By Theresa Ritzer
Nördlingen is a town of nearly 20,000 people in Bavaria, Germany. And its adult education center, called a Volkshochschule, offers basic German language courses for refugees. In these courses, students and instructors use 25 Google Chromebooks, received from NetHope’s Project Reconnect. The Chromebooks help deepen the lessons, and have become an integral part of the courses. Some of the refugees have never worked on a computer before, but they are eager to explore the small laptops.
Instructor Antonia Schneider shares her experience:
“At the Rieser Volkshochschule in Nördlingen, the participants of the integration course ‘Einstieg Deutsch’ are from six different countries: Eritrea, Nigeria, Syria, Afghanistan, and Uganda. Many of them have a smartphone, but only a few had experience using computers, the internet, or e-mail. They all are very excited about the Chromebooks received through Project Reconnect.
Thanks to an internet connection through Freifunk, a grassroots movement to support free internet in Germany, the participants are able to practice with online exercises from Cornelsen. These exercises strengthen their knowledge on subjects discussed in class such as shopping, a visit to the doctor, or a café. The answers are automatically corrected and graded, similar to the experience on the learning platform ‘Ich-will-Deutsch-lernen.de.‘
My instructor colleague, Simone Seitzinger, and I support course participants on the Chromebooks with up to two learning assistants. We help to call up the web pages and to work on tasks. Everyone can learn at their own pace and according to their own preferences. While Blessing from Nigeria learned how to combine question and answer tasks in a health-related exercise, Selam from Eritrea was already asking about the solutions to another assignment.
Even if the handling of the new technology was still unfamiliar for many, all users wanted to try out the many possibilities of the Chromebooks. And they very often supported each other. During the break and after the course, the participants continued to use the Chromebooks with the help of the learning assistants.
The foyer of the Rieser Volkshochschule offers enough space for study groups, for what we call a ‘Lerncafé,’ or study cafe. The Chromebooks are also used to find bus connections for trips, translations through www.leo.org, or other useful information.
The additional online resources were particularly beneficial for some more advanced participants. Mhretu, from Eritrea, has already completed his advanced lessons, so he uses the virtual course rooms on the learning platform module, which are moderated by our course instructors. There, he can also meet participants from other courses, chat with them, write texts, and work on topics collaboratively. In addition, he can expand his vocabulary, learn more sophisticated grammar, and train on listening comprehension.”
Like her students, Antonia Schneider is very happy about the Chromebooks. “I am confident the Chromebooks and the learning platforms will also play an important role in the next courses and will continue to connect refugees and Germans with each other,” she says.