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Dr. Rym Bettaieb, PhD

Lecturer in Arabic in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies

Dr. Bettaieb teaches Arabic courses across different levels in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies; these courses typically enroll 8-12 students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Typically in-person courses, with the shift to remote teaching in Spring 2020, Dr. Bettaieb had to rethink how she could introduce students to the basics of the Arabic Language and Culture and further their knowledge of both, in an online setting. Dr. Bettaieb met the moment by leveraging multiple modalities to enhance student learning and embracing new technologies and course activities to engage students. Read on to learn more about what Dr. Bettaieb did in her course, what lessons and experiences she’s carrying forward, and the advice she has for other instructors at Columbia. 

Leverage Multiple Modalities to Enhance Student Learning 

Aside from adapting my courses to an online format including class syllabi, reading passages, video segments, listening activities, homework assignments, final video projects, quizzes, and final exams, I developed a few innovative techniques that helped me tremendously. For instance, I taught asynchronously and incorporated live cultural discussions whenever possible. To avoid Zoom fatigue, I taught asynchronously and divided the class between ‘Zoom on’ and ‘Zoom off’ times. During ‘Zoom on’ time, my students and I went over class material together and corrected drills they had worked on. During ‘Zoom off’ time, students studied new material and prepared questions for ‘Zoom on’ sessions. I always arranged for a short time in between our ‘Zoom on’ and ‘Zoom off’ to check on their progress and answer their questions via Audio. My office hours were on Zoom; students signed up for individual meetings that lasted ten minutes each.

We did not experience Zoom fatigue even though it was a summer intensive course. Our classroom community was relaxed, friendly, and respectful despite the distance and our non-physical presence. Students’ learning was assessed through regular quizzes, corrected daily homework, and handwritten feedback that were submitted online. I graded online thanks to an iPad and iPen that were kindly loaned to Arabic instructors from the Summer Program. My feedback was given to students in handwritten format since the Arabic language relies on cursive writing.

Two years after the pandemic, I continue sharing course content online (handouts, videos, readings, homework assignments, quizzes, etc.). Instead of photocopying material, using paper handouts, grading on paper, students have access to all class material feedback on CourseWorks (Canvas). This contributes to limiting the spread of the lingering Covid-19 virus among us, but best of all, it saves on a lot of paper for our environment. I love using the CourseWorks (Canvas) Mobile App–students receive prompt and detailed feedback daily, and they don’t have to wait until our next class to know how they performed on their assignments. My take-aways from pandemic teaching would be to learn how to make the best use of CourseWorks (Canvas) tools when building a syllabus and curriculum, and encourage students to actively use CourseWorks (Canvas) tools and online material when preparing for classes.

Embrace New Technologies and Class Activities to Engage Students 

To keep the cultural excitement and richness of the class alive, I held a cultural event that would have been difficult to organize in a physical classroom. On June 8, 2020, my class hosted a Kuwaiti Lebanese movie director after watching her movie Breakfast in Beirut on Zoom. Farah Alhashim, who lives in France, was able to join us from a small town in the South of France, where she was confining herself. My students were excited to interact with her and felt close to her intellectual world despite the physical distance between us.

I have also been working on building a new website that contains listening material for Arabic students according to levels plus interactive activities. It is replacing an old website that needed revision, tools for assessment and instant feedback. Once ready, this website will contribute to enriching students’ practice experience online. 

Advice for Instructors and the Future of Teaching at Columbia 

Embrace the potential of teaching with new technologies.

Teaching a language has become more practical with the help of online tools such as CourseWorks (Canvas) and other interactive websites. I find these tools helpful in structuring the course and assisting students at home; however, these same tools can in no way replace the fully interactive experience of meeting in person and practicing a language with one’s instructor and classmates in a real-life context.