Chinese students, eager to prepare for Swansea University courses, have been continuing their studies - even though their teachers were more than 5,000 miles away.
They have been learning English to help them get closer to their goal of studying accounting and finance at the University’s School of Management.
Normally teachers would fly out to Huanghuai in central China to deliver courses but the global pandemic led to a dramatic change of approach by English Language Training Services (ELTS), based at the University.
More than 160 students signed up for the latest course and took part in the lessons online instead and now the teaching team say they are ready to carry on their remote approach as long as necessary.
The Swansea-Huanghuai English and Academic Skills Programme has been running since October 2017 to improve the Chinese students’ general English language ability as well as to provide them with some academic skills.
It has gone from strength to strength, with hundreds of students recording impressive pass rates. Each term teachers from ELTS have been flying to Huanghuai to deliver the course alongside Chinese-based tutors. In the students’ second year they are taught by management lecturers from the School of Management.
Vicki Stevenson, who co-ordinates the programme, said: “We have a great relationship with the teachers and staff at the International School in Huanghuai.
“But we have always prided ourselves that the programme offered a flexible approach to learning and this really helped us when it came to introducing a change to online work as Covid-19 took hold.”
The staff had to overcome many hurdles – not least finding compatible teaching technology, wi-fi connection issues and cultural differences which meant some Chinese students were reluctant to open their cameras on Zoom.
English teacher Joe Garthwaite swapped Huanghaui for Liverpool for his latest course. He said: “Normally I go to China but now I teach from my home in the UK – it’s the same students but they are on the other side of the camera.
“The main aims of the course are to promote confidence in our students so they can actually produce and use English in their studies as well as encouraging student-centred learning and increasing our cultural awareness as a department.
“I think teaching online has allowed us to continue with those aims successfully, plus it has been a lot of fun.”
To ensure the course could run remotely the team adapted existing videos, recorded presentations and also prepared new listening materials. They also allowed students to record video over PowerPoint instead of presenting live to their teachers.
Head of ELTS Jo Parfitt said: “We have been really proud to support the School of Management teaching English to students in Huanghai and the feedback we have had from students and teachers alike has been overwhelmingly positive over the past three years.
“It is wonderful to see how we are still able to teach them online during this global pandemic. We look forward to strengthening this collaboration over the next few years."
The next course begins in October with around 180 students This will see staff providing a blended programme with face-to-face lessons taught by the Chinese teachers on campus together with an online component delivered by teachers working from home in the UK.
However, the team are hoping they will be able to return to Huanghuai in February 2021 to deliver the second part of the course to the same cohort in person.