As language loss becomes a key issue of concern in the antipodes, updated research is focused on helping the diaspora keep Greek alive.

Dionysios Arkadianos, a computational linguist and instructional designer, is the Research Coordinator of the New Media Lab of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies at the University of Simon Fraser in Canada. A PhD candidate of the Simon Fraser University in Educational Technology and Learning Design, he has studied education at the Department of Primary Education of the University of Patras and is a computational linguist at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom.

He has acquired a postgraduate degree in Intercultural Learning and in Teaching Greek as a Second Language. He has worked in the industry as a computational linguist, in projects like a digital thesaurus for Greek, and in the public sector as an elementary school teacher. For the last five years he has been on a secondment to Canada, endeavouring to support Greek language learning in the diaspora and during these last few years, he has been the academic coordinator leading the ‘Staellinika’ project, the official platform for learning Greek in the diaspora. The project aims to improve Greek language learning in the Greek diaspora by revitalising its teaching.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for online educational programs. To what extent has COVID- 19 impacted the modes of learning and the educational programs of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies at the University of Simon Fraser in Canada?

Ιt is a fact that the new educational reality resulting from this pandemic has caused universities and other organisations to adopt new ways of functioning. Even though most universities were already using digital platforms to run and manage their classes, upload education resources and communicate with staff and students, the transference of the entire educational procedure in digital environments has caused adaptation difficulties both to students and teachers. Many educators had to introduce important adaptations in their teaching methods, even though they did not possess the necessary methodological tools to proceed with those adaptations. So, the degree to which university programs were affected by COVID-19 depended immensely on educators’ readiness to transfer their lessons in digital environments.

A different situation evolved at the Greek language program of our Centre since it was offered as an online option to our students from its commencement. It is for this reason that it had such impact on our university students, reaching 150 enrolled students per semester. Therefore, today our Greek language programs are still offered as an online option, in the same format, and exclusively in a digital environment.

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Children learning in a classroom setting. Photo: Unsplash

Focusing on the ‘Staellinika’ language educational program for children, what is the number of students who have participated in the program and what are your future plans?

Since the day of the platform’s official commencement on 6 October 2020 to this day, the ‘Staellinika’ platform numbers more than 18,000 users worldwide. This number includes the ‘Staellinika’ program’s individual users, as well as diaspora students. Τhe ‘Staellinika’ program’s platform offers additional resources to Greek language educators such language manuals, platform instruction manuals and recommended class activities, but also digital tools for managing class and monitoring students’ progress. In the future, we are planning on adding: a) more content i.e. more educational units, new lessons with themes around Greek history and civilization and b) new and improved digital activities, learning environments and additional information regarding students’ progress and their progress.

The ‘Staellinika’ project was delivered via distance work that allowed its project team members to work from any country. Can you tell us more about this new way of collaborating? Do you believe that in the after COVID-19 era distant work will expand?

The ‘Staellinika’ project team members are located in different parts of the world. Colleagues worked from Canada, the United States, Italy and different areas of Greece (Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras, Corfu and Aegina). So, we had to introduce a rather decentralised work environment in 2018, long before the pandemic’s new reality on work environments. This distance mode of collaboration was not challenge-free. It presented many difficulties since many people who worked in different time zones had to collaborate. Self-discipline was also another issue since it was important to be effective. However, I believe that the decentralised employment model will become a popular and widespread alternative in the after COVID-19 era.

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Can you foresee the future of Greek learning programs in the after COVID-19 era?

The history of educational technology consists of many high expectation projects resulting from technology developments, that were never implemented or delivered to the extent and in ways scientists envisaged them. Consequently, any predictions regarding the Greek language programs’ future in the after COVID-19 era is a highly risk one. Μy 10-year experience and extensive research in the Greek language learning field has led me to believe that the exploration of new educational models and innovative methodological tools are necessary when reaching out to the young diaspora members.

* The interview series entitled: ‘Education in the pandemic Era’ showcases the changes caused by COVID-19 in the field of education, by focusing on the initiatives taken to face the challenges in Australia and Greece. Ιn so doing, this interview series unites experts’ voices from the two countries.