but very helpful to re-study the materials, no rushing to write down notes during the class)!’
In the meantime, the safety measures in the Netherlands have become a lot less strict. Direct Dutch has even planned their first ‘real life’ course in July. Avril, office and finance manager at Direct Dutch since 1985, can’t wait for the students to come back in. ‘We could have reintroduced lessons at the institute sooner. But we wanted to be absolutely certain that it would be safe to do so. It was kind of a puzzle, but we rearranged the classrooms so all the students can sit 1.5 meter apart. And of course we will take all necessary hygiene measures. It’s been more than three months, so I am really looking forward to seeing the students at our school again. I have missed the chitchat!’
The future of Direct Dutch online
So, will Direct Dutch keep online courses on the program? Are the teachers convinced of the results of teaching Dutch online? ‘Teaching online requires a completely different approach’, explains Ruud. ‘It is extremely wearisome, especially when a student does not have good Wi-Fi or a good quality computer and camera. But online teaching also has advantages. Both teacher and student are connected in a much more intense way so that you can expect a maximum concentration.’
‘Another unforeseen advantage is that students can join from far-away locations. So far we’ve had online students from Belgium, Gautemala, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Portugal, Romania, Spain and the United States. We are very much looking forward to teaching in a class room again. But this period taught us a lot about the value of online teaching. I don’t know if we would have made this switch, if it wasn’t for this crisis. But yes, we will definitely keep online courses on our program, in addition to our classical courses.’