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July 22, 2020 at 11:16 am

Bikowski Chosen for State Department Virtual English Language Specialist Assignment

Dawn Bikowski , portrait

Dr. Dawn Bikowski

Dr. Dawn Bikowski, director of the Academic and Global Communication Program (formerly ELIP), was selected by the U.S. State Department for a virtual language specialist project to develop and implement a professional development program for faculty in Brazil.

Bikowski is part of a select group, as she is one of the first virtual specialists to be invited through the State Department.

Bikowski conducted a five-week online course titled “Teaching an EMI Course” for 32 professors in over 15 departments at the Centro Federal de Educação Tecnológica de Minas Gerais (CEFET-MG).

The course consisted of two components:

  • online live synchronous sessions held twice a week in virtual webinar space hosted by CEFET-MG, and
  • content she created for the American English E-Teacher (now called OPEN) program and uploaded into a Canvas LMS course she built for this project.

The course emphasized the importance of developing a student-centered classroom that connected English to students’ lives and careers, prioritizing comprehensibility over “perfect” English. Authentic materials and assignments, along with strategies for connecting students to professionals in their field were important parts of the course.

Bikowski teaching Brazil class via Zoom

This project was one of several that Bikowski was supposed to carry out in Brazil but that were sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of the original project was thus converted into this virtual specialist opportunity.

The English Language Specialist Program is the premier opportunity for leaders in the field of teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) to enact meaningful and sustainable changes in the way that English is taught abroad. Through projects developed by U.S. embassies in more than 80 countries, the specialists work directly with local teacher trainers, educational leaders, and ministry of education officials to exchange knowledge, build capacity, and establish partnerships benefiting participants, institutions, and communities in the United States and overseas. Due to restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the State Department began creating virtual specialist positions, working with local institutions to identify the technology that would best serve their needs.

Bikowski has completed five specialist projects thus far—in Turkmenistan, India, Indonesia, and twice in Vietnam. She notes that working as a virtual specialist was certainly not the same as going to Brazil in person, but that it was still a personally and professionally rewarding experience.

“Twice a week, I woke up to great discussions, insightful questions, and dedicated professionals trying to do their best for their students. Listening to them share strategies and solutions to challenges posed by EMI courses was inspirational to me as well,” she stated.

“Now, during this difficult time of social isolation and for many, all-new educational systems, we need these types of projects and programs more than ever,” she added.

English language specialists are counted among the more than 50,000 individuals participating in U.S. State Department exchange programs each year. The specialist program is administered by the Center for Intercultural Education and Development at Georgetown University.

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