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Setting up a Language Learning Environment in Microsoft Teams

Tools for Teaching

The Language Zone provides free learning materials and resources to language learners, both students and staff. We run a range of workshops and weekly activities to help students practise and improve their language skills. Learners can also get involved in language exchanges and student-led language groups. These activities usually take place in face-to-face settings but have been offered via Microsoft Teams since the campus lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What did you do? Why did you do it?

After the Language Zone’s physical space closed until further notice in March 2020, a virtual Language Zone was created on Microsoft Teams to allow us to maintain our support services and keep running extracurricular activities. In addition, students can access language learning resources on Minerva, which is primarily used for sharing resources for independent study.

I created some materials to get students started, such as guidelines on how to use the tool and how to engage with others. I further established several discussion channels, such as “For book lovers” and “Wellbeing, cooking, being at home” (see image below).





A screen grab of the channel structure in the virtual English Language Zone

I chose topics that would appeal to a wide range of learners and would encourage students to engage with one another, therefore encouraging community building. A lot of the channels and initial discussion threads were based on activities that we were already providing in our physical space before the pandemic, such as giving advice, dealing with enquiries, and running conversation activities. We regularly post asynchronous activities or discussion threads to encourage students to use the space with each other.

We further run synchronous sessions to engage with students and to create a space for them to practise their language skills. Sessions range from unstructured, such as “Let’s Chat” where students could bring their own topics, to more structured “Conversation Club” with invited guest speakers. We also run a weekly “Arts and Crafts Club” and a “Book Club”, which everyone can join.

Thanks for flexible homeworking arrangements we were able to involve colleagues from outside the immediate Language Zone team to run our synchronous sessions, which added to the breadth of topics we can cover.

What was the impact of your practice and how have you evaluated it?

Students can now interact with the Language Zone 24/7, contrary to physical opening times that somewhat restricted access to around 60 hours a week, excluding the online resources we already shared on Minerva. We run synchronous sessions every day and are planning to keep the majority of these going when we return to the Language Zone’s physical space in the Parkinson Building.

Feedback through surveys and individual contacts has been very positive. Learners found the Language Zone’s activities useful for their language development, as well as social interaction, while colleagues who got involved in running our activities mentioned that they enjoyed working with students like this even though they had not done anything similar before, while others mentioned that they had noticed how running group sessions had helped them to increase their confidence.

How could others benefit from this example?

It is time intensive to set up a friendly and supportive online environment for students but once it is set up and students and staff engage with the space and each other it is a very rewarding place to be. The Language Zone team are happy to share ideas and resources we have used so far.

By Carolin Schneider, Language Zone Manager,

Do you have an example of your practice to share?

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