I learned about a free platform hosted by a Canadian University, called Tandem, for recipricol language practice, about a year ago and am just about to embark on using it myself. Those teaching French or ESL (with students having some skills in French and in English) need to know about this great tool right now! 

Consider it a "Virtual Exchange" opportunity! I try to be pretty informed about edtech, K-12 education trends in Canada (and beyond), and about second language teaching and learning, but was stunned that this project had existed for years & I was not at all familiar with it. Attendance - both at my own session and at the professor who came from ULaval to share about this tool - was unfortunately very low, and I promised her that I would get the word out as much as I could. In the past year, I've posted about it on various social media platforms, but I didn't blog a lot during the 2019-2020 school year. 

Tandem is offered through the University of Laval, for students (as a class group, but also in smaller groupings, as organized through their respective teachers) to interact with other language learners. This means in particular to me, an ESL class in Quebec paired with an FSL class here in Ontario.

Here is their introductory video on Youtube. Please keep in mind that it was recorded 2 years ago and certain things have changed since then. If you have concerns or reservations, reach out to them! Or to another teacher using the platform within your community, school board or school district. That's also a great way to spread the information amongst colleagues, which benefits all teachers particiapting in the platform, and then in turn creates more opportunites for our students. Feel free to share this article with anyone when reaching out to ask if they can help answer questions about it! 

I know things continue to change for educators all around me, but Tandem seems like something I can incorporate in my French program to better engage students and make conenctions in a time of ongoing physical distancing this school year. You need to request access to the site as an educator, and only once you're all set up, you will you be able to connect with another teacher through the site. Approval to access the site does seems to take a little while, so keep that in mind, if you're thinking of joining. 

Once you are approved to join, the dashbaord consists of two sections - a part to manage your classes and another section to set up connections in the first place. 

The two teachers making the connection will determine together the goals, the frequency and other logistics. Once you and your partner teacher(s) have a plan, you can both get your students online with the Tandem platform.  You will need to plan ahead, and if your school isn't 1:1 for technology, or has a high enough rate of BYOD devices available for students, then planning this into your routine activities will take a bit more forethought. This is my situation this school year, so I'm happy to share what I try and what works best - or doesn't - as we go through the eyar.

If you have questions, I'm happy to answer whatever I recall from the workshop I attended in Ottawa, or what I learn through my own exploration. I've been approved for the site access, but am still waiting on the details of my class assignments to be able to reach out and make connections with another teacher or other teachers in Quebec. 

A couple of things you might be wondering about are the security and teacher access to student activity. I know that videochats and text chats can be monitored / viewed by teachers on either end, to deal with any behavioural issues that may arise. Of course teachers will set expectations in advance, but rest assured that things won't go on without you knowing about them! Servers are maintained in Canada. This is a big point for privacy and security in our current time. I'm sure I'll learn even more about the setup as I take this on myself, beginning in the next couple of weeks.

I plan to use it with small groups at a time, and a set task - to encourage authentic interaction in the target language - over a period of time. I'm eager to meet my new students. Tandem should provide us with a great chance to build cultural knowledge over time and I hope my new students enjoy making connections with real people close in age to themselves, once we get started!