A day in the life of... Valerie Combe-Germes, French Studies Convener

As the convener of the French Studies program at UNSW, I spend a lot of my time teaching, either in a lecture or in tutorials. Our classes are always a lot of fun – a foreign language is quite a difficult subject to tackle, so making its study as engaging as possible is the key to success. For this reason, I tend to look for rooms that are well suited to the needs of language students; that is to say, rooms that support activities to develop speaking, writing, listening and reading skills.

This morning I taught in the Morven Brown language labs; these are special laboratories that are designed for group discussion or pair work. In these spaces, students get to practise in small groups, record themselves and then listen to one another. The students can then assess their own work and improve their speaking skills, for instance.

In the afternoon, I taught in the pilot active learning spaces (PALS), located in the Mathews building. When I heard about the PALS project, I immediately thought ‘wow, this is exactly what we need’. I mostly teach flipped lectures – in a flipped classroom, all the theory is delivered online before the students actually come to class. We then use our class time to explore the course material in a range of interesting ways. What I particularly like about the PALS spaces is the seating arrangement – the room is arranged in pods of 6-8 students, which is great for group work and perfectly suited to my teaching style. It really facilitates active collaboration between the students. The rooms are much larger than a standard classroom, and they offer comfort and space. They also house a lot of technology that supports new and innovative modes of teaching and learning.  Each pod has its own screen, allowing students to not only view documents from nearly anywhere in the room but also to connect their personal devices, work on group activities and exchange contents and ideas.

We started studying a new topic this week: information and new technologies, so I arrived in class with a French-speaking robot! The students had a great time interacting with it and applying their language skills in new and innovative ways. I always try to experiment with my teaching approach in order to make learning more engaging, and to engage with the new opportunities and infrastructure available in learning spaces at UNSW. The idea is always to have a good time in class.