Frequently Asked Questions

Who is responsible for coordinating Teletandem sessions at VCU?

Our knowledgeable World Studies Media Center staff can provide VCU instructors with logistical and technical support throughout the Teletandem process to ensure optimal results. We can consult with teachers, teaching assistants, and technical staff from the partner schools to ensure the smoothest cooperation and implementation. Our Teletandem coordinator, Lulu de Panbehchi, can be reached at panbehchiml@vcu.edu; our Director, Anton Brinckwirth, can be reached at abrinckwirth@vcu.edu .

How many students should be involved?

There are typically between 20-25 students enrolled in VCU foreign language conversation courses, which is a good number for Teletandem exchanges. Ideally, there are an equal number of students at VCU and at the partner school, so that each participant can have a partner. However, since Skype and Google Hangouts have “group–calling” capability, we can work with odd numbers. This issue can be addressed during the planning phase.

Will the students at VCU be monitored? If so, how?

We always have staff on hand to provide technical and instructional support to teachers and students. Whether the activities are structured and task-based or totally independent, we (at VCU) typically ask our students to do Teletandem in the WSMC so that we can provide support. Individual sessions can be recorded and monitored if necessary. Even when being monitored, students tend not to notice us because they are so enthralled with their partners. We also have the capability to record Skype sessions as audio or video files. These files can be saved for the instructor to review/assess at a later time. Ultimately, monitoring is up to the instructor to decide upon.

What issues are involved in finding a Teletandem Partner School?

Perhaps the most grueling undertaking of all in organizing a Teletandem project is finding the right partner school. The first attempts to organize class-to-class Teletandem sessions may not always be successful. Differences in academic calendars, time zones, and cultural values are all factors that need to be addressed throughout the search process. The holidays are a major consideration as well. The WSMC can assist you in your search for a compatible partner school.
Sometimes, difference in class size (with foreign classes being smaller) can be an issue while searching for a partner school. However, the WSMC has developed a system for VCU language classes to partner with two foreign universities simultaneously. (For more information, see "What are the benefits and barriers to partnering with two foreign schools simultaneously?")

Is there some kind of agreement or contract (written or otherwise) on the Teletandem topics? What type of language is considered appropriate for this project?

The first two Teletandem sessions naturally involve personal introductions, descriptions, and simple uses of present and past tense. This would also be the best time to check partner compatibility. With Teletandem, a relationship between the students emerges after the third or fourth session and the students tend to become more interested in one another. It is at this point that the conversation evolves and more complex topics can be addressed. Since Teletandem sessions are evenly divided—half the time will be spent on English and the other half on the target language—both sides can have different requirements and different expectations.

Are there issues regarding students' privacy in terms of video clips, photos, etc.?

Protection of student identity is something that VCU takes very seriously. Of course, we cannot control what students will do on their own. This is why the orientation session is so important. Many issues must be addressed, including expectations, sensitivity, conduct, absences, conversation topics, and instructional strategies, just to name a few.

How many times a week do you think they should talk to each other?

This depends on the instructors. Our Spanish language students often do Teletandem once a week for virtually the entirety of the semester. Most Teletandem instructors agree that at least 10 sessions are necessary to really see the benefits of Teletandem.

What are the benefits and barriers to partnering with two foreign universities simultaneously?

One of the trickiest parts of selecting a partner class is making sure the number of students in each class is roughly, if not exactly, the same. This is where the ability to hold a Teletandem session with two foreign universities simultaneously can be quite beneficial: for a larger VCU class, often two partner classes produces the correct number of partner students when a single class fails to do so.
Three-way Teletandems are also a great way to introduce cultural topics to VCU students, as partnering with two different universities often means students will be speaking to foreign students in two different countries (ex: Mexico and Colombia). Therefore, after the sessions, students and instructors can discuss cultural and linguistic differences between the two.
Of course, partnering with two classes simultaneously requires more coordination than when partnering with just one, but this is the only drawback, and the WSMC has developed a system to ensure VCU students are quickly connected to their correct partners during the session itself.
To demonstrate just one real-world example, a VCU Spanish class has been partnered with both UCU (Uruguay) and UNAM (Mexico) simultaneously. Students at VCU's WSMC computers #1-16 connected with UCU's #1-16, and VCU's students at computers #17-24  connected with UNAM's #1-8 (with #17 connecting to #1; #18 to #2; etc.). While such a connection may read as complicated or intimidating here in the FAQ section, the process itself is very simple, and the WSMC has streamlined the process to ensure all students are connected within minutes of the session's start.