For Instructors

Instructor Feedback

I first participated in TANDEM last semester, and it has been one of the most positive experiences I have had with my students here at the University of Minnesota. It was challenging to motivate them at the beginning, but once I started bringing their conversations to the classroom, they got very engaged. Each conversation had a topic, but I was very lenient if they went off of the topic, because I really wanted them to have fun and get to know someone new in Spanish.

After each conversation, they had to record a flipgrid video with a summary and a reflection. I watched them at home and then we spent the first 10 minutes of the class talking about what they had learned (new words, things about Mexican culture/news/university). We commented on each others videos and posted relevant links, videos, songs...the voice threads kept on getting better and although they only were 5% of their final grade, all of the students completed all the conversations. 
--- Celia Bravo, Graduate Student Instructor

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)                       

Why should my students and I participate?

Why should my students and I participate?

In a tandem exchange, students

  1. spend much more time speaking in the target language than they do in a typical class session
  2. practice and learn to communicate with a native speaker
  3. learn about the target culture through the stories of personal informants
  4. are challenged to reflect on their own culture when responding to questions posed by their partners

As an instructor, you

  1. gain access to current language use, views, and events through your students and their partners
  2. further develop your own intercultural communicative competency by collaborating with a partner teacher in a different country
  3. provide your students with a memorable language-learning opportunity

What do students say about the program?

What do students say about the program?

See our section on Student Feedback!

When should I start planning?

When should I start planning?

You should start planning at least two months before your course begins.  You need time to find and meet your partner teacher, discuss goals and expectations, and decide on a schedule so that you can include it in your course syllabus.

How do I find a partner class?

How do I find a partner class?

There are a variety of ways to find a partner teacher.

  1. Explore your personal contacts, including those of past students and colleagues.
  2. Look for postings on listservs or websites of professional organizations from other instructors who are looking for partner classes.
  3. Post your own advertisement on a social media platform read by ESL teachers in your target country.
  4. Contact the TandemPlus staff.  We have access to international exchange databases such as http://uni-collaboration.eu/.

What if the two classes don’t have the same number of students?

What if the two classes don’t have the same number of students?

We have three approaches to dealing with this common issue:

  1. Two students in Class A speak simultaneously with one student in Class B.  Many video-chat platforms allow for multiple participants.
  2. One student in Class B speaks separately to two students in Class A.  The student in Class B completes the task twice.
  3. The instructor of the class with fewer students recruits volunteers from outside his/her class.

Which online tools should students use?

Which online tools should students use?

Students will use multiple tools.  They begin with email to establish contact with their new partner.  They may continue using email for casual conversation or negotiating a schedule, but they may switch to a social media app they use more frequently, such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.

For the simultaneous video-chats, there are options.  Consider the following when recommending or requiring students to use a particular platform:

  1. Do students need to download software to their own computer or can the tool be accessed through a website browser?
  2. Do students need to share a username with their partner?
  3. Ease of use: can students figure out how it works on their own or through online tutorials?
  4. Functionality:  do you want students to record the audio or video from their conversation and share it with you?  Do you want them to have a text-chat window available during the video chat?

How many conversations should my students have with their partners?

How many conversations should my students have with their partners?

There is no prescribed number of conversations.  You should consider the following:

  1. How will the conversations fit in my curriculum?  Does it make sense to have one conversation per chapter or unit?  Perhaps the conversations precede and follow a writing project that uses information from the conversation.  
  2. Based on the semester calendars at each institution, how many conversations can you realistically schedule?
  3. What are the needs and goals of my partner teacher?
  4. In general, two conversations is a minimum.  Most instructors agree on 3-5 exchanges per semester.

What should my students talk about?

What should my students talk about?

While it may be tempting to just tell students to talk about whatever they want, most students benefit from more structure.  The AIR method, coined by Dr. Colleen Coffey, has proven to be an effective framework for guiding students through both the linguistic and intercultural challenges of a tandem exchange. 

A=Activate prior knowledge and cultural curiosity on a given topic 

I=Interact by both asking questions and sharing one's own perspectives 

R=Reflect on language use and cultural information or misunderstandings

Choose a topic that builds upon concepts in your curriculum or consider these suggestions.

See our examples of tasks that guide students through the AIR framework. 

How do I make sure my students participate?

How do I make sure my students participate?

Tracking student participation in a tandem exchange is similar to tracking participation in other course activities.  The combination of awarding course points to the task and requiring students to document or submit something related to the task is usually the best approach.  

How much should it impact the final grade?  It could be considered part of a larger participation grade; it could count for 5%-10% of the course grade; it could be combined with a larger project that is a significant portion of the course grade.  It really depends on your course.  Do keep in mind, however, that the task may be weighted differently at the other institution.  It is helpful to remind students that they have a shared responsibility to ensure their partners can complete their tasks on time.

What should students submit?  Here are some common practices:

  1. A written summary and/ or reflection on the conversation.
  2. An oral summary / report shared with classmates in class or online.
  3. Completion of a series of guiding questions.
  4. Integration of the information into a larger writing project.
  5. An audio or video recording of the conversation.
  6. A journal with notes on linguistic and cultural information gained during the exchange.

What if a student's partner isn't responding?

What if a student's partner isn't responding?

Particularly at the beginning of the exchange, check in with your students frequently about whether or not they have successfully communicated with their partner.  Remind your own students to check their email (including spam) for a message from their partner.  When you discover that a student is experiencing problems connecting with his/her partner, you should report this to your partner teacher as soon as possible.  Your partner teacher can then urge the non-participatory student to re-establish contact and complete the assignment as soon as possible.  If a student continues to not comply with the requirements of the exchange, contact your partner teacher and the TandemPlus staff to discuss finding a new partner for the willing student.

Even your best students need encouragement and reminders to initiate and maintain contact with their partners.  Talking to a stranger in a foreign language is a new challenge for most students!

How do we deal with time differences?

How do we deal with time differences?

Time differences between the USA and Europe or Asia can be challenging. Here are some tips:

  1. Designate a time frame (such as one week) for students to complete their conversations, rather than one particular day or just a weekend.  This allows for greater flexibility and allows students more options to find a time in their personal  schedules.
  2. Remind students that they may need to get up earlier or stay up later than usual to be able to converse simulaneously with their partner.  Both partners should be willing to adjust or compromise a bit.
  3. Pay special attention to country-specific dates for daylight savings time.  Consult https://www.timeanddate.com/time/ for country specific calendars and time conversion tools.