When Covid gives you lemons, make lemonade: Adapting service-learning to an online language course

Students in Hindi Service-Learning Class
Students brainstorming English lessons

During this pandemic, all educationists became creative and innovative in their teaching pedagogy; they not only connected themselves with the world virtually, but also took their classes to the next level. Online international conferences and networking, along with guest experts talking to students in the classroom, were made possible with Zoom and other technologies. In the field of teaching, we all took a long-jump that will inform our approach for years. 

To take the advantage of the momentum of the 'online movement' I also converted my community-engaged classes into the service-learning. There are many definitions for service-learning, and some of these definitions overlap with one another. This is because there are different ways of doing service-learning, and every course has different needs and expectations. These are relatively new methods, and I am still exploring their potential for language courses.


Defining service-learning

For me, service-learning has five main components. The first and foremost is integrating the service-learning in a meaningful way into the curriculum. The second is a critical reflection to review and reflect on students' meetings and interactions with service partners. Understanding and learning about community needs, developing problem-solving skills, and building solidarity are other components.


Virtual service-learning

Generally, whenever we think about service-learning we imagine a group of students interacting in-person with members of a nearby community. But this was not possible for most programs during the pandemic. These limitations led many to consider new possibilities of adapting the methods and goals of service-learning to the online mode in order to expand the community partners internationally.

This is what my Hindi classes did. Students met with the “Delhi Young Artist Forum,” an NGO in India. There are approximately forty volunteers from this NGO who meet regularly with the students in my beginning and intermediate Hindi classes. The total length of each meeting is ninety minutes. The “Delhi Young Artist Forum” works for the education, health, and well-being of children living in Delhi slums. Their primary goal is to help teenagers become independent and self-employed. The NGO volunteers are from the same age group as Duke students. This makes them comfortable communicating and sharing their experiences.


Service-learning in Action: 

Duke students work in several ways to benefit the students in the NGO:

They create and teach English language lessons to the Delhi-based students on topics such as “survival English” and “job interviews.”

Duke students make posters and videos in Hindi to support the NGO’s campaign to keep children in schools. This was in response to the problem that due to Covid-19 many school children in India were dropping out of school because they were not able to attend the online schools and felt behind and demotivated about studies. 

Finally, we conclude each of our service-learning meetings with reflection. One of my students said, "This is the first time I felt that I did something meaningful for the community and also learned a lot from them."

For more information and examples of my online Hindi service-learning classes, see these students' blogs